She’s Wearing Braces

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this picture: Set against the backdrop of a wall made of yellow, wooden planks, the young woman jumps high into the air. Striking not only a perfect pose with stretched out arms and legs, she also thrusts her open umbrella straight into the air — all while wearing a smile.

It’s an iconic photograph, first released on Unsplash in 2016. There alone, it has been viewed over 60 million times. Add to that thousands of reuses across the web, thanks to the site’s zero-copyright policy, and I can easily imagine this picture having gone halfway around the world. Personally, I’ve seen it hundreds of times. It’s a writer-favorite on Medium.

Just this morning, I came across it yet again. In a piece about reinventing the umbrella, or rather our lack of success therein, Edouard Bellin placed it at the very end of his analysis. For some reason, he chose the full-screen version, and for some reason, I stopped while scrolling. “Wait a minute! Is she…? She’s wearing braces! Wow!”

I zoomed in. For the first time, I noticed that the young lady’s outfit, including her top and hair, perfectly match the color of the umbrella. I saw in her face that she could be as young as 15 — though just as well up to 22 years of age. And dog my cats, I realized that, indeed, she was actually wearing braces.

You can look at something a million times and still miss one of its most important details. Once we file an idea as a grasped entity in our mental archives, we’ll see it the way we see words or known symbols: We recognize them without thought. It becomes a literal photograph stored in our mind. “I’ve already understood this,” the brain concludes — and thus devotes no further resources to additional analysis.

Unless we force it to, that is. It’s never too late to open our eyes and screen instead of just see. To study what feels familiar yet actually still contains many a mystery. To find the new inside the old.

Don’t just check life against the photocopies in your memory. Perceive it. Analyze it. Engage with it deeply every day — and don’t stop until you spot the braces.