Glasses: Fixing Our Sight and Ruining Our Perspective
I begrudgingly wake up to an alarmingly bright sun at 10 a.m. to get ready for my day of classes. Thinking about the people I’ll see and weighing that importance with my need for comfort at this ungodly hour (yes, as a college student I find 10 a.m. ungodly), I feel the sting in my tired eyes and realize my choices of style for the day are narrowed because I will be wearing my glasses. Thanks to years of middle school in which I “forgot my glasses at home” because I didn’t want to be a “nerd,” as well as my consistent face-in-screen way of life, my eyes get strained easily, causing me stinging pain and the need for my dark frames. Subconsciously, the images of stylish models and fashionable looks I could have tried to imitate get cut in half. Today, my glasses already define my style for me.
While many say your twenties are the years that shape you, we all know the days of our childhood hold a special place as the roots of our insecurities and fears. In my days as a middle-school rugrat, glasses were seriously uncool. Let alone the classic “four-eyes” jokes, the women in magazines and movies that my friends and I stared up at in our pajamas and sleeping bags at our weekly sleepovers never once showed glasses as desirable. In the award-worthy transformation montage in The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway goes from invisible nerd to royal princess through some hair straightening, eyebrow plucking, and a shocking scene where her glasses are snapped in half, shattering the belief that I could be princess-like along with them. Similarly, in the after school favorite Boy Meets World (season 2) in the episode “Turnaround,” Cory and Shawn makeover nerdy-girl Ingrid by giving her contacts, making her the most popular girl in school in about 10 minutes. To add to it, at the end of the episode, she puts her glasses back on and is instantly unpopular again. It’s like her glasses have insta-nerd powers. There was no teacher in school with a picture of glasses and a big X drawn on the chalkboard, but the T.V. shows and movies, which we so desperately hung all our opinions on weren’t painting an even picture for the glasses-wearers of the world.
In a study published in Optometry & Vision Science, researchers compared near-sighted kids with glasses and those with contacts over a three-year period. At age eight, the kids were given glasses or contacts and were then questioned three years later to determine their self-esteem. Kids with contacts were found to have felt better about their athletic ability, how their friends perceived them, and their self-perception. Not shockingly, there was particularly a dramatic improvement in the self-esteem of girls. It’s not all that surprising that kids especially would be just fine opening up and touching their eyeball everyday just to avoid this one particular social stereotype that preys on their minds. The important thing here is that it isn’t that the kids are teased less or actually do better in sports; it’s that they think they are better, prettier, and/or cooler.
In the fifth grade, I wore my glasses every day in the car as my mom drove me to school and then took them off the second I got in the building. Because I had an astigmatism for which contacts hadn’t been invented yet, I didn’t have the option of foregoing my frames for foreign objects in my eyes. I hid my navy blue metal frames in a red and yellow Looney-Tune case deep down in my backpack. My teachers specifically asked me where my glasses were and I lied, saying I left them at home.
I can’t remember a time when I did wear my glasses and I was outright teased; however, that doesn’t disprove their negative effect on a young girl’s childhood. The idea that kids with glasses are nerdy or uncool doesn’t come from their peers outright saying it to their faces like it’s shown in the movies. But that’s exactly the point; it’s in the movies. Yet again, in Boy Meets World the “nerdy” character Stuart Minkus is the only character to wear glasses except for their aged teacher Mr. Feeney. The show continuously uses the two characters’ similarities as a punch line throughout the seasons. Did I want to be the Stuart Minkus of my class? No. I wanted to be Tapanga, clearly.
But as we’ve grown, ideologies surrounding glasses must have changed, right? The answer is yes and no. While opinions of glasses have become more varied, there still exists an underlying judgment on people with glasses of which most aren’t even aware. In our adulthood, we’d never say out loud: “People with glasses aren’t fun,” or, “I’d never date someone with glasses.” But it seems that we do make subconscious judgments along these lines.
In an ABC News story, Taryn Winter Brill tested the idea that “in real life, we all know there’s no difference between someone who wears glasses and someone who doesn’t.” Using glasses as the variable, she tested the idea in getting a date, getting a job, and in the classroom. The majority of kids in a class chose an individual with glasses to help with their homework because he looked smarter. In interviews, Brill was thought to be a little less of a team player with glasses, but equally desirable as an employee. The real shock came from the dating poll. Two different groups of men met Brill. She gave the same information in each group, but lost a significant amount of points in appeal in the group with which she wore glasses. Men said she “looked like a librarian,” described her as “educated,” “nervous,” and like she would be “less of a fun time.” When they saw her afterward without glasses, they blatantly told her she was “more attractive.” So while it seems that in many areas, such as the working world or the classroom, glasses have come to be accepted, in the dating sphere our childhood stereotypes prevail.
Going out for the day, bundled up in winter gear and my glasses, I’m not thinking that I’ll get a second glance from any of the boys I cross paths with. When I don’t wear my glasses, the chances are slim but, in my head, the possibility is there. I walk down the street with a feeling of inactive observance. Noticing all the faces that pass by me, I think about how they see me with an answer to my question already in mind. They don’t. My plainly styled hair, simple wardrobe, and thick glasses lead the mind to one decision: dismiss. If I want to be noticeable and wear my glasses, hair curling and hours of outfit decisions are involved.
Going out at night, to the bar or a party, I don’t wear my glasses. Ever. I wouldn’t say I am always looking for the attention of the opposite sex when I go out, but often I am. Furthermore, I’m generally looking for the attention (and approval) of anyone I’m meeting in these late-night social encounters. I dress up. I put three times the effort into my appearance before going out than I do any other time in the week. This is a time of meeting, talking, pictures, and further unpredictable events. You want to look your best. And just as the men in the ABC News story showed in their opinion of Brill as less fun, glasses don’t make you think “party.” I’m not going to meet my soul mate in line for the bathroom at the party (like all the movies suggest) if I’m wearing glasses—unless he wants to give me a makeover first.
Glasses, while not always versatile in a physical sense, add variety to an individual’s style or how they express their personality. In a sense, glasses haven’t become accepted in society, they’ve become a trend. Characters of popular television shows, such as Liz Lemon of 30 Rock and Jess of New Girl, have made their glasses something to be admired. On the other hand, both are known for their dating dilemmas and strange neuroses. In New Girl, Jess’s character is defined by her quirkiness, of which her glasses are a part. She maintains an innocently strange humor and sings everything; she wears bright child-like clothes with striking bangs and big round eyes. To say the least, her style and character are very eclectic and specific. She’s not your average female TV character who happens to wear glasses: she’s different. Pop singers like Taylor Swift are wearing glasses in videos as a style accessory, not out of necessity. The “hipster” style, known for flannels, beanies and chunky, black glasses, is based off the idea of wearing things that aren’t cool. Hipsters wear or like things that the majority of people don’t like or “before they were cool” as these things often become popularized through the hipster phenomena. Buzzfeed gets it right in their article listing “22 Problems Only People With Truly Terrible Eyesight Understand.” The majority of the article depicts our everyday struggles that could be whined about for years, but number four speaks to the hipsters’ effect on glasses: “People who don’t even NEED glasses are wearing them to look ‘cool.’ This isn’t fair, because they didn’t go through the four to eight years of childhood in which, no, glasses are NOT COOL.”
After expressing to multiple people my opinion on my glasses (that I want to throw them out a window ninety percent of the time) and that I bought hipster glasses just so I could wear them to class, I received striking rebuttals.
“Oh my god,” my roommate Becca responds, “I want glasses so badly. Just to wear with different outfits and change things up. I think they’re so cute.”
“I’ve told you I want glasses so bad, like, just readers.” Jessica, our other roommate adds. It’s true; she tells me that every day I wear them. She tries them on and I’m reminded of all the times my friends in middle school would ask me, “Can I try on your glasses?” with a look of excitement at a new way to play pretend.
“You guys honestly do not get it. I hate my glasses; they’re so annoying” I say as I try to explain their burden. But I started to consider, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.
In many ways, glasses are cool. While several of us (some jaded from middle school pains like myself) instantly think “nerd,” glasses can lead to a multitude of ideas far from that of geek. The “librarian” look can be turned to our advantage, not only in appearance of intelligence but sexual appeal as well. (We’ve all seen the sexy librarian Halloween costumes.) The “hipster,” the “athlete,” the “techy,” and many others can all be achieved simple through the style of your frames. Glasses add interest and versatility to a person. Their style can be changed on a daily basis. Today, with my combat boots, beanie, and glasses—I’m hipster. But just the other day, I wore jeans, Sperry’s, a collared Polo, and my glasses—I’m preppy. With most twenty-somethings, especially women, it’s important to express who we are or what mood we’re in through our clothes, and that changes every day. Glasses are another way of doing this. The many personalities that can be expressed by glasses are matched by countless perspectives on them. Some think glasses are an attraction, some think they’re nerdy, some think they’re fashionable—the list goes on.
However, there seems to be a distinction between the perspectives of those who have worn glasses for a majority of their lives and those who have not. My roommates want glasses because they don’t have them; they think of them as a different and new accessory. I may just be hideously unable to overcome my insecurities of my middle school days, but it seems that the status of glasses in those childhood years has affected the perspective of glasses-wearers today. I don’t think that I look ugly in my glasses, but I hate wearing them because I think people think of me differently—possibly negatively—in them. Unlike non-glasses-wearers, many people who have worn glasses for a majority of their lives hate their glasses or feel they are unattractive because they had to wear them in those dreaded middle school years when they were uncool. But for those of us who can’t seem to let the middle school pains go, it seems we need to take a bigger look and learn to take a compliment.
Hannah Maine is a junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in English and minoring in writing. Currently, a majority of her writing is creative non-fiction essays in which she tries to use her own stories to connect with other people. She aims to take her passion for words and use it to write for non-profit communications in the future.
This piece was the result of an interesting process for myself as a writer, as I began discussing the details and stigmas that come with having a lazy eye but realized that my real affliction is my glasses. When having peers read my piece, everyone told me “Oh, but I love your glasses!” which infuriated me even more. But I decided to take that disconnection and write about it.
This work was published as one of the runners-up in our 2014 “Ways of Seeing” Contest.