Needing to wear an eyepatch as a little girl shaped who I am as a woman
I was still wearing OshKosh B’Gosh overalls when everything in my life changed. That day in first grade had started out like any other: counting pennies in math, crying in dodgeball, and eventually lining up behind my fellow classmates for what would become an annual exercise throughout my education — the vision test. That’s when it was discovered that, unlike the rest of my peers, I couldn’t distinguish between many of the black and white visuals. I closed my right eye, and my left eye could hardly see the letters in front of me.
I failed my first vision test with flying colors, and by the end of the day, my parents had made an appointment for me with an eye doctor.
During that first appointment, I found out I was nearly blind in my left eye.
This was complete news to me, as I had spent much of my childhood meticulously placing tiny shoes on Barbie’s feet. But the doctor said otherwise, and my options were limited.
My parents had to decide whether I could wear an eyepatch to see if my vision corrected itself over time, or I could undergo an expensive surgery.
At the time, my family was unable to afford the surgery. So, after a few more doctor’s visits, I left with an eyepatch. Yes, an eyepatch like your favorite pirate wears.
Grade school is already mortifying enough — but couple that with the addition of an eyepatch, and it’s a recipe for a total nightmare. I can’t remember exactly how I felt the first day I wore my patch to school, but I imagine I was pretty nervous. And it turns out those nerves were justified, because as time continued, each school day became a dreaded exercise in being bullied.
My grade school “friends” turned against me, each one more than eager to pick on the girl with a patch.
Normally, I spent recess among my peers, chasing after friends with sticks and dangling from the monkey bars. But young boys, as they often do, teased me relentlessly. My name became “Patchy” instead of Lauren, and I was constantly bombarded with questions about my new eyewear. If it wasn’t already bad enough that my last name had the word Rear in it, now I was wearing a magnet for teasing.
It only got worse when my mom tried to help by sewing lace around the patch to add some feminine flare. Now I just looked like a pirate with a touch of fashion sense.
I can still vividly recall my tearstained face, my tearful begging for teachers to stop the teasing, and nights crying in bed while my mom hugged me. As a small child with a tender heart, wearing a patch was the hardest thing I’d gone through.
This struggle continued for much of first grade, until my family was able to afford the surgery.
The procedure left me with nearly perfect vision, but ever since then, I’ve felt insecure about my appearance.
Insecurity followed me to high school, where one classmate always made it a point to tell me that I “wasn’t really looking” at her. I don’t know if what she said was true, but I’ve always been worried that my eyes look different.
In the midst of all that teasing and running home to stare at my eyes in the mirror, I never found humor in my situation. I never looked at my eyepatch and laughed because of its size, or saw myself as a girl with messy curls, bright fashion ensembles, and a patch with lace.
That period was one of the hardest times my life, and it’s taken nearly 15 years for me to able to look back and laugh. Now, when I see old pictures of myself with the eyepatch, I erupt into giggles.
I look at my eyes in the mirror and smile. Even if my vision isn’t perfect, I have two beautiful blue eyes that help me see the world — just not with 20/20 vision. It is inevitable that sometimes I’ll feel inadequate when I compare myself to others, but I’ve learned to laugh and to love myself for who I am. I definitely hated wearing an eyepatch, and I still feel afraid every time I go to the eye doctor. But I know how crucial that childhood experience is in shaping who I am. I see things differently now, and I’m just happy to me — even if my vision is imperfect.