What I wish I knew when I started wearing glasses
There’s a scene in the movie Little Miss Sunshine where 7-year-old Olive Hoover, played by Abigail Breslin, asks her grandpa if he thinks she’s pretty. She is about to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant and she’s having second thoughts because at 7, she already knows she’s not conventionally attractive, and because her father hates losers. She doesn’t want to be a loser. But she’s heavier than the other girls and she has glasses, huge rounded rose frames.
Is she pretty? Olive’s grandpa, played by Alan Arkin, responds perfectly, “You are the most beautiful girl in the whole world.” Olive rebuffs, “Nah, you’re just saying that.” And then Alan Arkin volleys back with a beautiful, big hug of a response, “No I’m not. I’m madly in love with you and it’s not because of your brains or your personality. It’s because you’re beautiful inside and out.” And Olive gets choked up. And I lose it. I cry every single time because I identify so much with the little girl on the screen.
I’ve worn glasses since I was 3-years-old. I have myopia. It’s the medical term for nearsightedness, which is what you have when you can’t see things in the distance. Back then I also had one eye that turned in. I wore an eye patch for a year to strengthen my weak eye. There’s nothing fun or cute about eye patches but the manufacturers, the doctors, and my parents tried. One eye patch I wore had a little cartoon duck in the center, another had a unicorn, and a third had an American flag. It became an accessory; something I felt was my decision. If people made fun of me I wasn’t aware. I was 4-years-old and blissfully ignorant of things like beauty standards. By the time I entered kindergarten I no longer needed the eye patch. The glasses, however, remained.
I grew up in the 1990s, not the 1950s, but I still heard the phrase, “guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” I remember laughing at it, thinking it was some relic from my parent’s generation. And yet, as boys started entering the picture, I started to feel there was some truth in it. I got introduced to the concept of a “hot list” in fourth grade. I was in class on the carpet watching a video and someone slipped me a folded piece of paper. I opened it and read a list of girl’s names, my classmates. My name wasn’t anywhere on it. “What is this?” I whispered to my friend. “Ben’s ranking the hottest girls in class. Everyone’s on there.” “Yeah!” I said and quickly folded the paper back up. I was too humiliated to tell her I hadn’t even made the list. I was lower than the least hot girl in class. I was forgotten.
Tiny little events like this happen throughout adolescence and cause you to question how much you truly care about acceptance. I saw the way certain friends would get attention from guys and I wished I had their confidence. Gaining that confidence always came down to one singular action: getting rid of my glasses. My friends didn’t wear glasses and neither did the starlets I idolized on the big screen.
Hollywood has a fraught relationship with eyeglass wearers. For proof of their views, watch any makeover scene ever. For example, the entire plot of 1999’s She’s All That hinges on Rachel Leigh Cook being “secretly” hot—except no one would ever know behind that pair of glasses. In the Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway’s character goes through an epic makeover to make her royalty-worthy. In her makeover montage her eyebrows are plucked out, her hair tamed, and her glasses are broken. Literally the stylist takes them in his hands and breaks them in two without asking permission. Uncool. Of course, those characters are just as gorgeous with specs ad without them. But when you’re a young glasses wearer, those kind of messages don’t go unnoticed.
I bought into all this nonsense. The summer before starting high school I finally got my wish to rid myself of glasses. I forced myself to learn to wear contact lenses. I stuck my fingers in my eyeballs over and over and over again until the lenses stuck. On one notable occasion I lost one of my contacts before the first bell rang and struggled through the most excruciating typing class of my life. But I was determined to “pass” as a sighted person in the hopes that some boy would be like, “Your face. It’s so unobstructed. Prom? Yes?”
Wearing glasses doesn’t make you any less gorgeous, no matter what you see in the movies. I wore contacts exclusively from the ages of 14-27. During that time I developed a personality and honed my sense of humor. I used that to stand out from the crowd and make my mark. In college I met cool girls who rocked glasses and embraced them as another part of what made them special. They didn’t hide that part of themselves, they made it known. Acceptance is what makes a person beautiful.
Last year I found a pair of glasses I really liked, these retro, leopard, cat-eye frames that fit my personality well. I wear them almost every day now. I like people to know I wear glasses because it has shaped who I am. I’ve spent too many years fixated on adhering to a narrow scope of beauty and I’m over it. That’s what I would tell little Olive Hoover before she takes the pageant stage. Your glasses? They’re rad, and so are you. Trust me.
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[Image via author]