Moving Past ‘You Look So Pretty Without Your Glasses.’
“I think she can’t actually see the ball.” my second-grade baseball coach told my parents one spring evening after practice. That weekend we headed to the eye doctor, and after much deliberation, I came home with gold and rainbow framed Fisher-Price brand glasses, my first of what would be dozens upon dozens of pairs.
My mother warned me to be honest with the eye chart tests with a story about her dad, my grandpa, who had lied on a vision test just so he could get glasses as a child. Wearing glasses he didn’t need damaged his eyes to the extent that after some time wearing them he then did need eyeglasses for the rest of his life. I didn’t need to lie. Even as a child, I couldn’t see anything at a distance clearly at all, and my eyes have only gotten worse since then. I still remember the magical awe I felt seeing all the leaves on the trees go by as we drove home from getting my new eyewear. Unfortunately, they did nothing to improve my baseball performance.
As a kid I really didn’t fit in at school anyway, so in a way, I was glad to have something that made me outwardly different in addition to inwardly. My only challenge with them as a kid was keeping track of my glasses, despite my parent’s desperate attempts to institute a strict “on your face or in the case” rule.
When I got my 3rd-grade school pictures done, I was delighted to wear a deep green velvet dress with a huge cream-colored lace collar and my gold-and-rainbow glasses. When I brought home the prints, my mother lamented that she wished she had “a picture of my face, not my glasses” but thankfully didn’t take it so far as to make me get them retaken.
I got a new, more grown-up pair of glasses, with plain brown wire frames that matched my hair, right before I started middle school. I remember planning my first day of school outfit around them, feeling like I would be very hip and sophisticated looking as I made the transition from my tiny town’s elementary school with five kids in my grade, to the big union middle school where I would take my place along with a class of almost 100 kids, hoping the bigger crowd would give me the ability to reinvent myself.
It was in the first weeks of seventh grade that I first heard the phrase “you’re so pretty without your glasses!” from a well-meaning new friend. It would come to be a recurring refrain the rest of my life, and the life of pretty much every woman and femme who wears spectacles. The constant TV and movie trope of “girl takes off her glasses, wears her hair down, and suddenly transforms from just a friend into the love interest the male character couldn’t even see before” is so prevalent it was impossible not to absorb and internalize as a teen, and even though my 20s.
I spent high school either asking classmates to read the board to me, or taking my glasses off and clutching them in my hand at my side the moment I could feasibly get by without them. I wasn’t until I got yet another new pair of glasses, with trendy purple acetate frames, that my high school boyfriend told me glasses were “hot.” Enter the other limiting miserable trope women with glasses are subject to, the “sexy librarian.”
Predictably, the statement that my glasses were attractive was quickly followed up by the caveat that their charm was that other guys wouldn’t be able to see how beautiful I was, ensuring I would never be lured away by another. The sexy librarian trope is really just a version of the “you’re so pretty without your glasses” trope, it’s simply sexualizing the potential of revealing the beautiful girl behind the glasses, instead of just the final product. Excuse me while I barf at what passed for romance when I was seventeen.
For the next 10 years I went back and forth between embracing my glasses or wearing contacts, and to be entirely honest, much of the pendulum swing was dictated by whether the guy I was dating at the time was infatuated with one of the tropes above, or just interested in more traditional beauty standards. The first time I can remember bucking this trend, I picked out several pairs of new glasses for myself with some leftover Health Savings Account funds at the end of the year, and then let my best friend at the time cut my hair into an edgy new style. I called my then boyfriend as I walked to his place afterward, excited about the transformation.
His response was…. not enthusiastic. Both cutting my hair and going back to glasses from contacts didn’t match this young man’s idea of the girl he wanted to be with, and the disappointment in his voice was palpable. Bolstered by the love and irreverent spirit of my hair cutting friend, instead of feeling I had made a mistake when I realized my beau was not pleased with my choice, it was simply a check mark in the “maybe this guy is not right for me” column. In short, I DGAF about his opinion about my hair and glasses, and it was invigorating. The relationship only lasted about a month past that night.
It wasn’t long after this that I discovered the joy of ordering glasses online. Instead of being a huge, once every few years purchase, glasses became accessories as interchangeable as earrings. I had pairs for every mood and look. Every time I changed my hair color, I could get another cheap pair to match. Over the last five years since I have been with my utterly reasonable and firmly feminist husband, I have spent about equal time wearing glasses and contacts. The issue that has plagued me, and periodically pushed me away from wearing my glasses over these years has been my constant anxiety that people do not see me as “fun.”
I don’t drink to get drunk, I don’t party hard in any way, and I am so lacking in spontaneity that the idea of playing charades makes me nauseous. Even though I had accepted that I felt more myself in my glasses, I also wasn’t really sure that presenting the most myself version of me was my best plan. I worried the glasses only reinforced the overserious image I was hoping to get out from under, and so if I was going out with friends, or even sometimes for months at a time if I was feeling particularly unsure of myself, the glasses stayed home.
Since I had my son and no longer work outside the house, I have had to make the awkward but important step of really clarifying who I am, both inside and out, without the identity of a job to provide any external structure. My style has changed in many ways, and so has my intense anxiety about fitting in socially. A couple months ago I glanced at a recent photo of myself without my glasses, and felt in my gut that it just didn’t look like me.
*This paragraph contains affiliate links, which means Hey Jillian makes a small commission if you buy anything after clicking them.* This past spring I tried out two full Warby Parker try-on boxes, after years of seeing their well-designed ads featuring impeccably fashionable frames. I loved the look of a few, but none of them quite clicked for me. While browsing the site, I happened upon the limited edition “Zelda” frames, and fell in love. Unfortunately, due to the small quantities made, limited edition frames are not available for the at-home try on program. After months of hemming and hawing over it, I ordered them in a moment of sudden confidence, despite not being able to try them on first.
Since receiving this pair of glasses, I have received compliments on them almost every single day. I have never had this experience with eyewear before. I’ve finally made the leap to wearing my glasses for family photos and at special events. One of the things I love most about fashion, is that sometimes an element clicks; a necklace, a hair color, a jacket, and you feel somehow far more yourself than you did before. It’s an affirming feeling, and one I am relieved to have found with my new glasses. They are just perfectly Jillian at this moment in time.
The only time I wear contacts now is on very sunny days when I indulge my love of oversized sunglasses. I am sure my tastes will change and I will fall in love with another pair of glasses in the future, but I do believe that I have finally and permanently embraced the image of myself as a person who wears glasses, though it’s taken nearly 20 years to get here. Thanks to stars like Zooey Deschanel, Lupita Nyong’o, Zoe Saldana, Demi Lovato and other celebs who have taken to the streets and the red carpet wearing glasses without making a big to-do about it, I am hoping more women and femmes who need corrective lenses will feel comfortable and confident choosing glasses if that’s how they feel most themselves.
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