When I was seven, a wonderful thing happened. The child of two myopic parents and four myopic grandparents, my time had finally come: I needed glasses.
I remember picking them in the Milton Keynes branch of Boots Opticians – they had round, multicoloured frames and the word ‘Pocahontas’ on the side. They were the coolest thing I owned.
Two decades on and my eyesight has got considerably worse. I spent three years on an idle search to find my next pair of purse-destroying spectacles and wound up with some not totally unlike the above – although, regrettably, without any Disney Princess branding.
These days my glasses help me serve Librarian Realness on a good day, and make me feel piggy-eyed, ugly and old on a bad one.
It’s a sad thing to admit, but not entirely surprising. Since your Granny was a girl, when Bette Davis gained her sanity and lost her glasses in Now, Voyager, Hollywood’s most beautiful women have been shedding the specs to transform from mousy wallflowers to modest sex symbols – as if glasses weren’t just a tool to correct your eyesight, but actually an enormous, body-engulfing sack made of dog hair and earwax.
As Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, Anne Hathaway and Rachael Leigh Cook all took off their glasses on the big screen during my childhood, the Extreme Makeover crew and Gok Wan were encouraging women to get contact lenses on the small one (it should be noted that Gok Wan still has a range of glasses available in Specsavers, which seems ironic).
Is it any wonder that I learned that glasses = not hot and no glasses = hot?
Eight years and several pairs after the Pocahontas incident, I was granted contact lenses on my 15th birthday. They were the coolest thing I owned.
Although I’d attempted to work the Velma-from-Scooby-Doo look (there was a movie remake in the early Noughties and my thick-framed, rectangular frames were surprisingly trendy at the time), there didn’t seem to be room in the narrow definition of ‘pretty teenage girl’ for glasses.
So I underwent my own makeover montage: in losing my glasses, I had gained passage to the enchanting, and frequently confusing, world of parties, bad boys and blue eyeliner.
Since then I’ve had a love affair with a pair of enormous plastic granny glasses, which took me on some of the best nights of my life (learning to party well in glasses is a little-known but invaluable skill) and had a cherished illustration immortalise my speccy style – but also felt repulsed when photos of me wearing them appear on social media.
Even now, when I’m fortunate enough to feel happy and confident in my appearance, I will sometimes take them off for photos.
It doesn’t even make sense. The people who know me best: friends, family, old boyfriends, all say that when they think of me, I’m wearing glasses. That’s probably because glasses suit me and my personality, and the best people in your life appreciate you for more than just your face. Along with my hair (also the same when I was seven – if it ain’t broke…), glasses are the one consistent part of how I look. But the fact is that sometimes I don’t even think about wearing them, let alone put them on.
And I’m not alone, either. A number of my close female friends wear glasses, but it took me months to find out because they wear contact lenses in public. Sometimes I feel badass, smart and fearless behind my tiny plastic windshields – a kind of Lois Lane who doesn’t have to rely on sappy old Superman (so much better with glasses, for what it’s worth) to get stuff done. Other times I just feel frumpy.
Google ‘wearing glasses’ and there are endless pages of tips on how to look pretty while wearing glasses, including a WikiHow for ‘How to Look Hot Even If You Wear Glasses’. Urgh. As if looking good and wearing glasses couldn’t possibly happen at the same time. This is, obviously, total tosh, but how are we meant to feel when the world is telling us that we look better without them?
It doesn’t help that the women society uphold as beautiful and brilliant on a daily basis don’t have glasses on. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, though. Here are a few gorgeous glasses-wearers: Tavi Gevinson, Lupita N’yongo, Orange is the New Black’s Alex Vause, Rashida Jones, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada…
But really, the only person that’s going to make you feel great in your glasses is you. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t always feel glorious in them – sometimes you won’t, because life.
And for every time I’ve had to flap around looking for my glasses in the morning because I’ve lost them (one of life’s cruelest pranks), or consistently smushed the same bit of grease around the lenses all day long (shampoo gets them clean, by the way), I still wouldn’t get laser eye surgery. Because you know what? I’d actually miss the expensive, pesky little blighters – myopia chose me, glasses are my lot, and I’ve learned to rock them. You will too.
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Image: Laura Callaghan