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The Evolution Behind the Lenses
By Paisley Hibou
One of my signature identifiers in middle and high school was my pair of unflatteringly large granny glasses. They were not an ironic fashion statement, but a life necessity. Without them, I would literally walk into poles. Once, in fifth grade, not long after I had begun wearing glasses, I tried to pretend I didn't need them and ended up walking into the huge storage bin behind the kickball field. I stumbled back to class in a daze. I reluctantly put on my glasses when the teacher started writing on the chalkboard. To my chagrin, she called on me to solve a math problem before the class. My parade of predictable, dorky awkwardness had commenced.
Ditching my glasses when boys came around (in true sitcom style, of course) was not an option. It makes me shudder to think I risked my personal safety and comfort to even try it, but I also know it's normal. Plenty of teenage girls risk their safety, comfort, and even dignity for the attention of boys. It is one of the tragedies of our society. Sometimes I wish someone older and wiser had just told me to be myself, glasses and all. When I look back at photos of myself from high school, I droop a little. Like many teen girls, I didn't see how pretty I was. Though I didn't conform in plenty of other ways—proud of my thrift shop clothes, weird music, and aversion to drugs—I couldn't stand being different for my ugly glasses.
For all kinds of reasons, I did not wear contacts until my senior year of school, when my swan transformation took place. Until then, I loathed my looks. As I trudged from class to class, I adverted the gaze of others, convinced I was hideous. I was Velma in a sea of Daphnes.
Once during a high school summer camp, a boy my age plainly asked me, “Why do you hate men?”
Confused, I said I did not hate men, and asked him why he thought I did.
He said, “Because you never smile.”
I rarely smiled because I didn't like how the skin around my eyes crinkled, making them look smaller behind my glasses. But I didn't tell him that. In fact, I don't remember what I said. I only remember feeling flustered and frustrated afterwards. I hated that my thoughts about my appearance affected my confidence and, at times, my ability to be articulate.
As such, there were many episodes where I didn't speak when I wanted to, afraid to bring attention to myself. When a handsome teacher, for instance, held a conference with me after school to talk about what was going on at home (a lot), I was as terse as possible. Not only did I want to guard my home life, I didn't want him looking at me. I was afraid of telling him what was happening at home, but I was even more afraid of him observing my “ugliness.”
Fast forward a decade. Now I willingly wear glasses, and I am quite pleased with the way they frame my eyes. I've shed that silly teenage insecurity and full-heartedly embrace the sexy librarian look. I have two distinctive, well-crafted pairs of glasses in vibrant colors. Being visually impaired doesn't make me any less attractive or, more importantly, less capable. While I still wear contacts much of the time, I must wear my glasses for my 9-to-5 writing job, lest I'm in the mood to brave a headache or itchy eyeballs. Even when I'm out and about, I'll often put on my glasses. I get compliments and I stand tall no matter what. I also speak whenever I damn well please.
Because vintage fashion is such a huge phenomenon right now (thank you, ModCloth.com!), the 1950's/'60s nerdy wallflower girl look has become a coveted one. Even if it weren't, more frames are available than ever before. There are pretty ones at every price point, in all sorts of shapes and colors. Shopping aside, life experience, great friends, and fantastic reads have allowed me to come into my own, loving and accepting my body, with or without lenses. I want teen girls everywhere to love themselves in a way I couldn't at their age.
Pimples, stringy hair, upper-lip fuzz, a little extra weight—you are beautiful. Know it. Appreciate it. I promise you'll see high school pictures of yourself differently in ten years. So put on your glasses. Go read. Volunteer. Travel. The mind you cultivate now will make you that more interesting of a person as you grow up and become an ass-kicking adult. If you're not a teen girl, I hope you tell the teen girl in your life all this and more. And if she wears glasses, tell her not to fear wearing them.