Linda Maye Adams

Soldier, Storyteller

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest: My Relationship With My Glasses


Beauty of a Woman Blogfest badge showing a dark pink background and an abstract silhouette of a woman.When I decided to participate in the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, I didn’t realize what a tough subject the idea of beauty was going to be.  The first image that often comes to mind is what we are bombarded with in the media: The too-thin woman who has been airbrushed into perfection.

So much of it is that we have to look a certain way or we aren’t beautiful.  Anything that changes that is perceived to make a person instantly unattractive.  Like wearing glasses.

GROWING UP WITH GLASSES

When I was in 7th grade, I had to get glasses.  My image of them came from my parents and the media.  My father was an absent minded scientist who wore Clark Kent glasses in basic dark brown.  My mother hid behind her 1950s cat eye lenses, also in basic dark brown.

The media image came in three flavors:

1.  The brainy scientist, as if somehow only smart people could wear glasses (which was never a complement).

2.  The outcast, who got stuck with thick black glasses that were always sliding down on his face and patched with white tape.  Other people taunted him with “Four eyes!”

3.  The beautiful blonde girl who got stuck wearing wearing glasses and only wore them when needed and as little as possible at that, even if she did walk into furniture.

And I was supposed to be wearing glasses?!

It didn’t help that, at the time, there were not a lot of choices for frames.  Anything as long as it was dark brown or black and plastic.

It was picking the best of bad choices.

I hated them, and hated wearing them.  I ended up being like the beautiful blonde girl — leaving them off until I needed to see, and then I would drag them out.  As soon as I didn’t need them to see again, I’d yank them off and stuff them back into my bag, hoping no one noticed them.

But I was seated in the front row and had trouble reading the blackboard, so eventually necessity won.  I looked at the school portraits in the year book –rows of smiling kids, and then this one girl that stood out because she was one of the few to be wearing glasses.  Worse, because of the frame design time had stuck me with, the glasses stood out more than me.

They seemed like the Grand Canyon to me, but looking back, I realize that no one made fun of me.  Instead, it seemed more like they pretended not to notice.

GLASSES AT WAR

I enlisted in the army in 1989.  Even they were determined to punish people who wore glasses.  We were issued glasses a pair known infamously as Birth Control Glasses (that’s the politically correct name. There was a far more offensive one that was in common use).   Those who could afford it, replaced the glasses as fast as possible.  Fortunately, the drill sergeants allowed us to wear our personal ones.  Maybe they felt sorry for us.  The glasses were uglier than the ones I’d been forced to get when I was a child.

Then it was off to Fort Lewis, Washington for my  first duty station, and a little over a year later, Iraq invaded Kuwait.  By September, we knew it was likely we were to go.  The biggest concern was that Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons on us.  Every day, the news made sure all of the soldiers knew they were going over to Saudi Arabia to die.  We feverishly trained in chemical warfare, putting on a gas mask and the protective suit that came with gloves and shoes.

There was one small problem.

The most critical item was to get the gas mask on.

In nine seconds.

The time was not for people who had to wear glasses.  We had to take off Kevlar (helmet) and put it between our legs and yank out the mask and drag it over our head and seal it.  That’s a lot to do in nine seconds, and the glasses added two extra steps.  They had to come off and go somewhere.  I always tossed them in the Kevlar, but it consumed valuable seconds.

It was a struggle to make the nine seconds.  Contact lenses were not an option — we were not allowed to wear them because the gas could get under the lenses.  I spotted an op ed piece in USA Today showing a soldier with a skull for a face.

Would I be able to get my mask on time if we were gassed?

What would happen to my glasses after we had gotten gassed?

No one answered those questions, and I started to get that queasy feeling that I might die because of my glasses.  I went through the war, my glasses a constant reminder of potential death.

GLASSES TODAY

It’s only been recently that I’ve liked my glasses, and that’s because they’ve come into fashion.  My last pair of glasses were green and brown.  I picked the color because my eyes are green.  My current ones  are gold and white with some nice design work.  For the first time in my life since I’ve worn glasses, these two pairs got me compliments from both men and women.

But it’s still portrayed as something ugly in the media.  Women actors on TV rarely wear them, unless it’s to show a cliché.  Yeah, models do wear them, but only when they are selling the glasses, and I hate to say it, but I can tell the model doesn’t wear glasses.

How come not being the same as everyone else is portrayed as unattractive?  Do you wear glasses?  How were you treated by other people because of the glasses?

34 Comments

  1. I started wearing glasses when I was 40, so I didn’t have the school-based ugliness to get through. I was old enough to be practical enough to be happy to see. My husband has always had great fun in getting me to take them off. 😉 Now I have several pairs that I treat as fashion accessories.

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    • I’ve been thinking now since the frames have such better choices of buying several pairs so I can treat them as fashion accessories.

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  2. maggieamada

    Linda, it’s so interesting how glasses affected your ability to put on a gas mask. I had never thought of that. I work in corporate America and just about everyone wears glasses and is (anywhere from slightly to really) overweight. I think computers and television sets are really changing the shelf life of our eyesight. Our perception of normal is changing right along with it. It’s a slow process. Maybe in ten or twenty years, TV will catch up. One can hope since with two parents wearing glasses, my daughters are guaranteed to need them. I’m not looking forward to that fight!

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  3. Great post, and thanks for the army insight! Wow, sounds scary too with the gasmasks and all. I’ve always kind of wondered how glasses affect a soldier’s everyday life.

    I was around 8 when I got my first pair, so up until the 8th grade I was a nerd with a horseback riding hobby. The glasses bothered some back then, cos I was an active, sporty brat and they got on the way, but I guess I accommodated pretty ok to being the brainy, nerdy kid at school. Never wanted to be popular cos popular kids had to suck at school and I wanted to do well. It was just that boys didn’t really notice me (oh, woe!). When I turned 14, I got contact lenses, dyed my hair black, and started dressing weird. That was liberating, plus I never felt pretty with glasses… until in adult life (I’m 24 now). Turns out glasses = naughty and hot. Isn’t that weird? I still rarely were ’em though cos I do lots of combat sports, but when I put them on nowadays, I don’t feel like an unpretty geek.

    As for TV, the first La Femme Nikita series shows Nikita wearing glasses pretty often for no particular reason — and she’s a hot secret agent!

    – K. Trian

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  4. Linda, like you, I was at war with my glasses, though not as literally. At first, it was cool, because I truly believed my glasses would make me special, and oh, how I wanted to be special. I remember the big, colourful frames of the 80s (did I really go out in public with those?) and the dress for success buzz that made glasses an accessory essential to image as a briefcase and cell phone.
    Interesting, as our attitudes toward beauty shift, and brands like Dove celebrate women in all shapes, glasses aren’t such a big deal. Some might say, glasses are sexy.

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  5. Love this! I had to wear glasses from the time I was 6 years old. Since I was clumsy and broke my frames a lot, my mom would only buy me the cheap glasses (i.e. thick ugly frames). No matter how much I pleaded, she would not budge. I got the $15 frames.
    I got through it, taking the name calling (brainiac, nerd, geek) as compliments because it meant the other kids acknowledged that I was smarter than them. I didn’t tell them that, but I would laugh to myself.
    And now days, the frames that I thought were ugly are the ones that the “cool” kids are wearing. Who knew that would happen?

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    • That’s the problem when someone else is buying the frames: The cheap stuff. When I could afford it, I bought some aviator frames that cost $150 — very expensive for the time, but definitely not brown plastic!

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      • Cheap or expensive, when you step on them, they break just the same. Which I did several times. After the first time, my mom was like “No more expensive glasses for you”.
        These days, I have a pair that I bought and they are very cute. Now that I can take better care of them, they last a lot longer.

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  6. I switched to contacts in my mid twenties only to keep losing them because the hard contacts didn’t fit the lens of my eye. Finally I switched to the soft one and loved not having to hide behind my glasses, loved opening the oven door and not having the lenses of my glasses fog up, loved that my make-up didn’t get on the glasses. Then I became ill, couldn’t stand the chemicals of the cleaning solution or the chemicals in my contact lenses. I was FORCED to wear glasses again. I hated them. I hated what I had to give up. I have since then become okay with my glasses (still hate opening the oven door and having them fog up) and look forward to getting a new and different pair each year.

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  7. Catherine Johnson

    The gas mask thing must have been so hard. Luckily glasses look a lot better these days. I really like mine, but I don’t need them all the time.

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    • Curiously, my father didn’t need his all the time, and they became the bane of his existence. He’d set them down, and next we’re hearing is, “They’re lost. I have to buy a new pair.”

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  8. I started wearing glasses at the age of 5. They were awkward and I always hated them. In middle school and high school, I was made fun of because of them. They were big, tortoise shell frames. Finally, I was able to get contact lenses and I loved them as my eyes are probably the best physical feature about me. I was finally able to show them off. Now I’m older and contacts don’t fit so well and it’s difficult to find them that can correct the astigmatism and provide bifocal type vision. At least I have some with pretty scroll work on the sides. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on them. I am glad to see that there are nice, fun frames out there for kids and teens, especially in an age where superficiality is at its highest. At least they can look somewhat cool and fashionable.

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  9. I only acquired my glasses when I turned 40. I couldn’t believe how my eyes changed. I have to admit, I felt super unsexy at first. I wrote about it a bit on my blog. But then I was fortunate enough to figure out that I needed t specific shape and I bought my first good pair. Now, I treat them like accessories, I I have three fun pairs that I like. I’m just so glad to be able to see. But I know what you mean. The decision to be pretty or the decision to survive: that is a poignant question that lurks in the underbelly of your post. I think that is what we do to women. We send this message quietly, but not so quietly. Being conventionally pretty is still the most important thing. It’s still a matter of life and death — with or without the gas.

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  10. I didn’t need glasses until a few years ago, but I remember there was definitely a stigma in elementary school. It’s funny, but my daughter (a teen now) desperately wanted glasses when she was in elementary school. She actually “faked” her eye exam. If I had to guess why, I’d say because glasses symbolized smartness to her and I think she wanted that label.
    Great post, Linda. 🙂

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    • It’s hard to believe that glasses have gone from a stigma to a fashion accessory. But better for us because we get better looking glasses! 🙂

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  11. I’ve worn glasses since I was eight, but they never really bothered me, though, maybe because I was fortunate enough to get cute little Ben Franklin style frames. They were only a small part of what kids bullied me for. Yet I was still glad to get contacts at 16. What’s funny is I’ve always found guys in glasses to be really hot! Yes, my husband has them. So do the heroes in most of the romance novels I’ve written. 😀

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  12. I was 12 (7th-grade-ish, right? I was home schooled, I didn’t keep track of what grade I was in until I was 16, lol!) when I got my first pair of glasses, and fortunately in my era, they were starting to become stylish. My first pair had gold rims and purple whatever-they-call-the-part-that-hooks-over-your-ear. I don’t recall anyone ever making fun of me for glasses . . . braces, yes. Glasses, nope. They must have been more common in my childhood.

    I can’t imagine the hassle of trying to juggle putting on a gas mask with making sure your glasses would be somewhat safe. That must have been frustrating.

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  13. Great post, Linda. Your wartime experiences really add something to my perception of the practicality of glasses!

    I’ve been wearing glasses since I was about 30, and although I don’t feel there’s a stigma, I don’t personally like my appearance in them… So I try to remember to take them off in photos! Silly really, but I only wear them for distance, so tend to wear them in a crowded room, or for watching TV/movies and driving. I’m constantly pulling them on and off — even if I get up from the TV I pull them off, and I ever wear them when sitting at a restaurant table with others. That’s not because of how they look, though. It just feels weird to have them on.

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  14. Glasses are like AIR to me … the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night … I can’t imagine life without them because I can’t see a bit when I’m not wearing them.I wore contacts for a bit in my 20s – but after I had kids all that changed.
    Thanks for the kind visits to my blog 🙂

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  15. Fantastic topic and post, Linda. Thanks for participating in the fest!

    I thought I was going blind in the 3rd grade (too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie ;)), and still recall the blurring cursive letters at the front of my classroom… Once I realized that I needed glasses, I was pretty horrified. So fearful that a classmate might see me choosing frames at the mall, I grabbed a pair without really looking—hot pink, plastic frames. Argh.

    The doc told me I didn’t have to wear them “all the time,” which I took to mean “rarely ever.” My vision worsened significantly while my pink hotties sat hidden in my desk. I love my glasses now, and my contacts. Thank goodness the world, glasses fashion and me have changed!

    (Birth Control Glasses?!? Seriously??? Wow…)

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  16. I can relate, Linda. Only I was in 8th grade. For most of my life I only had to wear them for certain activities (like driving and watching TV). Then about three years ago, I started having to wear them all the time as my eyesight worsened with age. Very annoying at first, but now I’m used to them and actually kind of like how they look. But getting the right frames is essential. Mine are gold wire frames with little mother of pearl inserts on the sides. Love ’em!

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    • That’s a bad time of life to get them, I think. It’s a pity they couldn’t have made budget frames with that in mind.

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  17. Wow, that’s so scary. I never imagined how glasses would affect someone in the military.
    I’ve been wearing glasses since 3rd grade. For a while they were awkward. They definitely contributed to my super nerd status in high school. But by college, I had fun with them. Now I love my glasses. My eye doctor suggested Lasik surgery but I can’t imagine my life without glasses.

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  18. Sue

    Never ever did I think what wearing glasses would mean for someone in the military. How scary about the gas mask. Loved your analogy of the pretty girl running into furniture- my daughter had to get glasses in 3rd or 4th grade and she avoided wearing them. One day, we were sitting at the table and she looked out the back patio door, exclaiming “oh look mom! The neighbors got a kitty!” I looked for myself and said “sweetheart, that’s a dog. Perhaps you should go get your glasses!” 🙂

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  19. I started wearing glasses in middle school. I can’t ever remember being teased for it, or being caused life or death fear! I do, however, look back at my many odd choices of frames and cringe. I, too, love the ones I wear now, though I can’t see out of the damn things. Have to take them off when I eating, cooking, or sitting across the table from someone. I got them in the midst of a cross country move & didn’t take them back in time. *sigh* At least they look good & “authory”.

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    • I wonder if my impressions of teasing come from television. I know I saw shows that emphasized it (like The Brady Bunch), which tends to play to cliches.

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  20. I’ve worn glasses since I was seven years old. I’m grateful I was never teased for it, but I developed a lot of vanity around them – they had to be pink, and they had to be pretty because my eyes are sensitive enough to make wearing contacts a bad idea. My current glasses are pink, pretty, and fashionable. I wear them all day long, but prefer to take them off if I know pictures are being taken. More vanity. Sigh.

    I can only imagine the terror of those 9 seconds to get that mask on with the need to remove your glasses and then get them back on, too.

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    • Pink? I think I would have gotten that if I’d seen them, but brown was pretty much it. The choices have changed a lot over the years.

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  21. I’ve worn glasses or contacts since 5th grade. I felt really insecure at the time because I was the first one to get glasses and braces in my class. Add to that, the last one to need a bra and we have a hot mess, Ladies and Gentlemen! LOL. I wear contacts most of the time, but I love glasses days, and I bought myself a nice pair and now it’s something I get compliments on! Oh, and the braces came off first, so ha! 😉

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    • I share all your tussles (except the military ones). Now I don’t mind wearing them, I just wish they could better correct my perpetually fading vision. Mom has macular degeneration, so being able to see is something I cherish every day. People don’t understand why I don’t like to swim – I CAN’T SEE THE SIDE OF THE POOL OR THE SHORELINE AND, NO, THEY CAN’T MAKE A PAIR OF PRESCRIPTION GOGGLES THAT WORK WITH MY CRAZY EYE NEEDS!

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