Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hey, Four Eyes!


I started wearing glasses at the age of three. I hated them so much I would take them off and hide them in my mom’s clothes dryer; a front-loader that was the perfect height for a disgruntled toddler. When I did wear my glasses, I never cleaned them. Unable to see through the filthy lenses, the glasses would slip down to the tip of my nose and I’d peer out over the top of the frames, which made me look like a little old lady. This might explain why my maternal grandfather’s nickname for me was, Grandma.


hen the time came to go to school, my enlightened and sensitive classmates showered me with terms of endearment like brainiac and four eyes. The bullies were not bright enough to know that the former was not an insult and that the latter was a biological impossibility. But why quibble over details with troglodytes?

Things got so much better by the age of 10 when my glasses had graduated to being Canadian bacon-thick bifocals.
     “Tell them at least your parents can afford to get you glasses,” my Mom would said.
And she was right. I was lucky to have parents who were able to take care of my medical needs, but even as a kid I knew that an economics and class argument would be lost on my fellow fifth graders. I know now that if it hadn’t been my glasses, the young monsters in my life would’ve found something else to tease me about. That’s just how an un-home schooled childhood works.

t age 17 I told my parents that I could not – absolutely would not – go through my senior year of high school wearing glasses. And so appointments were made, tests were done, and I finally got contact lenses. I felt like Clark Kent transformed into Superman. I was a completely different person. I began to feel attractive for the first time in my life.

Sadly though, even after all these years, it still works the other way around. Putting on my glasses transforms me back into that ugly and awkward little kid. I feel self conscious and invisible; subconsciously waiting for an insult to be flung in my general direction or a joke to be made at my expense. Intellectually I know this is not true but logic is no match for the emotional baggage created by internalized childhood memories.

You know, the airlines charge a fee to check your luggage. As a frequent flyer I resent this but the upside is that it makes you conscious of what you’re carrying. You have to decide what you really need. If it’s not worth paying for, you let it go. Too bad we don’t always recognize the cost of emotional baggage and shed it just as easily. What has a pathological aversion to wearing glasses cost me? In pure financial terms I can’t even begin to calculate how much money I’ve spent over the years on contact lenses. Well, technically I can. I just don’t want to. I’m afraid the total will make me angry. Maybe it will add up to the peace of mind I’ve been wanting.

It’s horrifying and embarrassing to realize that I’ve spent my entire adult life basing my self image and esteem on the ignorant comments of pre-pubescent bullies. Shame on me. I let the bastards win. I’m trying to change that. I try to wear my glasses more often; not just on off days to give my eyes a rest from the contact lenses, but on purpose when going out to social functions. It hasn’t been easy.

Many times I find myself in some public bathroom putting on the contact lenses that I just happen to have in handbag. My inner adult voice scolding, “This is ridiculous, you look fine.” My inner teenage voice responding, “In a culture that judges people by appearances, why look fine when you can look great? Besides, you see better with contact lenses.” I don’t know if the latter is true or not, but as you can see my inner teenager is quite conniving and convincing. She also has the support of the three horseman of my personal apocalypse: Pride, Ego, and Vanity.

Don’t get the idea that I haven’t been told how cute, pretty, and sexy I look in glasses. I have. It hasn’t helped. You know from whence I speak. It doesn’t matter how many compliments you get, for example, on an outfit you’re wearing. If you don’t like it or more importantly you don’t like how you look in it, you can’t hear – much less accept – the compliment.

Going on-stage in glasses has been an abysmmal experiment at best. It doesn’t help that when I started stand-up comedy I was told that it was no-no to wear glasses on-stage. This is of course before the Age of the Hipster. Their collective persona is deemed incomplete without black-framed, drugstore glasses with nonprescription lenses. Haven’t you heard: 20/20 vision is so 20th century?
One night a drunk guy in the front row – completely unaware of the emotional minefield he was about to stumble into – interrupted my show and said to me, “You look like a librarian.”

I said, “Really? How would you know?”

Was that too mean? I don’t think so. Given the fact that my foot was level with his face I think my non-physical reaction is to be commended. The poor dear knew he had been insulted but couldn’t quite puzzle out how. His response was chastened silence. His girlfriend, a bit more of aware of the intellectual smack down he’d  received, stood by her man by scowling at me for the rest of the evening. Apparently it was okay for her boyfriend to be an asshole, but not okay for me to point it out. 

But this verbal victory is worthless as it did nothing to fix my feelings in any sort of real and substative way. In short, I am still not over it. I’m trying to remember that if Superman retains his powers, glasses off or on, then so do I. And there are worse things than to be mistaken for a funny librarian. I’ll keep working on it though. Grandma here intends to keep her eyes – all four of them – on the prize.

The Urban Erma, the longest running column on, was created and written by Leighann LordListen to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher RadioWatch the video edition on YouTube.comIf you enjoy The Urban Erma please leave a comment, like it on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and share it with your friends. (Share it with people who are not your friends and maybe they will be.) 


Jirina said...

I feel so sorry for you. I started wearing glasses at age 9 and by age 12 my Mom made them into my fashion statement. I have loved frames ever since and I have tons of them - one for every mood and outfit. They are my jewels and my style statement. Wish all people would see it like that - more do in Europe than in the US. A pity. Cheers, Jirina

sapphirescarlet said...

I agree 110%! I wear contacts, have since my junior year of high school. My glasses are classic Coke-bottle bottoms. And I DO see better with my contacts! The first thing I miss when I have to wear my glasses for any length of time is peripheral vision. You don't realize how wonderful it is until it's gone.

And best of all, I like myself better with contacts. That's what really matters anyway. What YOU like.