Through a Lens Lightly–In Which I Examine My Bespectacled Past & Your Future

Dear Lily June,

Like it or not, you’re going to come by poor vision honestly. Born to two parents who are adorned in four respective lenses–and who frequently bicker over who’s blinder–you’re likely destined, at some point, to either be forced to see the world through a pair of glasses or to have to squint long and hard to make out your surroundings.

In fact, because I’ve sealed your bat-like fate in the cruel gamble of genetics, you’re probably going to be mad at your myopic mama for passing down such a socially-stigmatized trait as having to sport spectacles. I can only hope trends like “geek chic” continue into your young adulthood, Lily. Just in case they don’t, you need to know that in the era you were born, glasses were seen not only as functional but fashionable and, in some scenarios, downright sexy.

We’ve come a long way from the threat of Dorothy Parker in a 1925 New York World that

“Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses.”

Maybe that even held true up through the late sixties, when the best you could hope for was following in the brainy van prints of Velma Dinkley from the Scooby Doo cartoons.

Velma_Dinkley-1 (2)
Velma cared more about where the ghosts had gone than the guys. Girl knew how to prioritize.

By the time your mama came to be eye-exam-old, she only saw two figures on mid-90’s TV who were regularly attired in the thick, chunky frames her face had been forced behind at the tender age of eight–Drew Carey and Steve Urkel. Neither character donned a good look for a lady, and both were painted unapologetically as dorks–a pencil-pushing office lackey and a pocket-protecting hardcore nerd, respectively.

2005_0308_urkel (2)
The frames of these bad boys made you top-heavy, and guys could be seen up and down the library stacks checking out your “pair.”

I wish I could say I held strong to my bespectacled beginnings, but I didn’t have the confidence to withstand the social stigma for long. By my early teens, I started lobbying hard for contacts, a way to make my myopia invisible to the pack of wolves who roamed the gates around Peer Pressure Town. It wasn’t until the cartoon Daria came out that I really started to question my decision.

484px-Daria_Logo.svg (2)
Move over, John Lennon and Harry Potter: There’s no dispute that Daria Morgendorffer wore them better.

Suddenly glasses stood for sass, sarcasm, and wit for me, and especially impressive to my teen psyche was the fact that Daria, a character known for standing firm in all of her beliefs, would not give in to the pressure put on her by her younger (more popular) sister, Quinn, nor her older (more patchouli’d) crush, Trent, to swap contact lenses for plastic frames. Her glasses were synonymous with how she saw the world–accurately but at a cool remove–and her prescription held precision enough to cut through the BS of HS. She was the combat-booted bookworm I’d been waiting for.

It’s still a part of the “halo effect” to stereotype the bespectacled as scholarly, but it comes from an honest place in history. In the late 1700s, early 1800s, clergymen–the most likely to be literate as a part of their profession–were the most likely to wear reading glasses. It’s interesting to me that this stereotype has not only persisted in popular culture, but has become feminized, so that a character like Jessica Day on Fox’s sitcom New Girl can be described as “adorkable” and maintain a “soft” femininity–

zooey-deschanel-300
Though 17th century clergymen were unlikely to say drinking pink wine made them “slutty.”

–while a character like Alex Vause on Netflix’s dramedy Orange is the New Black can maintain a “hard” sexual prowess, and both can become icons worthy of 21st century women who don’t mind the prisons of children’s education or of, you know, actual prison.

cleary-wolters-435
Likewise, clergymen probably weren’t pouring over sacred texts to learn how to recruit lesbian drug mules. But I can’t be sure. I’m not a proper historian.

I hope, Lily, you can see, with or without glasses, the point I’m trying to make: Our culture, which equates glasses with intelligence, is now more regularly, at least in terms of trashy TV, equating that intelligence with sex appeal. And that’s a good time to be born into, especially since you’ll probably need a prescription to have read this post, if it still exists by the time you’re peering into machines and telling a doctor which is clearer: Number One? Number Two?

Just don’t lose sight of the fact that glasses hold power, Lily. It’s said that even Nero, Emperor of Rome in the 1st Century A.D., held up an emerald through which to watch the gladiatorial games. The man had vision but probably couldn’t predict his attempt would become the future of women’s fashion.

And if it turns out I’m wrong, and you can make out even a bottom row of letters without corrective glasses? Well then, congratulations, kiddo, you can see the following line for free:

A R E N ‘T Y O U L U C K Y.

Picture Credits:

“Velma Dinkley” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Velma_Dinkley.png#/media/File:Velma_Dinkley.png

 “2005 0308 urkel” by http://www.dcist.com/archives/2005/03/08/morning_roundup_only_in_dc_edition.php. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2005_0308_urkel.jpg#/media/File:2005_0308_urkel.jpg

“Dariatitle” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – “Daria Logo” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Daria_Logo.svg#/media/File:Daria_Logo.svg

Isabella Vosmikova/FOX http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20530276,00.html

Paul Schiraldi / Netflix http://www.people.com/article/meet-real-alex-vause-cleary-wolters-orange-new-black

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3 thoughts on “Through a Lens Lightly–In Which I Examine My Bespectacled Past & Your Future

  1. originaltitle says:

    I already see my daughter squinting from time to time and I’m not sure whether it’s just attributed to her vision still developing or that she inherited my practical blindness. Her father has superhuman vision and I’m really hoping that his genes won out, but only time will tell. My grades shot up in second grade when I finally got my first pair of glasses. Once I got into college, I much preferred them to contacts (so many hours studying in the library made contacts so undesirable), but throughout elementary, middle and high school, I was all about the contacts. My favorite part of the day is when I slip those plastic domes off of my eyes and pop on my glasses to write at night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      My mother’s now actively going blind from advanced, early-onset glaucoma. Just one more thing to add to the genetic lottery for Lily.

      I’m hoping right along with you that your daughter got her daddy’s eyes! Lily’s screwed no matter who she takes after, at least vision-ally.

      Liked by 1 person

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