April A to Z Blogging Challenge: E is for Eyes

#DailyWings: “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
-Jonathan Swift

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”

I started having vision problems toward the end of fifth grade when it became too difficult to read the dry erase board in Mrs. Garcia’s math class. The equations were fuzzy and, more often than not, I had to squint my eyes to clearly see anything that was far away.

It wasn’t until I took that routine eye exam at school – the one where you have to read letters with one eye open and move a step back after every reading – and realized my vision was no longer excellent that I admitted to my parents that maybe it was time for me to see an optometrist.

My first pair of glasses had thin, pink frames that were oval, like my eyes. I picked them out for myself because I thought they looked sweet, feminine and innocent – all adjectives I wanted to be (or at least appear to be) back in sixth grade. In some ways, I prided on being a kid with glasses because I felt like they made me look smarter, or at least well-read. I did – and still do – attribute my sub-par vision to late nights spent under the covers with a flashlight and good book (sometimes, I’d hide away in my closet).

While some bespectacled kids go through childhood and adolescence hating their glasses and begging their parents to buy them contact lenses, I had no desire to get rid of mine once I got used to them. I thought they framed my face, and even helped magnify my tiny, tiny eyes.

Hopefully you can tell that I am *much* younger in this photo than I am today (right? right??). This was taken in 2006, two years after I got my first pair of glasses with the pink frames (pictured).

Not long after I got my first pair of glasses, my sister Hope began her junior year of high school and joined Pitt County’s Junior Miss scholarship program, our local chapter of the America’s Junior Miss program. The emphasis of this competition is on scholarship, but there are many other portions of the program that rely heavily on stage performances, including Poise (“ability to walk and hold yourself with grace under pressure”), Talent and Fitness.

That year, Hope dedicated hours to learning the PCJM dance numbers, perfecting her violin skills and practicing potential interview questions. Originally a glasses wearer like me (hers were like Harry Potter’s: perfectly round), she switched to contact lenses, which probably made rehearsals and fitness routines a lot easier than if she’d still been wearing glasses. She eventually went on to win PCJM and North Carolina’s Junior Miss (NCJM) and, finally, became the first runner-up of America’s Junior Miss in 2008. (So proud!)

During the two years that our local and state communities turned their attention toward my sister’s successes, questions poured in about whether or not I was going to “follow in my sister’s footsteps” and compete in the Junior Miss program once I reached junior year of high school.

Okayyyy, I admit: I thought about it. A lot. Sometimes, I fantasized about my Talent number as a pianist and what my “farewell speech” would be as I passed on the title of “Junior Miss” to the next winner. The prospect of being a part of such a supportive network of positive, accomplished women was inspiring and very tempting.

But as we continued to attend Junior Miss programs around the state and eventually the national competition, I noticed something about a lot of the contestants and, most notably, the winners: None of them wore glasses. Many of them probably wore contact lenses like my sister, but nobody had glasses on during the Fitness category (probably for reasons that are easily understandable), Talent or even Poise. Was this a coincidence, or was there a general, unspoken consensus that glasses could take away from a young woman’s likability in a competition like Junior Miss?

Don’t get me wrong: again, the Junior Miss program (now known as the Distinguished Young Women program) is an amazing, positive, transforming experience for many young women in high school and beyond, and the program has helped my family in more ways than we could ever imagine. But when I noticed how few girls in the program wore glasses, it made me self-conscious about my beloved thin, pink-framed glasses for the first time. I started becoming hyper aware of how different I looked without my glasses on and how naked I felt without them.

These are things I still think about today amid conversations about how women with glasses are portrayed in pop culture. How America Ferrera’s character in “Ugly Betty” was only pursued by the magazine’s editor-in-chief only after she’d had her glasses (and braces) removed, and why. I hope that, in the future, more women with glasses will be represented positively in the media and not just represent the “nerdy kids” or the “woman who is not yet confident enough to strip that ‘glasses mask’ off and be herself.” Glasses don’t take away from a person’s beauty. Glasses can empower you, if you’ll let them.

In case you were wondering, no, I did not end up doing Junior Miss. As much as I would’ve liked to be a part of the program, I don’t regret forgoing the opportunity. By choosing to skip out on this particular experience, I got to found my high school’s literary magazine, spend quality time with my then-partner and focus on the SATs and college applications. I like to think that another young girl was able to find her own self-confidence, strength and inner beauty through the program.

My present-day and third pair of glasses are by Tory Burch. The frames are partly black, partly cream-colored with a gold flower near the base where the frame and lens meet. I think they’re an appropriate, fashionable upgrade from my pink frames, don’t you?

Do you wear glasses? If so, do you like them and how do you feel about people with glasses who are portrayed in the media? Thanks to Andrew Soboeiro for inspiring me to write about glasses and their implications on women’s beauty! 

 

3 responses to “April A to Z Blogging Challenge: E is for Eyes”

  1. Carrie-Anne says:

    I got glasses in first grade, back in 1986, and began hating them in sixth grade, 1992. I frequently took them off at school in sixth and seventh grades, convinced I was ugly. My parents didn’t let me get contacts till age 17, in 1997. Even after I finally had contacts, I still didn’t want to be seen wearing glasses in public. I had internalized that stigma against women with glasses, even as an adult. I haven’t gotten new contacts in over a year now, though I’d like to go back to wearing them. I have a scar on my right cornea, and I imagine all this time away from contacts has been good for my gimpy eye. It’s taken too long for me to not be self-conscious about wearing glasses in public, after I left society tell my 12-year-old self any woman with glasses is automatically ugly, nerdy, and undesirable.

  2. I love your glasses, and your glasses story. It is true. Girls with glasses are stereotyped. We need to work on that. Your job on the school paper must have been great. I love those photos, too.
    I only wear readers. I don’t really like wearing glasses, even sunglasses, but my eyes are changing, so my attitude will have to adjust!
    Play off the Page

  3. Sara L. says:

    Great article, Wendy. I love how you put such a positive spin on your glasses experience, and how they’ve become an integral part of your identity.

    I’ve had vision problems, too, but for a LONG time. I had to get my first pair of glasses when I was in kindergarten. :S So I was one of the unfortunate ones who was teased about her glasses (among other things) from a very young age. And it didn’t stop until I started wearing contacts at age 13. Peer pressure had nothing to do with getting contacts, though. That June, two things happened: 1) I was a junior bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding, and 2) my dance recital routine was set to Will Smith’s “Men In Black” song – and we had the signature suit costumes and sunglasses to go along with it. And my eyesight was so poor that I was afraid I’d fall offstage while wearing sunglasses because… well… yeah. *lol*

    I haven’t abandoned my glasses, btw. I wear them on the weekends, weekend nights, or whenever I’m not going anywhere special.

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