I’m AFK today, in part because of an eye appointment. Oh yes, it’s that grand biennial event whereby I get to sit uncomfortably in a dark room and read letters out loud that I may or may not be able to see. (Perhaps “A,” “F,” and “K” will be among them!) Thankfully, the result of such torture is that I get to pick out a new set of frames for my ever-thickening prescription. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this topical post that I wrote many moons ago for Geek Force Network. The article originally appeared there on April 4, 2014.
I recently got a new pair of glasses, and I love everything about them. I love the color (purple, my favorite). I love the ever-so-slight cat eye shape. I love the girly fan shapes and “crystals” embedded into the temples (the side “arms” that extend back to wrap behind your ears). I’m pretty sure that these are my most favorite pair of glasses ever.
But I always say that. Every couple of years, when it’s time to get glasses, I pour over dozens of frames searching for the “perfect” ones. And then, sometimes upon recommendation (since I can’t see worth a damn without glasses), I settle on a pair that kinda, sorta, looks alright, and I soon come to adore. It’s a process that been a part of my life for a good long while now, and one that’s become an essential ritual in crafting my own nerddom.
Right? I mean, I’m a nerd because I wear glasses? At least, that’s what everyone told me and that’s what I saw on TV growing up.
I got my first pair of glasses when I was in grade school – I had to be eight, maybe nine (er….ten?) years old. I’ll never forget that moment in class when I very nervously approached the teacher. Everyone else was reading, for our assignment – quietly reading a chapter in our textbook — had been written on the board. But I couldn’t see it. Not well, anyway. “The board looks blurry,” I whispered to my teacher at her desk. She, being one of the kindest teachers I remember, whispered back asking if I had trouble seeing other things, like words in the textbook. I said no, just the board and other far-away things. She accompanied me to the nurse’s office where I was made to read that ubiquitous eye chart. “Looks like you need might glasses!” the nurse happily exclaimed after I struggled to tell the difference between and R and K.
I don’t remember what happened after that — if I, surely mortified, went home early or squinted my way through the rest of the day. But I definitely remember being taken to the real eye doctor shortly after the incident. And I remember that first pair of glasses. They were brown, they were plastic, and they were ugly. And I hated them for a long time. (But it wasn’t hate that manifested itself in me destroying my glasses; rather, one that made me permanently self-conscious of my appearance. I never wore my glasses for those “student picture days.” Never. Not in grade school, middle school, high school, even college. Not a single one.) The reactions from classmates were mixed. The mean ones called me a “nerd” and other unpleasant epithets, while the nice ones said I looked good. I wasn’t the only kid in my class with glasses, so that helped a little. I also swore quite early on that if my glasses ever broke, I’ve never wear them taped together (like all the nerdy kids seemed to “embrace” on 1950s TV shows – my regular after school fare). Also, I’d totally stop wearing glasses if ever they got to be like “coke bottles,” thick and heavy. Kids always got made fun of in those.
Oh, the professions of an eight- or ten-year-old.
Everything changed when I got to horrible, terrible, no-good middle school. My glasses (and general awkwardness) made me a permanent target of ridicule. I know I eventually grew out of those brown, plastic frames, but I’ve no idea what I wore during middle school and early high school. I can’t imagine I made the best eyewear decisions then. I feel like I gravitated towards brown glasses for many years. But drab turned to fab later on, as I vividly remember making a very conscious choice about my glasses once in high school.
It had to be late in high school, junior year, maybe. The taunts from classmates had mostly subsided by then, almost to the point that I was invisible (thank god!), and I, in a fit of high-ish self esteem, had come to some sort of terms with my lack of clear site. The time came for my yearly eye exam and choice of frames. This time, though, rather than picking out frames at the private eye doctor like I always had before, my mother took me to an “optical chain store” where one could get glasses and exams on the cheap. This particular store was running a special – buy one pair of glasses, get a second pair free. Well now, wasn’t that something? After so many years of settling on a single, and usually unflattering, set of frames, I could now choose two possibly unflattering frames! As my mom had to get glasses herself, I roamed the “stacks” alone trying on every single brown pair of glasses they had. And then, I found them. They were red, they were flashy, and they fit my face perfectly. I was the exactly opposite of these attention-getters, and I knew that at least a few Sally Jesse Raphael sneers would come my way while wearing them. Okay, so they weren’t quite as big as her fabled frames, but I didn’t care. I had to have them.
But not being too much the rebel, the second pair I picked were the exact same frames only in blue. I didn’t wear them very often.
I was totally nervous walking into school with my bright, red, plastic glasses. They felt as intense as a flashing police sirens, and all day I kept staring the glowing rings of magma around my peripherals. And y’know what happened?
And it was awesome.
Nobody made fun of me. Nobody said I looked like a crazed talk show host. Nobody called me names behind my back that day. (Likewise, nobody complimented me either.) The strange experience actually knocked my ego down a few rungs, but it also made me realize that the only person who really saw me as a “nerd with glasses” was me. Sure, the random jeers and jitters reinforced that over the years, but that’s because I chose to believe them. My new red glasses didn’t automatically make me cool, but they did make me realize that I wasn’t all that uncool to begin with. I was just another kid with glasses; giving into the silliness of bullies was the thing that made me uncool.
Those red glasses didn’t change my life, but they changed the way I perceived it. Over the year that I had them, I eventually received a few compliments, which, hindsight being 20/20 (haha) reflected more my confidence rather than my eyewear. Since then, choosing glasses has often been the highlight of many a year. Lasik surgery has been recommended to me a number of times — thanks, but no thanks. A life with glasses is the one I’ll keep.