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So Now It’s Finally Cool to Wear Thick Glasses?

After a lifetime spent growing up near-blind, I got kind of used to looking like a nerd.

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You’d be surprised by how many different places people have stopped me to ask if they could try on my glasses: my college dining hall, trivia night, the place where I get my eyebrows done, just to name a few. On a scale of one to “can you just, like, say something for me in your native language?” (another request I’ve grown to dread) on the annoying scale, the request is pretty far up there.

My prescription is around -15.5 in both eyes. This means I qualify for “medically necessary” contact lenses, which are custom-made (I prefer to call them “couture,” because without insurance, they cost upwards of $600 per year). Trying on my glasses will make you nauseous and disoriented, and your reaction will remind me that yes, it really does suck to be kind of blind. Just in case I’d forgotten, somewhere in between incessantly scrubbing my lenses clean (I will probably die clutching a lint-free cloth) and feeling around for them after washing my face.

My parents figured out that I needed eyeglasses when I started walking into (instead of onto) the jungle gym in preschool. From there on out, my glasses became a permanent fixture of who I was, and while I’m not sure which came first, the glasses or my predilection toward bookishness, I was the little kid with the large glasses buried in a book, always. Later, my glasses would prompt me to strike up a deep, emotional kinship with Molly, the only bespectacled American Girl Doll.

Because of how high my prescription was and the speed at which my vision worsened, my family’s visits to the opthalmologist weren’t just routine check-ups. My dad usually took off work, my mother turned up with a manila folder tracking the progression in my astigmatism, and we sat, all three of us and the doctor, as I tried desperately to determine if that letter was an “R” or a “B.” (Surprise! It was a J). But the real turning point in the ophthalmological saga was when my parents and doctors decided contact lenses would be both better for slowing down my rapidly worsening prescription, but also “look nicer on my face as I developed into a young lady.” You know, a preteen who had to start caring about her appearance in high-stakes environments like homecoming dances and first dates.

Until this point, I had never really considered that my eyeglasses were an unattractive feature to get rid of. I hadn’t really thought of them as part of my style or fashion choices — as far as I was concerned, I was already checking those boxes, thanks to persistently groveling to my parents whenever Delia’s had a sale. But here I was, trying on contact lenses and being challenged by my parents and doctors to see how many hours a day I could tolerate having them in, and how responsible I could be about remembering to put them in every morning. And despite all the encouragement about how wonderful I looked without my glasses (coming from family members who had also tried to convince me that my braces were totally unnoticeable), it was one that felt like a daily uphill battle.

The key part of that battle was the reality that no one really anticipated about contact lenses, which was how much attention they’d draw to the rest of my preteen face –– uneven eyebrows, blemishes, the whole nine yards. I was suddenly without a safety blanket I had never even realized I’d had, and no one at the Clinique counter could save me. I only wanted to wear the lenses on days when it was feasible to sport a face full of makeup (read: a ton of foundation, settled comfortably into my pores to draw attention to all those imperfections). My entire perception of my appearance had changed when I was informed that the plastic thing that had sat on my face for as long as I could remember was actually an imperfection, a blemish I had to work to eradicate. And with that new pretense, I would spend the next eight years or so equating glasses with “not trying” and contact lenses with “going out” –– until I confronted that how comfortable I felt was a better indicator of my confidence than how I looked. And that comfort came from wearing my glasses with a button-down, loafers, and jeans, every single time. It was a far cry from the trendy bodycon-skirt-and-crop-top formula, but it looked like me.

Whenever I feel out of touch and disconnected from the youths, I go to Urban Outfitters. I’ll find crop tops emblazoned with Calvin Klein and Juicy Couture logos (my first sign that the ’90s were back), Korean sheet masks, llamas, whatever. So when I discovered the store was selling prescription-less eye glasses for $30 to $40 a pop, I had an inkling of what was happening. When I heard about Warby Parker, I knew: My time, our time (me and my glasses) had come. Glasses were A Thing, because people were actually trying to fake the need for them.

It was a thrilling time for me, of course, but the feelings I felt were not dissimilar to how I felt when I realized that full, bushy “boy brows” were a look people were trying to achieve –– best described as indignation with a dash of validation (and some teenage tears, for panache). It’s great news, but it doesn’t really erase all of those years spent trying to make it just one more hour at a party with dry, painful lenses digging into my eyes, just so I didn’t have to swap my glasses back in. Likewise, knowing about the brow trend would have been great to know when I was 13 and being tormented endlessly for having thick, unruly eyebrows (but if I’m being honest, I still feel vindicated every time I hear someone talk about how much they spend on brow gels and brow pencils).

Of course, when I actually went to place an order at Warby Parker, I received a friendly automated email saying that my prescription was too damn high to make the eyeglasses. And so, to this day, the best pair of glasses I have ever owned are not from Warby Parker. They are from the patron saint of 2003, Juicy Couture, and still reside as a backup pair (albeit horribly outdated, prescription-wise) in my medicine cabinet, smelling heavily of preteen spirit. The second-best pair I own is the pair I wear today, made by the folks at See Eyewear. The entire line from which they come is fairly minimalist and doesn’t cost $700, and the wonderful people in the Cambridge store tighten my frames every time I accidentally fall asleep while wearing them, which is quite regularly. I wear my glasses almost every single day of the week, and when I shop, I think of how great a top will look with my frames (or, when I get five hours of sleep, I think of how awesome it will feel not to be bleary-eyed in contact lenses).

I guess the question at hand is this: What kinds of terrible crap are teenagers putting up with right now that will eventually become trendy, and therefore acceptable things for them to wear or own? And why do they (we) have to wait so long to feel like the things they’re born with, or the things they’re into, are okay? In retrospect, it just seems pretty short-sighted.


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