It’s stated matter of factly by blonde bombshell Pola Debevoise, played by insatiable Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire, that “men are not attentive to girls who wear glasses.” Throughout the film audiences watch and giggle at Pola, one of three gold diggers ― a model who wears glasses. But never in public. In public Pola parades around acting cool until she walks into closets and bumps into walls ― still, she considers that a better alternative than being seen wearing glasses.
It was in primary school when my eyesight started to fail me and I found I needed glasses. I rebelled against the thought of being shortsighted by using my newfound condition as an excuse to submit messy and careless work. Being told by my teacher I had to sit in the front row to see was a difficult realization to accept. What followed was a trip to the eye specialist with mom and an afternoon spent choosing frames. My first pair were round and navy blue with spots. The pairs to follow in my teens were just as sexy.
I made changes to my appearance in my mid-20s once I could afford the costly laser vision correction surgery. I conducted research, read articles to prepare myself, yet I was scared. There were two options: the procedure where they slice a layer of your eye or the one where they zap your eye for a few seconds. My eyes were suited to the latter procedure, and I decided to have both my eyes done at the same time ― the sooner the better. My parents drove me home after surgery as I was unable to see anything but a blur and wore eye patches. I spent a few weeks in bed and my mother helped to constantly apply drops to my eyes so that they did not dry up and reverse the surgery.
All this because I didn’t feel attractive wearing glasses.
Two weeks ago I was back at Spec Savers selecting new frames. Ten years since my surgery and I’ve been struggling to see tram stops, supermarket isle signs and lights while driving at night. Even my own film on the big screen seemed blurred and bad quality. As I squinted my eyes and shuffled closer to the screen I noticed my eyes that were the problem, not the TV or the DVD quality. What I had been denying the last few months was true; I needed glasses again for long distance, driving, and watching screens.
“I didn’t feel attractive wearing glasses.”
I made and appointment for an eye check and a week later I picked up my frames just before I was due to meet a client to shoot a promo video. I popped them on and smiled all the way to the gig. I loved the look of my Love Moschino frames on my face ― I felt attractive and interesting. Glasses can show your personality through the frames style you choose plus make you look mysterious.
But I’ve never understood TV, film and advertising making a connection with wearing glasses to nerds or educated people. Nerds don’t choose to wear glasses to look smart or fit in, people who wear glasses are shortsighted or have cataracts and need them to see. Surprise! You don’t become super smart once you put glasses on.
The fantasy of the hot librarian who prances around in her tight pencil skirt, unpins her bun and throws her glasses off to reveal a goddess in waiting annoys me too. This female character stereotype is was always easy to spot – Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Hasley from Bad Teacher or the not so easy to spot Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman from 1992’s Batman Returns.
Thinking back to growing up wearing glasses and the female characters who, like myself wore glasses on TV shows, in movies or cartoons, they were mostly the nerd of the group or duo ―-Velma Dinkley from Scooby-Doo, Enid from Ghost World and Natalie from House Bunny fit the stereotype well. The popular girls however do not wear glasses and the boys are not attentive to the girls who did, unless they were transformed into beautiful swans, sans spectacles- Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries is a strong example.
On rare occasions the quirky girl wearing glasses is the lead character given kooky, individual traits which in turn make her fun and interesting, as demonstrated by Zooey Deschanel playing teacher Jess Day in New Girl. My favorite girl with glasses is Daria, in the cartoon of the same name. She’s the lead and the show is based around Daria’s dry humor and her cynical nature justified by teen angst. Daria is the nerd who refuses to fit in and often makes fun of her popular sister, who is written as the classic American ‘it’ girl.
As expected most portrayals of the smart female character with glasses show her as a conservative secretary, teacher or a scientist. Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory is a neurobiologist and in Legally Blonde 2 Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, a law student donning glasses in an attempt to look smart, feeding the idea that glasses do that for you and people take you seriously with glasses.
How to Marry a Millionaire ends with Pola discovering that men are attentive to girls who wear glasses after landing a man who informs her that the statement is redundant. What I enjoyed about Pola was that she wasn’t the typical stereotype of a girl wearing glasses ― she was an attractive model among model friends, she wasn’t smart but she was physically desirable and funny.
Maybe since that 1953 film, portrayals of female stereotypes with glasses have been inflated to the extent of totally predictable making characters written easier for the viewer to identify as a nerd or popular person. If you ask me it’s a cope out. Show me female superheros and sex workers wearing glasses and show me athletes or rock chicks wearing glasses leading bands ― just don’t show me any more librarians and scientists with glasses or teachers ― it’s been done to death and us spectacle wearers deserve better.