Glasses have been my nemesis for as long as I can remember, but it took a trip to Paris last winter to become comfortable not only with them, but with myself.
“Don’t you want to add to your optical wardrobe?” the Parisian boutique owner’s daughter asked. “The glasses will be part of your facial furniture.”
Despite the fact that Barbara, my wife, and I believed ourselves to be well-dressed, savvy New Yorkers, the saleswoman’s emphasis on the fashion attributes of the glasses I was trying on seemed a bit much.
I had been wearing glasses since third grade. Had to because of poor vision and the only time I changed them was when my prescription changed.
Barbara stood near me, laughing. “Très, très chic. Je les aime beaucoup,” she said in her never-having-studied French accent.
The chic young woman and her debonair optician father agreed, “Stupéfiant.” He added, “They are handcrafted in Normandy.”
While some people might be impressed with the information, I wasn’t. The fact that the eye frames were from Normandy might have been interesting, but they were acetate, and it’s not the same as Michelangelo’s securing Carerra marble for his David.
The Life-Changing Possibilities of Glasses
“But, they are so not me, more like the wraparounds for people with light sensitivities or the ones motorcyclists wear,” I protested.
“You’ve got to buy them,” Barb continued. “They pop. ‘Popsicle Orange,’ fabulous against your white hair. And the butterfly-like shape is perfect on your face. Wait until you see how many ‘likes’ you get. They will be life-changing.”
We had been together for more than 30 years and married for four. An artist, she is a color maven. But, in this case, I thought she was wrong. Me? Popsicle Orange? At my age? At any age?
I wanted a new pair of glasses, but these specific ones?
Our conversation took place in a store located in the heart of Saint-German des Prés, a pricey shopping area in the 6tharrondissement. We were on vacation and it was a chilly afternoon. The store’s window display had caught our attention.
The frames were no doubt for a variety of occasions, moods, lifestyles and personalities. They ranged from polka dot to Mondrian-like, from elegant and fun to dorky and cutting edge.
“Could I wear them to my high school reunion?” I asked.
“Depends on who you want to be. To art shows for sure,” Barb answered.
“How many of those do I go to? And, the price is cost-prohibitive.”
For every objection I had, Barbara had a rebuttal. She pleaded, cajoled and even offered to buy them for me, an early birthday gift, she said. Nothing but these would do. “What’s it going to take?” she asked, exasperated.
Seeing is Believing
“Come outside, see how the frames look in the sun,” the saleslady said. I reluctantly followed her — and the hand mirror she was holding — to the sidewalk. A bus was stopped for a red light in front of us. A seated woman looked directly at me. She smiled broadly and gave me a thumbs-up.
In that instant, I smiled and felt I had no choice but to capitulate to the four of them.
On the plane home, with time to spare, I wondered why they saw something I didn’t and whether I would really stand out when I wore them.
Growing up in a small town in Upstate New York, I was the only bespectacled girl in my class and regularly singled out as “four-eyed.” When I went with my friends to see the 3-D film House of Wax in 1953, starring Vincent Price, I became “six-eyed.” Along with braces on my teeth, tangles and snarls in my curly hair, as well as a big nose the size of my father’s, I was a mess.
Throughout college, I continued to wear the same, utilitarian tortoise-shell design. Well, aside from a brief foray into contact lenses in my late 20’s — I was leaning over the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera and one fell out of my eye. To my horror, it landed on the head of someone who was seated downstairs in the orchestra.
And my stint with eye shadow resulted in an itchy rash, forcing me to revert back to glasses. I was doomed.
As Dorothy Parker once said, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” And, in those days, I was looking to hook up with a man.
A New Frame of Reference
Back home, Barbara was right. The compliments didn’t stop. Friends, relatives and strangers.
Men, women, kids, teenagers, Gen Xers, millennials, boomers, seniors, people of different ethnicities, professions and a wide range of colors. Blue collar, white collar, waiters, movie ushers. In restaurants, museums, the Apple store on the Upper West Side, exiting the subway and marching in the Women’s March.
I wasn’t used to the attention or the flattery. How I looked always had been important, but the clothes and accessories I wore matched my careers (teacher, film producer and corporate executive), not the trends or occasions.
But, after a year of being regularly accosted, I asked the commentators themselves: Why do you like them?
Their observations ranged from “retro” to “contemporary.”
One person told me, “You look like you’re going to a rave festival,” whatever that is.
“Fun,” said one.
“Funky,” said another.
While my favorite was “androgyny personified,” a shout-out, “I love your glasses!” from a homeless woman who stood, holding a cardboard sign begging for money, in midtown Manhattan, was a close second.
I had come full circle. Wearing glasses had been compulsory, an albatross around my neck, for I had begun to see myself as others had seen me: nerdy, intense and serious, without a fun, stylish or assertive muscle in my body. But, now, all these years later, I had discovered — dressed in these magical glasses — a new frame of reference and a new way of seeing and being seen.
Ann Jackowitz, a freelancer, writes on issues relating to social injustice, education, philanthropy and breast cancer advocacy. Her work has appeared in The Forward, Lilith and .Mic
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