“When they take of their glasses and put down their hair”: Defogging the Glasses Girl Stereotypes

Part 1

Things He Says:

Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

Thing She Says:

I wear glasses. Not for fashion. Not to attract suitors.

I’ve worn glasses my whole life because I have strabismus and poor vision, but often this necessary accessory elicits unwanted comments. In elementary school, kids who wear glasses are called “four eyes.” In middle school, they’re called “nerds.” But when they become adults, an unusual shift occurs, and they’re transformed. For those of us who remain bespectacled in our adulthood, former insults turn into pickup lines and wearing glasses often becomes a seductive aesthetic.

When men flirt with me, they comment on my eyewear. It’s something I don’t ask for but something I’ve come to expect. For the sole fact that I wear glasses, I will be asked one of two things (or even both):

  1. Can I see you without your glasses? or
  2. Are you the geeky type or the sexy librarian type?

While the first question kindly asks for my consent (and my answer is always “no”) and the second seems like harmless teasing, both illustrate in different ways what men think about women—as beautiful swans hiding under glasses, sexy scholars, or geeky girls.

These perceptions pose problems, and we’ll unwrap their meanings here.

Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

Mia Thermopolis plucked her brows, straightened her untamed locks, and swapped her glasses for a tiara in order to become the Princess of Genovia. Laney Boggs lost her artsy frames for Freddie Prinze’s prom queen antics. For teenagers in unforgiving high schools, wearing glasses royally sucked. But put on some makeup, wear less clothing, and Ms. Unpopular becomes the “It Girl” on campus. Everyone realizes she was beautiful all along.

But this isn’t just fiction. I think about these strong heroines when men are curious what I look like without glasses. Without knowing it, they’re reaffirming the narrative of ugly duckling to beautiful swan—that behind every frumpy girl in glasses is a bombshell of a babe. From a woman’s perspective, this makes me feel that I’m ugly or insufficient as I am and need to change (remember that reality series about women who underwent plastic surgery to become beautiful?). I don’t hide behind glasses because I secretly want a man to make me beautiful. I wear glasses so I can see!

Women aren’t the only victims of this ugly duckling narrative, as the 2005 reality show Beauty and the Geek, produced by Ashton Kutcher, capitalized off of the transformation of glasses-wearing men. This sex swap illustrates that women aren’t the only ones subject to others’ superficial perceptions based on what they wear on their face. However, it’s more frequent that movies and shows—like Ugly Betty, The Princess Diaries, and She’s All That—in pop culture ingrain this harmful idea into our minds that a woman who wears glasses is more beautiful without her lenses.

A guy once told me he liked my faded blue-silver frames. But when we were fogging up the windows of his car he told me to take off my “stupid fucking glasses.” I don’t ask a man on a first date what he looks like without glasses. Because I wear glasses, I expect the same respect.


Read about the other gender stereotypes revolving around glasses here.

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