The Struggle That Only People With Glasses Understand

05/09/2015 06:35 am ET | Updated May 09, 2016

A dear friend recently told me a story about the first time I wore contact lenses. I began to reflect on what an impact wearing glasses has had on my life and my self-esteem.

I've worn glasses for almost 50 years and I still don't like wearing my thick lenses in public. At midlife I should be over this already. I mean, I've made peace with so many things by now that I think it's time to put this behind me.


I've made peace with having to wear flats instead of high heels. I've reconciled myself to the fact that I need to wear foundation and mascara instead of going au naturel whenever I walk out the front door.

And I've even learned to embrace my thick, curly locks instead of trying to straighten my hair every time I blow dry it. I used to want to look like Cheryl Tiegs. That worked out well, don't you think?

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Miller, knew how I felt. Out of two second grade classes at South End School I was the only 8 year old wearing glasses. A compassionate teacher, she purchased a book that told the story about a cool little girl who wore glasses and one day read it to the class. It made me feel good. For a few days.

In 1967 there was only one style of glasses offered for girls. They were powder blue "cat" frames with tiny shimmering "diamonds" in each corner. I hid mine in my desk as I squinted to see the blackboard.

In eighth grade my parents gave me permission to get contact lenses. In those days only hard lenses were available, and my patient mother sat beside me for hours on end as I did my best to shove those uncomfortable little discs into my eyes. When I finally succeeded they were so uncomfortable I popped them right back out.

Sorry, Mom.

It was back to wearing my funky John Lennon glasses again.


Here I am at age 14 when I spent the summer in Israel. I went with a group of other high school students and it was a magical six weeks. But wearing glasses that summer with a bunch of kids whose hormones were raging, well, it made a difference in my mind.

I think in many ways I began hiding behind my glasses, uncomfortable with the way I thought I looked without them. It was impossible to know how I looked because without my glasses on I couldn't see my face clearly.

My parents always told me I was beautiful, but you know how parents are.

During adolescence how you look is very important. It didn't help that my three closest friends were blonde, beautiful and had perfect vision. Thinking back I guess I felt less attractive than them because of my glasses.

When senior year of high school rolled around I finally decided to try wearing contact lenses again. One, two, three and those soft lenses were in my eyes and working their magic. Glory hallelujah.

It's funny that a few short weeks after my success I was asked out on my first serious date. School boys are so transparent, aren't they?

I rarely wore my glasses after that except to take them out at night and put them back in the next morning. But during my sophomore year at college that was a mistake.

My all-girl dorm had a large bathroom on each floor and the only place to hang your bathrobe (and glasses) while showering was over the top of the shower bar. With the water running I didn't hear the footsteps of girls quietly swiping my glasses and bathrobe. I was mortified when I had to run down the hall with my tiny towel wrapped around me, barely able to find my room through the cloudy blur I saw around me. When I finally made it back I found my bathrobe and glasses on my bed.

Ah, college pranks.

When I began dating my husband I swore I'd never let him see me in my glasses. One night I nearly panicked as I waited for him to pick me up for dinner. My left eye hurt so badly I was unable to wear my left contact lens. What did I do? I went on the date wearing only my right one.

That was a big mistake. By the time we got to the restaurant my right eye began to hurt and I was forced to remove my right lens.

As luck would have it, two fuzzy looking people stopped by our table. Gary's voice sounded surprised, and I sat in silence as they talked, making pretend I could see who these people were.

"Cathy, these are my parents," Gary said. "Mom and Dad, this is Cathy."


I don't remember much else except praying that I didn't look like a complete idiot. I must have performed an Oscar worthy performance because years later my in-laws told me they had no idea I couldn't see them.

The next time I met them I continued the performance by making pretend I knew who they were.

Today young girls and boys wear glasses almost as a creative expression of themselves. With a wider variety available in every size, shape and color, and the ability to offer glare-free and thinner lenses, it's easy to find one that looks good and suits their personality.

I hadn't thought about my saga of my glasses until last week. During a FaceTime session with three dear friends (who I've known since I was 10) we began to reminisce. One of them told me she remembered the first time I looked at myself in the mirror after successfully wearing contacts. She went on to tell me how fascinated I was to finally get a clear look at myself.

Then she added, "I think your writing reflects what you found that day. You see things more clearly and are able to explain to others the lens with which you see the world."


I've thought about what she said ever since, and it's made me realize that it's time to embrace who I am with and without my glasses. That's the beauty of midlife. You are finally able to become more comfortable in your own skin.

So I'll keep on writing with and without my glasses because the lens I use to see the world doesn't depend on whether or not I'm wearing glasses. The lens I use to see the world is tucked inside my heart.

And I'm comfortable with that. So here I am with my glasses. Hello, world!


This post was previously published on Cathy's blog, An Empowered Spirit.

Cathy Chester is an award-winning writer and health advocate who has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 28 years. In her blog An Empowered Spirit she writes about finding the joy in life despite disability. But MS does not define her, so she also writes about living a quality life in midlife, social good causes, animal rights, book and movie reviews, and the importance of using compassion and kindness as a way of making the world a better place.

Follow Cathy on Twitter at @cathyches.

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