By: Kira Ginter
March 23rd, 2023
A lot of people in America wear glasses; however, very few main characters in movies and TV shows wear glasses. Oftentimes, when main characters do wear corrective lenses, they are portrayed in a stereotypical way (i.e. nerdy, dorky, pre-makeover). Representation in Hollywood has been a long-fought-over issue, with the lack of bespectacled characters being just another issue to add to the ever-growing list of misrepresentations.
According to studies, approximately 64% of Americans (166.5 million) wear prescription glasses. According to the CDC, 25.3% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 need prescription glasses, and that percentage continues to grow. Additionally, approximately 35% of study subjects identifying as boys aged 12-17 wore glasses; meanwhile, 48% of girls in the same study wore corrective lenses.
When the media misrepresents individuals who wear glasses as nerdy, dorky, uncool and ugly; it disproportionately affects young girls. For instance, Velma Dinkley of Scooby-Doo wears glasses and is seen as the nerdy, uncool and less attractive female character in contradiction to Daphne Blake. While Daphne is pretty in purple with long red hair, Velma is seen in a boxy orange sweater with short bobbed brown hair. She is portrayed as the ‘brains,’ but not necessarily the beauty.
Similar to Velma, Mia Thermopolis of Disney’s The Princess Diaries is seen as uncool and unattractive prior to her princess makeover. Before her transformation, Renaldi is on screen with bushy, curly brown hair, a unibrow and glasses. After her makeover, it is implied that she is significantly more attractive once she straightens her hair and ditches the ‘unattractive’ glasses.
In the 90s rom-com She’s All That, a popular student’s friend bets a character that he cannot turn an ‘unattractive’ nobody into a ‘somebody’ before the prom. Ultimately, Laney Boggs, a glasses-wearing brunette, is chosen to be his ‘bet’ girl. Part of making Laney a ‘somebody’ is ensuring that she wins prom queen, which comes with a makeover–which involves ditching her glasses, of course.
Very few blockbuster teen movies portray young girls with glasses as the cool main character; thus, perpetuating the stereotype that girls who wear glasses are ‘unattractive’ and ‘uncool.’ If young girls are constantly misrepresented and told how ugly and unattractive they are, then they will start to believe it. It is especially difficult for young children and adults when what ‘makes them ugly’ is beyond their control.
One Quora user proposes that actors do not wear glasses because “they are reflective, making it difficult to film.” However, in the age of James Cameron’s Avatar and other CGI-reliant movies, it is incredibly hard to believe that Hollywood cannot overcome the slight inconvenience of a ‘glare’ on glasses. One would think that windows, telephone screens and sunglasses would cause many of the same inconveniences, yet these objects are constantly seen in movies. In an article on Celebrity Official Stars and People Guide, the question “Are glasses less attractive?” is answered with “As a general rule, yes: glasses make you look smarter but less attractive.”
The connotation that glasses make you ‘less attractive’ is incredibly harmful, especially since individuals who wear glasses have no safe or cheap alternatives.
Options like contact lenses and Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) eye surgery exist, but they are not accessible or affordable for everyone. For example, although rare, there are risks associated with LASIK eye surgery including, but not limited to, blindness, dry eyes and other visual problems.
Along with the risks, LASIK eye surgery cannot be performed until the vision regression plateaus (stabilizes); meaning that individuals whose prescription changes yearly are not eligible for LASIK. Even if people are deemed medically eligible, this form of eye surgery is considered ‘elective’; therefore, it is rarely covered by insurance, meaning that only individuals with disposable income can afford it. The price of LASIK varies drastically, generally costing between $1,000 and $4,000 per eye, with the average price being $2,632 per eye in the US in 2020.
Just like LASIK, contact lenses are not accessible for all individuals. Not only are contacts expensive, but they can also cause damage to the eyes if not used responsibly (and sometimes damage occurs even if they are used properly).
According to the FDA, “Wearing contact lenses puts you at risk of several serious conditions including eye infections and corneal ulcers. These conditions can develop very quickly and can be very serious. In rare cases, these conditions can cause blindness.” Proper contact lens wear involves: cleansing the contacts between wears, not exposing them to liquids other than the solution and routinely replacing both the contact lenses and their case.
Adults and teenagers have alternatives to wearing glasses, although not ideal or easily accessible. Despite these alternatives, children should not be taught that they need to change themselves to fit Hollywood’s unrealistic and frankly, quite outdated beauty standards. If people want to wear contacts or get LASIK surgery, then they can, but no one should feel pressured into it based on Hollywood’s portrayal of glasses-wearing individuals. For some people, it is impossible to get LASIK or wear contacts. Therefore, it is important to fight the stereotypes in order to make everyone feel both more included and more beautiful. If children are desperate to ‘look attractive’ and ‘ditch the glasses,’ then they may end up doing things that harm them in the long run. If a child chooses to wear contacts before they fully understand the cleaning processes and consequences of improper wear; they could potentially be making a decision that could harm them for life.
In order to show young children that they are not ‘unattractive’ due to their vision problems, Hollywood has to do better. They have to provide young children with glasses-wearing adults who are cool, unique, special and not just a stereotype. When children see individuals on the screen that represent themselves, then they will believe that they matter and that they are beautiful in their own skin. As long as glasses-wearing characters in Hollywood continue to be portrayed as ‘dorky,’ children and young adults with vision impairments will have to battle yet another unrealistic commercialized beauty standard; therefore, the harmful rhetoric surrounding glasses and beauty in Hollywood must be changed and updated to represent the average (glasses-wearing) American.
Kira Ginter is a senior majoring in Professional and Public Writing and minoring in Peace and Justice Studies. She hopes to work as a nonprofit grant writer or in a similar field that allows her to showcase her love for reading, writing and editing. Kira is an avid dog lover and spends much of her free time with her two pit mixes, Pongo and Roxy.