Wear glasses? You can be cool but you’re still not beautiful

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Several years ago, when I lived in London, I ended up at a terrible ‘warehouse party’ in one of the most insufferably trendy areas of the city. I’d been working a subbing shift in Westminster that day and was definitely not dressed for the occasion, but this was back in the early days of my Big Smoke adventure when I found myself saying ‘oh what the hell’ to a lot of things (too many things, really).

So I’m by the makeshift bar trying to decide whether I should rip the sleeves off my office shirt or cut a split into my skirt or tie my tights around my head or whatever was needed to make myself look less like a corporate shill, and a man walks over. An effortlessly cool man dressed in the bonkers aesthetic only someone from east London can really pull off.

“I like your glasses,” he said. “Shame they make your eyes so small.”

I was instantly furious. Not just because of the blatant negging, not just because I’d already paid an absolute fortune to have my lenses thinned down in a bid to disguise my mole-like vision, but because the bellend was wearing glasses as well.

“Well, that’s because it’s the prescription I need so I can see,” I sighed. “What about your glasses?”

He looked momentarily taken aback, like he’d forgotten he was even wearing them. “Ah, nah mate,” he laughed, twirling his glasses in his hand. “These are fake. I wear contacts, though.”

So this guy remedied his poor eyesight by wearing contact lenses, and then over the top wore prescription-free glasses, an object originally designed to correct poor eyesight, because…?

“It’s just my style.”

His glasses made him cool because they were singularly based on fashion. But it seemed that the fact that I wore mine out of a genuine need meant my defective eyes and I were unworthy of stylish specs. Basically, why wear cool glasses if the aesthetic is going to be ruined by your tiny pig eyes?

I tend to wear contact lenses on nights out, mainly because I’m liable to fling my (expensive prescription) glasses off my face when I’m drunk dancing. There have been times that I’ve encountered these faux glasses in the wild, so of course, being drunk curious, I’ve tried them on. I remember vividly doing so one time and my (then) boyfriend telling me they made me “look really hot”, which was baffling because they were basically identical to my own everyday glasses. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, like the idiot he was. “They just do is all.”

The difference was, of course, that the fake specs didn’t alter the appearance of my eyes. My eyes looked exactly as they did without wearing them, but somehow the addition of them to my face made me look sexier. Why?

Fashion and beauty’s relationship with glasses is complicated and tumultuous. Dorothy Parker’s famous 1937 quote ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’ had been gospel for a long time, and then 90s teen movies came along depicting bespectacled, awkward and unpopular girls who suddenly became a whole lot hotter and more desirable as soon as they took their glasses off. IT WAS THE GLASSES HOLDING THEM BACK ALL ALONG.

Suddenly, it was kind of okay to be a bit dorky-looking, because it meant you were probably artistic and thoughtful and SUPER HOT underneath, and I suspect this is one reason why prescription-free glasses became such a thing. Geek chic, right?

Another reason, and one particularly prevalent among hardcore trend followers, is that glasses make a statement. Not a ‘My eyes are broken so I need to wear these to see’ statement, but rather a ‘Fuck your beauty standards’ statement. Glasses are traditionally uncool, but make them enormous and bright green or whatever and you’re saying something by wearing them.

But, as with many elements of fashion, you have to conform to basic beauty ideals before you can make this statement. Catwalks are full of weird and edgy statement pieces designed to be worn by rake-thin bodies. Put an average-sized body into those clothes and against the media landscape to which we’ve all become accustomed they can seem jarring. Ditto: wear glasses as part of your statement look and, if the appearance of the lenses betray your shonky eyesight, it’s not cool any more. You need the glasses, you’re not choosing them, but bless you for trying.

FaceAppWhich is why the speccy Snapchat filter is so popular. Glasses are, for the ‘visually-privileged’, fun accessories like flower crowns (and dog ears?) to play around with. Genuinely needing them, though, is an obstacle to your potential as a visual blank canvas. And so this is why trend du jour FaceApp scrubs any trace of glasses off your mug once you set it to the beautify setting, as evidenced in the horror collage on the left (in which the app has even attempted to masculinise them for my male alter ego, because apparently glasses are gendered).

According to the app, I’m at my most fire when my skin has the matte appearance of a bedsheet, my eyes have the vague, glassy stare of someone who’s had too much MDMA (at, say, a warehouse party) and – surprise! – when my visage is unencumbered by glasses. Hey! We’re try’na make this gal pretty, get these things outta here!

So Dorothy Parker’s pithy comment still rings true 80 years later. Wearing glasses is fun and fashionable when it’s frivolous, but despite the apparent acceptance of specs in the trend arena, if you really need them it seems there’s still no place for you in real beauty narratives.

Being 30+

Turning 30
Here’s a picture of me turning 30

About what honest-to-god feels like 10 years ago I wrote a post about turning 29, in which I detailed my many and varied fears about turning the big 3-0. I’m now 31. Am I a different person? No. Am I thinner? Do I have better hair? No and yes (I think. I HOPE). Despite what they say about your 30s heralding a brave new world in the life of you, I still have the same fears and flaws as I did in my teens, and in my 20s. I didn’t get into cooking overnight (come at me, Super Noodles), I didn’t start scheduling coffee dates with my BFFs (it’s still Saturday night oblivion or bust) and so I certainly didn’t wake up on my 30th having magically gotten my shit together overnight. But during my Oscar-worthy 20s and 30th year, I did learn this…

  • Despite the unrelenting avalanche of #content banging on about the many qualities of being an introvert, it’s okay to be an extrovert. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid, vacuous or shallow; it means you enjoy other people’s company and THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, BUZZFEED.
  • Everyone – EVERYONE – embellishes the truth on social media. Pictures of smiling couples and beautiful blue infinity pools and Friday office beers and adoring fluffy cats are the veneer of a regular chipboard life. Comparison is the thief of joy, and that cat definitely shat everywhere after that photo was taken.
  • This time next year you’ll look back at photos and be like ‘Damn, I looked good’. Five years from now you’ll look back at photos of yourself from next year and be like ‘Damn, I looked good’. I wish desperately that I could go back in time and visit myself at university and say ‘YOU’RE NOT AS BIG AS YOU THINK YOU ARE, CHILD. WEAR WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT. YOU SO HOT’. And no doubt 35-year-old me will say the same thing to me now. Here we are.
  • Laser hair removal on your bikini line. Make the investment. Thank me later.
  • If someone invites you to something, be it a wedding or a house party via Facebook, don’t leave it to the last minute to RSVP. RUDE. And send a thank you card where decorum dictates for fuck’s sake.
  • More people have mental health issues than you know. Seriously, like 85% of my friends are in therapy or on happy pills. People can be cagey about it but it’s amazing how freely they’ll talk once they know they’re among ‘crazy’ company. I compare my happy pill prescriptions to my friends’ in the same way you might discuss your favourite Hollywood actors. Normalising it makes us all feel loads better.
  • While we’re on the subject, don’t be afraid to give therapy a try. I’ve been in and out my whole life but had the pleasure of working with a wonderful mindfulness-based practitioner during my last year in London. I was a po-faced, arm-crossed bitch when I went in, but I came out with an open heart and a better understanding of myself than I’d ever had before. A+, would recommend.
  • Talk to your parents while you can. Where were they born? What was school like for them? What was their first boy/girlfriend like? What was the best time of their life? Look through their old photos, ask questions. It wasn’t until my maternal grandmother died that we discovered there was a whole other side to our family that we didn’t know about, and by then it was too late to find out more.
  • Take two paracetamol with a pint of water before bed after a heavy night out. It ain’t gonna save your soul but it’ll take the edge off. As someone who could sell her liver to a Frenchman for pâté, trust me on this. Also, sleep longer than you think you’ll need to. Hangovers when you get older are less about the booze and more about the sleep deprivation.
  • Sort your eyebrows out. Seriously, the difference a good pair of strong brows will make to your face is ASTRONOMICAL. If in doubt, go to a Benefit Beauty Bar. I can be tired and hungover as balls but 30 seconds spent doing my eyebrows literally transforms my entire face.
  • It’s totally okay to be affected by conflicting media narrative, especially when it comes to women’s issues. I’m 31. Are babies on my horizon? Not immediately. Maybe even never. You’ve got the bloody Daily Mail saying one thing and The Debrief saying another. Make up your own narrative. It’s your damn body and your damn life. Fuck those guys.
  • Invest in good tights. Not the three for £5 tights from Primark, but the £5 for one pair tights from M&S. I used to be a one pair/one wear kinda gal until I got woke to false hosiery economies.
  • You know how most hairdryers have three heat settings, and because we’re all so time-starved and impatient we crank that shit up to 11? Step off and turn down the heat. I have long, coloured hair and this simple act was legit the kindest thing I ever did for my barnet. My hair is softer and smoother, and because I was more mindful about my blowdries I’d make the effort to pin up each section as I went along. It takes exactly the same amount of time, I promise.
  • If you don’t like something about yourself, you’re free to change it without justification to anyone, regardless of (omg, here it is again), the social narrative. I got my teeth realigned a few years back. ‘But why?’ everyone chirped. ‘They were fine!’ Because I wanted to, and that is literally all that matters.
  • Nothing will ever prepare you for a friend request from a high school friend when you’re 30+. ‘Fuck me, how did they get so old? Are they old? Am I old?’ And not long after you’ll start seeing the laughter lines and wrinkles on all your friends’ faces and you can’t unsee that shit. Hello, ageing.
  • If someone describes you as ‘bossy’, own it. It means you get shit done.
  • Thanks to Hollywood it’s super easy to romanticise adversity, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. But remember, we’re not all trying to save the planet from destruction / outwit a band of Russian mobsters / get into dance school AGAINST ALL THE ODDS. Sometimes difficult relationships are difficult because they’re wrong for you. That’s cool. It’s not up to you to ‘turn things around’. Shit is shit.
  • Isn’t it funny how successful people younger than you haven’t worked that hard, but older people that are more successful than you are just lucky, somehow?
  • If you take your makeup off properly before bed – and that’s PROPERLY, not a quick splash of some water and a face wipe – then you’re doing okay and TBH that’s all anyone can ask of you.
  • Being 30 is harder for women than it is for men. Of course it is, thanks to the ol’ social narrative I described above (aaand that’s a hat trick). That’s not to say blokes don’t have their own issues, of course, but when they start cocking their head to one side and saying things like, ‘But I’m actually looking forward to being 30 – I don’t know why you’re worried’, shut that conversation down and take it elsewhere lest you end up kicking someone’s dick off.

What pearls of wisdom would you give to other ladies worried about turning 30?