My friend Rose B. Fischer’s interactive blogging project Redefining Disability: A Discussion of Pop Culture, Media, and Changing Perceptions (which you should check out if you haven’t already done so!) has led to many engaging discussions for the past months.
One of the most recent exchanges I had with her had to do with the impact of social constructs on our perceptions of disability and other stigma. This is the origin of this post. Please note that I speak from my experience being raised and living in France, so it is possible that some of this isn’t exactly applicable to other countries, including the USA.
At some point, she mentions how someone wearing glasses doesn’t see their ability to take care of themselves questioned, contrary to someone using a wheelchair for example. That made me reflect on how society has evolved in regards to people wearing glasses over the past decades. While this could be considered mainstream for a very long time and considered like a “normal” part of life and doesn’t make a person’s identity, there was still stigma associated with it when I grew up.
Until recent years, terms like “nerdy” or “geeky” didn’t really have any equivalent in France (now we tend to use the English word “geek” instead of an actual French translation). People wearing glasses could be considered “intello”, which can be akin to “nerd” though doesn’t mean the same. It is the short version of intellectual but with a negative connotation. “Intello” can an easily be the development of someone who used to be a “teacher’s pet” in school.
I have worn glasses from age 6 and my first year of elemental school. Until first year of middle school, I got physically bullied on more than one occasion. I was a girl, top of her class and I wore glasses, so that made me a target of choice. I wasn’t the only one wearing glasses even at a young age, nor was I the only one bullied, but I can tell that my glasses were a part of the “fun” of bullying me for the perpetrators. I still recall one of the last times I was physically bullied in first year of middle school. I was thrown against a wall and I got very lucky when I only got a scratch on my glasses when it grazed against the corner of a window. Another centimeter and my glasses were history. A few centimeters and my skull could have been history.
In a less dramatic fashion, wearing glasses weren’t “cool” for a long time for me. I was raised with parents wearing glasses and considering it normal and who taught me that it was normal. Yet, it took me many years to truly like my glasses. I can’t wear contact lenses and for years, when going out, I left my glasses home, making do with my myopia for an evening. I only wore them for specific tasks or when going to school. When I reached my twenties, I changed my mind and now I like my glasses and I consider that my comfort is more important.
I think that glasses are fully part of life now, more so than when I was younger. Maybe this is because it added to other labels I had – being female, overweight, bookworm, geek and top of my class when in school, but I faced times when my glasses definitely came into play to put more labels on me and to be bullied.