Seeing Clearly

I vividly remember a conversation with my then-teenage daughter several years ago.  We were talking about vanity.

“You may not believe it,” I told her, “but I still care about the way I look.  Even at my age.”

She didn’t say anything, as I recall.  But I can still see the look on her face: She was stunned.  Even somebody as old and decrepit as her mother still gave some thought to her appearance.  Amazing/appalling/sad.

I wish I could tell you that has all gone away in the intervening years, but it hasn’t, entirely.  I should be above vanity!  Beyond it!  Deep, not superficial.  Plumbing my soul, not my body-mass index.  Focused on the wisdom of the ages and not on how I can never tie a scarf correctly and usually manage to spill something on my blouse when I’m eating.

And sometimes, I am beyond it, sometimes I feel free and I don’t give a rat’s ass what I look like.  But those milliseconds pass rather quickly and then it occurs to me I need to contact a plastic surgeon for an immediate consultation and prompt intervention.

All of which is to explain my little problem with wearing glasses.

I spent most of my childhood in either an eye patch or in 1950s style, cat’s eye, brightly colored glasses that were always smudged and sliding down my nose.  As recalled in this tragic, pre-pubescent account, I even relied on Oral Roberts once to heal my eyes.  He was on TV, empowering the lame to walk, the bent to straighten, the drunk to sober up, but evidently couldn’t bother with a 10-year-old girl who had an astigmatism.  Listen, you lose your faith at crucial moments like that.  (Years later, when Oral started moaning and hinting that the Lord was ready to take him if he didn’t raise enough money, all I could think was God should step on it.)

After Oral dropped the ball, my eyes suddenly improved when I hit puberty.  The ophthalmologist told me I wouldn’t have to wear glasses again till I was middleaged, probably.  Who cared? I thought.  I’d be old then, anyway.  Beyond caring.

I turned 40 and, right on time, needed reading glasses.  For 20 years, I bought reading glasses, I wore them, I lost so many of them, I should have invested in reading glasses companies.  The minute I didn’t need them, I peeled them off, which meant I spent half my waking hours looking for my reading glasses, taking them off, losing them, finding them, breaking them.  If that’s not time poorly spent, I don’t know what is.

“You’re saying I should wear glasses all the time, right?” I asked the ophthalmologist last month.  He nodded.

Oh, what the hell, I thought.  Time to drop my 1950s aversion to wearing glasses, time to drop the little Dorothy Parker obsession, time to grow up and get over my vanity and start seeing the world better.  I could see the leaves on trees, I realized,  I could read the fine print in the grocery store.  I didn’t need to spend half my life asking other people to read the small print for me.

“I think they look great,” said my husband, who’d served off and on as my seeing-eye dog for years.  He looked pleased to get me out of Helen Keller territory.  I was kind of pleased myself.  I could be Tina Fey, I thought, I could be —

“Not Sarah Palin,” my friend Marian said.  “I think she wears glasses so she looks smarter than she really is.”

Oh, yeah, definitely not like Sarah Palin.  Although, in retrospect, my bumping into furniture for the past five or 10 years wouldn’t win me IQ points.  Maybe, wearing glasses again, I’ve finally gotten a little smarter myself.  It’s taken me long enough.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

21 comments… add one
  • My grandmother, who passed at 99, was concerned about her appearance until the end. She always had her nails neatly done in pale pink, insisted on getting her hair done once a week and wore clothes that she thought were pretty. So I don’t think vanity has anything to do with age. And it shouldn’t. I’l bet your glasses look terrific!

  • Cindy A

    My vanity is hair dye. When I stop being a golden brunette and suddenly let it go to salt-and-pepper gray — you’ll know I’ve given up completely.

  • I had to wear glasses for two years–no option of contacts because I’d overdone it. I can understand your reluctance to go for frames. I think you need to include a picture with this post…

    –former Coke-bottle thick glasses wearer

  • My eyes growing up were terrible. Coke bottle. Then I got my eyes lasered. When I need glasses again, I’ll be able to choose some with a bit of style, not base the decision on how well they hide the thickness of the lens. I’m guessing that won’t be too bad.

  • I can’t believe you have ever needed to worry about your BMI, Ruth. You’re willowy, remember? When I was in boarding school, I proudly wore Buddy Holly glasses – thick black frames, not much magnification, since I was only suffering from eye strain. I went through most of my 20s and 30s without them, but then I started wearing specs again, not so much for my sight as to hide the bags under my eyes. Now, of course, I’m blind as a bat without the bifocals I have to wear.

  • I’ve been wearing glasses forever. I wore contacts in my teens/twenties, but the ophthalmologist (oh, yay for spell check!) told me that I was causing my vision to get worse by doing up-close work with the contacts in. I’ve been in glasses ever since. I’m terrified of the whole laser process, so that’s out. I don’t love wearing them – it’s a pain – but I’ve gotten used to it.

  • Marie

    Ruth, I was shocked when I did the math — I thought you were about my age, maybe just a couple of years older because you have a young adult daughter and I assumed you didn’t start parenting in your teens. You look great. Also, I laughed out loud at parts of this. Thanks for a great start to my day.

    P.S. I wear glasses b/c I overdid the contacts. Whoops. And I select the frames based on what would hide the thickness. And there is some magnet in me that is drawn to the most expensive designer frames….hmmm

  • Sheryl

    I’m with you on the vanity thing. For me, the older I get, the more concerned I DO get with my appearance, since i can’t take simple things like a smooth forehead for granted anymore.
    As for glasses, I have resigned myself to needing them (although I do switch off w/contacts), and have come to think of them as fun “accessories” just like a piece of jewelry.

  • I agree with Tessa on the BMI issue. As for glasses, I don’t know what to say. I wear mine all the time, though Jerry says I look better without them. The trouble with wearing them only when I really need them is, that is the time I can’t find them. There are fancy new contacts for older people. I just can’t get used to the idea of sticking something in my eyes. But then, I’m REALLY old, unlike you who are only a little bit old.

  • Men who seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses, are in need of glasses themselves. ‘Nuff said!

  • I remember asking my mom when she was about 70 or so when you finally quit worrying about your weight. Her answer – when you’ve in the grave. I believe her now.

  • Ah, you would have gotten over this one much sooner, Ruth, if you were truly eyesight impaired at a young age like me.

    I wore glasses at about 25 then switched to contacts before I got married (vanity alert) and have worn them for 20 years. I can imagine a time when I won’t want to be bothered putting them in and will be content to wear glasses. Perhaps when I’m 85.

    All that said, so many people look super cool in specs, for me, it’s the convenience of contacts I adore: they don’t fall off my nose or slip from sweat when I’m exercising, they don’t fog up when I cook, they give me good peripheral vision when I drive.

    I’ve been blessed with a thick head of hair that hasn’t started graying…yet and have natural blonde highlight people pay big money for…so, you know, you win some, you lose some…
    tho (ageing is a bitch sometimes, you know) it is starting to fall out.

    So I say, embrace change and enjoy what’s good about glasses — I still remember the first time I put a pair on and went “wow” and realized how much of the world was fuzzy without ’em!

  • It’s too bad you didn’t inherit the early cataract gene, as I did. Now, with my new distance lens and my new near vision lens, I can see everything perfectly, except the computer screen at 30 inches, for the first time in my life. So, my glasses stay next to the PC and I don’t need them anywhere else. This is probably the only time in my life that I’ll appreciate aging.

  • Glasses….ahh, glasses. I gave in and started wearing them full-time several years ago and actually think I look better with them on than off. They cover up the bags under my eyes!! lol

  • Congrats on the glasses. You will wear them well. I spend a lot of time not seeing things, because I can’t find my reading glasses…

  • I am shedding tears of joy because I finally figured out how to get regular access to Internet in Nepal and can now read my favorite blogs again. Seriously, I was in withdrawal. And of course, what is the first story I read on Geezersisters – one right out of my childhood, which was dominated by thick glasses, crossed eyes, an operation on my lazy eye, etc. So I can totally relate; without my glasses I am blind as a bat, and my vanity had to throw in the towel years ago.

  • An eye patch! I was diagnosed with amblyopia in kindergarten and told to wear that hideous flesh-colored patch. My mom only successfully got it on my face twice; I was quite the fighter. Compared to that embarrassment, how can you NOT prefer glasses?

  • Cindy D.

    “all I could think was God should step on it.)” This line is so funny I almost blew coke-a-cola out my nose all over the computer. I’ll be giggling about this as I try to go to sleep tonight. I can think of a few others I’d like “God to step on it.” Thanks for the belly laugh even if I do have to take off my glasses to wipe the laughter tears out of my eyes. You rock, four eyes.

  • Sarah would never survive the debates only if her fellow Repug candidates actually stood up to her and called her bluff. Only if the moderators would demand real straightfo­rward answers from her and refuse to let her go her own way. The Dems treated Hillary Clinton as an equal opponent yet I wonder if the Republican­s would have the guts to do the same with a woman candidate. I wonder if they would want the nomination badly enough that they actually call her out on her lies, her lack of knowledge, her terrible governorsh­ip, force her to follow the rules (like handing in REAL medical records). I am tired of Sarah Palin being treated with kid gloves by both parties only because she screams the loudest.

  • Amen to the above comment.
    I can’t help wondering what 1960’s comedians and pundits would have made of Ms. Palin.

  • Amen to the above comment. I can’t help wondering what 1960’s comedians and pundits would have made of Ms. Palin.

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