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)