It appears that our 12-year-old grandson will soon be getting glasses and he’s not at all happy about it. With his three sisters and both parents all wearing glasses, it looks unlikely that he will be able to dodge this bullet. At about the same age our oldest son was also unhappy about getting glasses. We later learned that he had hid his glasses in the branches of a tree on the way to the bus stop each day. He retrieved them on the way home and we were none the wiser. I suppose children have enough trouble coping with bullies and teasing without contending with glasses or anything else that can be used against you.

Composer Randy Newman, who wore glasses since early childhood, wrote one of his first autobiographic songs about glasses titled, “Four Eyes.” This song describes Newman’s first day of school. He is standing on the sidewalk clutching a Roy Rogers lunch pail. He says, “Then I heard sweet children’s voices calling. And I began to understand, They said, “Four eyes! Looks like you’re still sleeping!” “Four eyes! Looks like you’re dead!” “Four eyes! Where have you been keeping yourself?”, “Looks like you been whupped upside the head.”

According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of American adults require some sort of vision correction, along with 25% of children. Most folks still wear eyeglasses, and about 12% wear contact lenses, either exclusively, or with their glasses. We decided to get our son contact lenses, which seem to soften the blow somewhat.

It is believed that the first wearable glasses appeared in 13th century Italy, although fragments of glass had been used for magnification since ancient times. These early spectacles were held in front of the face or perched upon the nose. They were made from crudely blown glass lenses that were set within frames made from wood, leather, or animal horn. At first these glasses were used primarily by monks working on manuscripts, but over time as literacy spread they became more popular.

Benjamin Franklin contributed to the technology of glasses by inventing the bifocal lens, allowing for the correction of both near and far sightedness and by the early 1800s there were cylindrical lenses that could also correct astigmatisms. The industrial revolution brought about mass production techniques, allowing spectacles to be more affordable and making them more widely available.

In 1887, a Swiss physician developed the first contact lenses. Made of glass, they were uncomfortable and difficult to fit. In 1938, however, the first plastic contact lenses were made and by 1995, disposable lenses were invented by Scottish inventor Ron Hamilton. The 1980s also saw the introduction of plastic lenses for glasses.  These were lighter, thinner and more durable than glass lenses.

My older brother Norman got his first glasses when he was a teenager, before plastic lenses were available. He was always reckless and was constantly breaking them, which drove my father crazy. For almost a year he wore a pair of glasses with one cracked lens. He hid the damage with clip-on sunglasses, because he was afraid to tell my father that he had broken them again.

Norman’s glasses had heavy dark frames, similar to those worn by rock-and-rollers like Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison and later game show host Drew Cary. Only Norman’s glasses were often held together with wire and white adhesive tape.

Ralph Anderl, CEO of eyewear company IC Berlin,  says, “… wearing glasses is like cosmetic surgery without the knife — it immediately changes how your character is represented…” When people wear glasses, they literally become a part of the person’s face in other people’s memories. Although it is an exaggeration in regard to the power of glasses to change appearances, but Clark Kent’s black-rimmed rectangular glasses serve as the mainstay of his secret identity disguise. His glasses even deceive super genius villains such as Lex Luthor and Brainiac as to Clark’s true identity as Superman.

Helmut Leder and his colleagues from the University of Vienna have identified a number of common stereotypes that involve glasses. In general, people who wear glasses are perceived as being more intelligent, although somewhat less attractive. Writer Dorothy Parker referred to this decreased attractiveness in her famous quip, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Even children as young as 8 years of age associate being smart with glasses. For example, when asked to draw a scientist, children frequently portray someone with glasses. In a European study, when participants were shown images of men wearing glasses, they were more likely to associate these men with jobs requiring high levels of intelligence, such as being a doctor, lawyer or professor. People wearing glasses also appear as if they read more, contributing to the assumption they are more intelligent. On at least one occasion this stereotype was quite dangerous. The ruthless Cambodian dictator Pol Pot attempted to purge his country of elitists by executing all intellectuals. To make this effort easier, he simply set about executing anyone who wore glasses.

According to Michael Brown from the State University of New York, eyeglass wearers also appear more honest, sophisticated, dependable and industrious. All things being equal, job candidates who wear glasses to their interviews are more likely to be hired.

Brown also found, however, that men who wear glasses are not perceived as being as threatening, strong or as having as much leadership ability.

Many attorneys swear by what has been called the “nerd defense” and advise their clients to wear glasses in the courtroom. In some studies, it has been shown that glasses make the defendant appear less threatening and more intelligent. When, however, defendants who are charged with financial crimes wear glasses at their trial, they are generally treated much harsher by juries and judges. In this case, glasses seem to suggest that they should have known better or that they are prone to scheming.

Glasses help you look smarter than you really are and make you appear more trustworthy and serious. They also, however, can diminish attractiveness and likability. It is thought that rimless frames might confer some of the advantages of glasses, while limiting the negatives. In middle school, however, where the main objective is to blend in and not get teased, instead of hiding your glasses in a tree, consider wearing contact lenses.

Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at tstawar@gmail.com.

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