I have terrible eyesight. Without glasses or contacts the whole world is a blur to me, I couldn’t recognize my own kids from five feet away. I started wearing glasses when I was about seven years old, initially just for reading and seeing the blackboard at school, but by the time I was in my teens I needed them all the time.
Being a teenager is hard enough without that additional handicap, and in those days glasses weren’t the slightest bit cool or fashionable if you were young. Kids who wore them were called Four Eyes, Specky, Brains, Joe 90, and usually got beaten up and had their lunch money stolen. They marked you as a weedy, swotty bookworm invisible to the opposite sex. Glasses had the power to turn Superman into the boring sad sack Clark Kent, and if you wanted to make even the volcanically-hot Valerie Leon look undesirable the first thing you did was stick a pair of specs on her.
I wore National Health glasses for a long time which didn’t help my image, their choices were pretty basic and limited. I spent most of my teens in their black frame ones and switched to the round wireframes in my early 20s which was an improvement because they had a John Lennon cachet about them. But I never stopped feeling like I was being punished for something that wasn’t my fault — bad eyesight.
Besides Lennon, other bespectacled pop stars like Buddy Holly, Elton John, and Elvis Costello were hardly aspirational figures when it came to style or attracting the ladies. The first one of my generation to make glasses cool was Morrissey who wore the same NHS frames I had in my teens but I never looked as good as him in them. He didn’t actually need them but, like his fake hearing aid, wore them as a visual statement that he stood with the loners and losers, the awkward and introverted.
I got contact lenses after leaving college and I can still remember how strange it felt to see my face clearly in a mirror without it having glasses on it, I almost didn’t recognize myself. The world was suddenly sharper and clearer without a sheet of glass (or plastic) between me and it, the general effect was like switching to a HD television and not realizing until then how shit the picture you’d been watching before was.
Contacts were very expensive back then (you had to get them insured) but so worth it. Friends were amazed by how different I looked, an uncle said to me in surprise at a family party “You’re a good-looking boy, Lee!” as if I’d been this specky ogre before. I didn’t suddenly turn into Tom Jones and have girls throwing their knickers at me on the Tube, but I did feel more confident, more like the me I was supposed to be be without those bloody things on my face. I still wear contacts but now my eyes are so bad I need reading glasses on top of them too, basically I’m back to where I was when I was seven.
Now my daughter needs glasses for school and there isn’t anything like the same stigma attached to them — her frames are certainly more stylish than mine were at her age. These days glasses are so hip and looking bookish is so cool that they’re worn by even more people who don’t need them — people I would like to smack around the head. Don’t these posers know how much some of us have suffered because of our poor eyesight and would give anything NOT to have to wear them?
Here’s the Jackson Five pissing all over Jackson Brown’s original.
Download: Doctor My Eyes – The Jackson Five (mp3)