The 2018 Oscars was a lot of things. It was a celebration of first loves, first wins, and not fucking up the announcements. But for me, it also felt like a celebration on the very thing that enables 6 out of 10 people in developed countries to watch those films in the first place. I’m talking about prescription glasses.
When Lupita Nyong’o took the stage with Kumail Nanjiani to announce the winner for Best Production Design, I squealed. Sure, the introduction speech about dreamers was heartfelt, but it was her reading glasses that got me excited. Why? Because it's so uncommon. Besides Nyong’o, I think Meryl Streep was the only woman on specs attending the Oscars this year. So seeing a powerful, beautiful woman in glasses felt, to me, like such a validation.
And I’m not alone in this. I went on Twitter and found other people who shared my sentiments. It got me thinking, why is it considered unacceptable for women to attend a formal event wearing glasses?
Back when I was younger and less comfortable in my own skin, I used to leave my glasses at home for “special occasions.” I switched to contacts for my college graduation, for wedding receptions (both when I went as a bridesmaid and a guest), and, sometimes, on first dates.
Why? Maybe because I didn’t know any better. It’s hard not to give in to the idealized beauty standards, which portray women in glasses as less attractive. Reading glasses is in fact the first thing people get rid of in a makeover. Is this a collective insecurity among women or am I being dramatic?
I reached out to women who have been wearing glasses for a long time. We talked about how they see themselves and how they deal with a society that still see glasses as the opposite of attractive.
CHRISTABELLE ADELINE, 27
VICE: Do you wear your glasses to formal events?
Christabelle: I stick to my glasses because they're practical and don't dry my eyes out. I also genuinely like the way they look on me, and wearing a pair for this long makes you feel like glasses are a part of who you are. It doesn’t feel like something about myself I have to adjust or modify for the sake of complying to a dress code.
But do you ever feel like you’re compelled to switch to contact lenses whenever you attend a formal event, like wedding receptions, especially when you’re a bridesmaid?
I was in a choir once and I wasn’t allowed to perform in glasses. Perhaps it was for practical reasons because at times the performances included choreography. But other than that, like at weddings, it seems to be more for aesthetic reasons. I get the sense that glasses are deemed too casual for formal attires.
Where do you think the pressure to switch to contact lenses comes from?
Usually it comes first from the person doing your makeup, because wearing specs means a large portion of your face is covered up by the frames which get in the way of the look they’re trying to put on you.
Are you now more comfortable with wearing glasses to formal events?
I have always been pretty fine with it, I just wish people don’t make others feel bad for preferring to do so.
KATYUSHA METHANISA, 21
VICE: Hi Katyusha! So what's your take on this glasses vs contacts situation?
Katyusha: I rarely wear my glasses because I feel insecure with them on. I only wear glasses when I'm working, studying, or watching something on TV or at the cinema. It's soooo bad, I used to wear contacts but not anymore. So 80 percent of the time, I can't see.
So for you it's either glasses or not being able to see clearly.
I don't want people taking pictures of me and have the camera flash glare on my glasses. It looks ugly. Maybe I would wear them when I find a pair of great "formal" frames, but until then. I just lost the pair of glasses that I used to wear outside because they look somewhat more flattering than my other pair. I would rather not see anything for the whole event than wear the ugly pair.
Where do you think the pressure comes from?
My theory is that women wear more elaborate makeup to formal events, and most frames can conceal that. If I spent two hours blending my chrome eyeshadow, I would want people to see it.
ANISA MENUR MAULANI, 30
VICE: You wore glasses to your wedding, which isn't common for brides here. What was that experience like?
Anisa: It's definitely not common, even for Indonesian brides wearing Western-style dresses. I did it simply because I needed to be able to see. I found it offensive that people would immediately label brides wearing glasses as not charming, without even seeing an example. So I was determined to prove them wrong. I searched for new glasses that didn't clash with my traditional wedding attire. I opted for a very simple, frameless pair. And I was happy with the results. I'm not sure about how others felt about it, but all that mattered was that I was happy and was able to see everything on my special day.
Do you think there's a discrimination towards glasses-wearing people?
Definitely, particularly from people working in the fashion and beauty industry, such as designers or make-up artists. Whenever I have a makeup artist doing my makeup for a big event, like when I was a bridesmaid for a cousin's wedding, they always make a fuss about the fact that I don't use contact lenses and keep on using my glasses.
Why do you think women are reluctant to wear their glasses to formal events?
Glasses have always been associated with geekiness. Geeks aren't considered fun or pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, at formal events, you are expected to look great. So glasses are not welcomed. I believe this is why, and how, women are being pressured to take off their glasses at formal events. Everybody wants to look nice, even the most confident and secure person wouldn't want to be seen "ugly."
Many people also seem to struggle with the idea that women can be both good-looking and intelligent. I think it's because there are not that many role models. I can only think of Lisa Loeb and Tina Fey.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.