I had a rude blow to my self-perception recently. It all started with an eye exam.
I have a weird thing where my right eye doesn’t work quite as well as the left eye. My eyes cooperate really well, and together they see just fine. I’ve known about this since my driver’s ed instructor gave us a vision test and I was informed I wasn’t reading the far right letters. Apparently that’s because I couldn’t see them. Oops.
Ten years later, I have been getting by, but I decided it would be prudent to visit the eye doctor, for a check up and maybe a pair of glasses (to take some of the strain off of my right eye, which gets squinty when I’m tired).
I got a prescription, which I was told would help with depth perception, and sent into the lobby to pick out the frames.
I know this is the part where you’re expecting me to talk about how opposed I am to glasses. Thing is, I’m not. If I was, I would get a contact for my right eye and not think twice. But glasses will help me look smart, and I have absolutely no problem with my intelligence–shoot, I might actually look more capable, which won’t hurt. Problem was, almost none of the glasses looked right. Most of them sat too low on my face, and my big eyes stuck over the rims. Any frame with rimless bottoms gave me a unibrow. I apparently have a wide face, so the frames had to be wide enough.
Ugh. I finally found a pair, but they were too tight for my face. Everyone agreed that, in spite of that, they looked great.
So we ordered a bigger size, and went on our way. When they came in, they didn’t look at all like they did before. They were gigantic on my face–I looked terrible. Problem was, they’d already put the prescription lenses in.
I could see better–things looked almost like a 3-D movie. But I couldn’t wear them in public.
I blame my mother. And grandmother. Those two worship at the alter of beauty. My grandmother gets her hair done at least once a week. At 92, she still perms her hair and dyes it red. She refuses to leave the house without her make-up on or wearing anything less than dress slacks (her clothes take up four closets). She told me a year ago I needed to start using wrinkle cream (I’m 26 years old). My mother also gets her hair cut by a particular beautician, and passes on make-up and nail polish to me (because she knows I’m too clueless to buy my own).
The funny thing is, neither of them are good-looking. My grandmother didn’t have a pretty face–she looked disapproving and stern in all the pictures I’ve seen of her youth. She has an almost rectangular face and though she’s always been average weight, she didn’t exactly have a killer body. My mother, though adorable as a young woman, is 100 pounds overweight. She refuses to eat healthy or exercise–ever. But when we’re out in public, she’ll hand me a compact and tell me my nose is shiny. Or she’ll tell me that an outfit won’t look good on someone “with your build” (with comments like that, it took me a long time to accept my wide hips). I had serious body-image issues coming out of high school.
So I like to think that I conquered those issues, and that I’m not vain. I get my hair cut twice a year, I don’t wear make-up, and I don’t spend my free time shopping. I try to take care of my body, because I want to be healthy, but I don’t base my self-esteem on my weight, and I don’t try fad-diets to lose those pesky 20 pounds.
But it turns out, I’m not a pious as I think I am. I will not wear glasses that make me look bad. We returned the glasses for a different pair that were, if not fabulous, at least acceptable. I feel better. But the whole debacle has me reevaluating myself.
What I think of as my lack of vanity is really more luck and preference. I don’t have to put a lot of time into make-up because my face usually looks fine without it. And I don’t spend hours blow-drying my hair and straightening it because my husband loves my wavy hair (and I don’t really have the skill to straighten my hair anyway). I may not spend hours shopping, but I usually dress well for my body. And even though I don’t spend a lot of time dieting, I eat really healthy and have a normal BMI. Sooo….maybe I do have some vanity. And maybe that’s not really a terrible thing, if I don’t let it get out of hand or toxic to those around me. I already know that I won’t be passing make-up to my daughter like she’s worthless without it. And I won’t make snide remarks about her weight, while trying to make her eat pie and cake. I will show her how to eat healthy, how to dress smart (if that’s something she wants to learn), and how to feel good about herself. And if she insists on finding a pair of glasses that compliment her, I’ll smile and think how the apple can only roll so far from the tree.