Gratitude Celebration 22: Self-Perception Clarified

Donning glasses in third grade had plunged me into a cage of visual self-loathing. I hated how I looked! When Mr. Oddie took pictures of our family to use for a series of posters depicting family closeness, I was convinced that he had purposely put me in the background, featuring my beautiful big sister instead. She didn’t wear glasses!
Nothing I could do helped me see my beauty while wearing glasses, especially sparkly blue speckled cat’s eye frames mended with a grey blob of epoxy. Getting whacked in the glasses by a missed kickball, had proven my athletic ineptitude in fifth grade. To have my glasses break added misfortune to shame, magnifying my sense of alienation from others. Going back to school the next day with patched glasses required bravado I had not previously needed. That calamity did open the door to a new chance at looking good, however. I got new eyeglass frames.
This time, the frames were a little less conspicuous and had a natural shape. Their brown color that matched my hair seemed less gaudy than the blue speckled cat’s eye frames. They didn’t improve my athletic skills or my popularity, however, and I lost out to the beautiful, unbespectacled girls for cheerleading and softball. I was convinced that wearing glasses made me unfit for these and other junior high activities that I believed used good looks for their criteria.
Somehow my friend Barb must have seen past the glasses because we got along great and were fast friends during eighth grade. Our other friends in Girl Scouts didn’t seem to mind my looks, either, and I had fun on our outings and campouts. My cage of self-consciousness relaxed a bit that year, especially when I caught the bouquet at my new Aunt Jean’s wedding! “Wow!” I dreamed in my twelve year old mind. “ Even a girl with glasses could snatch the fairytale of marriage”.
As a freshman in high school, I made friends with Kathy and Carol, Martha, Ann, and Patty, Mary Jo and Claire, who didn’t even seem to notice that I was so ugly and different. Kathy even declared we were best friends and gave me a sterling silver “friendship” ring. I scraped together the few dollars it took to buy her a matching one. I even liked my sophomore class picture because I realized that I had a nice smile.
In the Fall of sophomore year, however, Doctor Miller, the optometrist who I was by now very familiar to me, opened a whole new realm of possibility for me! For seven years I had taken semi-annual trips to his office for vision check-ups. Most years the Fall checkup would result in new lenses with a stronger prescription. I was getting used to the usual three days’ adjustment time when the kitchen floor, with its speckled pattern of white and pink flakes in a background of grey seemed to pop up at me. Dr. Miller could make my trip home from the office easy, though! He lived next door to us. And his wife, Madeleine was his assistant! I remember that on the days I got new lenses, I could go to his office by myself, wearing my old glasses. He would change the lenses right there in his office while I waited, gazing around the waiting room in a blurry interlude. Then, he would take me home in his luxury car. Sometimes I would imagine choosing optometry as my career, believing that I’d be rich.
That sophomore year, he had a new idea! After doing the usual check-up he said that this time I had a choice between glasses and contact lenses. If I chose contacts, I would be able to have clear vision without glasses! It was like he had just waved a magic wand like Cinderella’s fairy godmother and my rags had turned into a gilded gown! I could be beautiful! I only hesitated a few minutes when I learned that it would take some time to get used to wearing contacts and that they would take extra care. They were more expensive than glasses, but my mom was willing to invest in them. We said yes.
When I got home that evening, I took off my glasses and gazed in the mirror at my eyes. For the first time, I admitted that I had beautiful, blue eyes and with contacts my eyes would not be hidden behind glasses anymore! I liked the way I looked without glasses.
Dr. Miller was right about the arduous adjustment period for wearing contacts. It took a few weeks to get used to the scratchy discs under my eyelids. And taking care of those tiny pieces of blue plastic did require meticulous discipline. All that, however, was a small inconvenience compared to the luxury of self-respect that was unleashed when contacts were part of my lifestyle. I loved the new way I looked and I lost my self-consciousness and shyness. I rarely questioned my outer beauty again, and look fondly at my senior portrait that joins those of my other nine siblings in my mom’s study.
At sixty, I wonder why I couldn’t see my true beauty, and send love to that young girl who hid behind her glasses. Perhaps, feeling the opposite of self-love helped me know how it feels to transform self-hatred into healthy self-love, something that I guide others to do in my current profession. Whatever it means, I am grateful today for the man who opened that door for me with his optometry skill. Thanks, Dr. Miller, for doing your job! I remain a grateful patient!

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