Remember that scene in She's All That? The one where Rachael Leigh Cook/Laney Boggs is coming down the stairs to meet her prom date, Freddie Prinze, Jr./Zack Siler, and he is all “whhaaaa you're pretty?!?! but... but your glasses???!!” People laughed at the ridiculous idea that we were supposed to be shocked that Laney, an arty nerd, had actually been beautiful THE WHOLE TIME. If she only just hadn't worn glasses! How could she feel and confident while wearing glasses?
I'd have hoped that because people still joke about this scene 16 years later, dudes would have dropped the whole incredibly patronizing you don't know you're beautiful thing when it comes to bespectacled ladies. As a woman who prefers to hit the club with 20/20 vision, I can sadly tell you that is often not the case.
To be clear, I am not hating on people for appreciating a woman's natural beauty or her appearance sans glasses. I am talking about the strangers at the party who idiotically assume a woman wearing glasses must be insecure and vulnerable — that glasses could possibly mean anything other than a vision impairment — and then transparently use this angle in an attempt to hit on her in the most condescending and unsuccessful fashion.
I didn't realize that this was becoming a somewhat frequent occurrence in my party interactions with strange men until I was 22 and in my last year of college. That year, my vision worsened, I purchased a cute pair of glasses that I loved wearing, and I'd finally matured enough in my feminist adulthood to no longer care what each random dude on the dance floor possibly considered to be ideal feminine beauty.
I began to notice a trend I couldn't yet explain. During a party at a friend's apartment, a guy with bad vibes became extremely handsy with me even after I'd politely denied several of his advances and removed myself from any uncomfortable conversation he tried to begin. Finally, I snapped at him aggressively and told him to get out, which he did (smashin' the patriarchy), but not before grabbing my waist and uttering the most disgustingly patronizing sentence:
“You're just so much more beautiful than you realize — always remember that.”
Also, I OWN A MIRROR, SON.
Being spoken to in this manner put me in a nauseous rage for so many reasons. Of course, women handle numerous aggravating remarks when they go out to these kinds of social functions (or, you know, exist in a public space). But there was something different about these moments for me; this confidently vocalized assumption of weakness and insecurity felt new. It was so obvious what these guys were trying to accomplish. Subconsciously or not, they saw me and thought, now that's a girl who couldn't possibly see herself as attractive, and then figured I'd explode with estrogen as soon as they showed me I was beautiful for the very first time.
As we continued our discussion, my friend ever so wisely said, "I feel like this is happening now because of your glasses." I was surprised at first, but then it made a lot of sense. I had started to wear my glasses everywhere, and now I was suddenly having these kinds of conversations. I thought about Laney Boggs, and the significantly older men who would inappropriately tease me and say "boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses" when I was 15. Of course, I thought of the long lasting assumption that women who wear glasses are intelligent bookworms (and you KNOW that kind of lady has no self-esteem/has never talked to a man before.) I started considering other factors of my femininity that have been commented upon as though they are inappropriate – the fact that I am not shy with my sense of humor, that I don't care if I look like foolish when I'm dancing or that I laugh loudly, that I like having thick eyebrows and don't wear makeup everyday. People think there is only one way that a woman is allowed to exist, and only one way for her to be confident and self-assured.
I decided this theory about my glasses was worthy of rumination. A few weeks later, whilst I was mid-sentence talking to a guy at the bar, he put his hands on my face, removed my glasses, and had the nerve to say, "See, I knew you were beautiful." Naturally, I snatched my glasses out of his blurry-ass hands and asked him if he was serious. He seemed so confused that I wasn't blushing and giggling in response to his intrusive "makeover." But hasn't she seen She's All That?, he probably wondered. Can a woman correct her vision impairment without this bullshit?, I definitely wondered. I walked away, and knew that my friend's hypothesis had been proven.
We've seen the extremely hostile and violent way men react to women who are comfortable in their own beauty and sexuality. Gweneth Bateman recently conducted an online social experiment where any time a man complimented her on dating apps or social media, she agreed with him. Bateman was met with hateful, misogynistic slurs, because how dare a woman know her beauty without a man allowing her to notice it first. While the remarks about my glasses have not carried the outright sexism that Bateman has experienced, they are still representative of the prevalent ideology that women ought to feel worthless without male approval. And if women love themselves independently (even while wearing their glasses!), it challenges male authority. To these guys, I was a weak woman that they were "owed" if they gave me the right compliment.
It makes me embarrassed and confused for all of these people who have no understanding of how an actual grown woman’s self-esteem works. I guess I just want to ask them who the hell they think they are to assume that a woman's self-confidence only relies on them – if it ever does. And to any other person who may ever try to approach me with the whole “you don't know you're beautiful” shtick again — may I reiterate, I own a mirror. Image: Miramax; Giphy