How I Learned to Accept the Thing I Hated Most About Myself
Once upon a time Alexandra Robbins was thin-skinned about her thick glasses. Now, she's a vision of self-acceptance.
Photo: Silja Götz
I have the thickest glasses that you—and most optometrists—have ever seen. Put it this way: People requiring a -6 diopter prescription see roughly 20/500 and are said to have "profound visual impairment." My glasses are -20 diopters. I'm off the charts. (At least I'm told I am; I can't read them.) Yet most of my life, I struggled mightily to keep my glasses a secret.
The geek-chic props that hordes of hipsters wear? Please. Those aren't glasses. Real glasses, glasses like mine, are not an accessory. They're so intense they actually distort me. In my glasses, each eye appears to be roughly the size of a nostril. What allows me to see things larger causes people to see me smaller. For years, the glasses did something similar to my psyche: I always felt they made me shrink.
In college, I once wore contacts for 24 hours when I spent the night with a guy, risking an eye infection (which I got) so he wouldn't see me in glasses (which he also wore). Three years before, when I sneaked out of my summer camp bunk to meet my boyfriend at 3 a.m., I wore neither glasses nor contacts. I just walked like a zombie, arms out in front of me, smacking into tree after tree.
A few years ago, I wrote a book about adolescent outsiders and met several teens who embraced the qualities that made them unique. As one young man told me, what made him different was also what "makes me me." I'd always admired other people's quirks. These kids inspired me to appreciate my own. So I decided to view my glasses through a new lens: They help make me me. Nobody else I know looks so different bespectacled that they can go undercover without effort. My glasses may cause me to be more of a homebody because they're unwieldy, tend to fog up and can make swimming awkward, but homebodies can be prolific book writers. (I've written seven.)
Those students motivated me not only to wear my glasses, but to switch from mousy brown frames to an electric blue pair. My glasses don't shrink me; on the contrary, they've allowed me to see myself in a new way.