I’m interested in the recent phenomenon where LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and half of the NBA have taken to speaking at their postgame press conferences sporting chunky frames. In an interview broadcast recently on the Freakonomics podcast, James stated that he didn’t need to wear the glasses. In fact, Wade has been seen wearing glasses with no lenses at all. So why?

Some suggest that the players wear glasses in order to signal that they would be the kind of good, responsible citizens who should get fat endorsement contracts. A man who wears glasses wouldn’t throw a punch or get himself in trouble with the law, would he?

Although Charles Barkely famously stated a few years back that he’s not a role model, he was a hero to the little boys I grew up with, just like LeBron is a hero to my little boys.I hoped they’d remember him today when I I spent this morning at the eye doctor with my twelve-year-old and his little brother. Bryce has always come home from school and dropped his shoes and glasses right by the front door, where they stay until he leaves the next morning. He says that some kids call him four eyes, while others tell him that he look smarter. Smarter or not, he’s determined that he will enter junior high wearing contacts, NOT glasses.

I felt like I was talking out of both sides of my mouth when I was telling Bryce that, yes, I’d support ditching his glasses for contacts, while in the next breath encouraging Isaac, who’s going into second grade, that he was going to look really cool in his first-ever pair of glasses. He seemed convinced, but didn’t embrace the chunky LeBron James frames I tried to push on him (“those are ‘nerd glasses,’ Mom”).

It wasn’t until we got into the car, halfway home, that the tears started. We were talking about his piano group lesson, coming up in two weeks, and the piece he’d play for the other kids. “But Mom,” he sniffed, “I don’t want to go to group lessons anymore.” I asked why not. “By the time I go to my next piano lesson, I’m going to be wearing glasses, and the kids might laugh at me.”

I remember being simultaneously delighted and mortified by my glasses, which I started wearing the summer after kindergarten. They enhanced the fact that I was decidedly NOT cool. Those awkward upper-elementary years were even more awkward, and I had a Pygmalion moment when I traded in the purple frames for the Bausch and Lombs. And I’ve never once regretted getting Lasik in my 30s– my only wish is that I’d done it ten years sooner.

Why have glasses retained the persistent association with nerdiness? Do you feel that your own glasses make you feel nerdier/smarter/more/less cool? Can LeBron change the age-old stereotype, along with changing the game of basketball? Will Isaac’s friends really make fun of him? How do I convince him that his glasses aren’t something to be dropped at the door when he walks in from school?




  1. Giggles

    June 11, 2012

    Five years ago when I was getting ready to start a new graduate program I bought new frames and asked everyone to help me pick the pair that made me look the smartest.

    I’ve heard stories of people being made fun of for wearing glasses, but I’ve never actually seen it happen.

  2. Alex

    June 11, 2012

    I was excited when I first got glasses. I’d always felt like my face was missing something. A decade later, I’m even more convinced that I look funny without them.

  3. jks

    June 11, 2012

    I was frustrated this January when my 8th grade girl got her new glasses and insisted on wearing them instead of her contacts. She has decided they make her look smarter. I just think it is part of a bigger picture of frumpiness and I suddenly wish I had taught her to be a little more superficial. Like in 6th grade when she insisted that she didn’t care if kids saw her with food in her braces because she didn’t need to be friends with someone who wouldn’t be her friend for such a superficial reason and I told her “Yes, you do!”

  4. kma

    June 11, 2012

    it’s the hipsters. the geeky/nerd look is in. hipster-ness probably hasn’t filtered down to elementary school yet :-/

    There was a spread in TIME about NBA players embracing the vests, bowties, chunky glasses, etc. It’s a fad, but I like it.

  5. Anonymous

    June 11, 2012

    I’m chronologically 64; but feel like I’m still in 3rd grade when it comes to glasses. I’ve had Lasik by a top notch eye surgeon. Likely because I was in my late 50’s it hasn’t lasted and I’m back to glasses. Not doing the contact thing again. ABSOLUTELY cannot find frames I don’t feel self-conscious in AT MY AGE. Why do I care? I don’t know – except insecurity is something I think I’ll struggle with into the next life. So I keep taking them on and off; on and off; on and off – I want so badly to have a pair I feel confident wearing all the time. Do you think some people just don’t have a face for glasses? How do I get to the point of not caring and just wearing them?

  6. Rachel W

    June 11, 2012

    Like Alex I think I look off without them. I think when I got them people made such a fuss over how good I looked with them that maybe I came to hide behind them. I’ve thought about getting lasik when Im done having babies, mainly because my eyesight is kinda bad and I dont want to be completely blind when Im older.

  7. Kevin Barney

    June 11, 2012

    I had definitely noticed the sudden appearance of all the glasses in NBA postgame interviews, but hadn’t heard anything about it being a new fad with that crowd. That explains a lot.

    I started wearing glasses in second grade, and switched to contacts in maybe late junior high. I switched back to glasses for my law school years, but I found that my prescription kept sliding back with glasses, whereas with contacts it remained stable (because the hard lenses held the shape of my cornea in place). So I switched back to contacts and have worn them since. (I have borderline glaucoma and am pretty sure I wouldn’t be a candidate for Lasik.) I would probably look better with glasses, but my vision is more important than how I look.

  8. Sage

    June 11, 2012

    Is this a bad question to ask: Do you live in Utah? My daughter got glasses in 3rd grade. She is fairly quiet about things, but I’ve only ever heard people tell her she has cool glasses. She’s shy and smart, but I don’t think the kids make fun of her.

    When I moved to Utah from California in 2nd grade, the kids were meaner by far. They constantly made fun of my name and did other mean things. That was almost 40 yrs. ago, so maybe they’re nicer now.

  9. Mary

    June 11, 2012

    My 7-year-old has been wearing glasses since she was 3 – always purple wire ones even though I keep trying to get her to choose some cute chunky frames because she looks so cute in those! I’m no hipster, but she would make a cute miniature one 🙂 She has never told me that anyone has teased her about them – but maybe it’s different for girls? It seems like a good number of kids at school wear them though. I imagine your younger son will get used to them and will stop worrying about them once he’s had them a while. Good luck to you!

  10. Sandra

    June 11, 2012

    My 7 year old just got his first glasses this year too. I wondered how he would deal with it- but he was so excited because I let him choose the frames. He went with Harry Potter style glasses that I didn’t like- but he loved. But then he totally trashed those and we are now on our second set of frames- some chunkier ones, that I think look much cooler…
    I went straight to contacts when I needed glasses at 16. Now I am counting down the months until I can justify getting my eyes lasered. It can’t happen soon enough. I really hate wearing glasses.

  11. FoxyJ

    June 11, 2012

    I got glasses in seventh grade and I hated them. I was also socially awkward and a total nerd, but I blamed all my problems on my glasses and counted down the years until I could leave home and get myself some contact lenses. When I got to college my first year I bought myself some contact lenses and I thought my life would be forever changed. It wasn’t.
    About ten years ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest, I stopped wearing contacts because we couldn’t afford them anymore. I’ve been wearing glasses exclusively since then. During the past year I’ve been contemplating contacts again because now I’m divorced and trying to get back into the dating scene, but I think I might just keep going with the glasses.

    Most of the elementary age kids I know think glasses are really cool. There are some kids at my kids’ school that wear frames without lenses in them just because they really want glasses that much. Both my kids have been disappointed each year at their annual checkups when they still have good eyesight. I know it’s just a matter of time before they end up needing glasses, and it will probably end up being in seventh grade just in time for everyone to tease them.

  12. Kaylie

    June 11, 2012

    I’ve worn glasses since I was eight–I never could stick my fingers in my eye well enough to wear contacts. I think my face would feel naked without them, and my eyesight is pretty bad, so when I have to take them off, I feel really vulnerable. Glasses in the pool or in the shower don’t work so well. I’m always jealous of people who get Lasik surgery–what would that be like, to actually be able to see your legs when you shave them? To be able to tell when someone’s talking to you (and not someone else) at the pool? To check the time when you wake up at midnight without having to put your glasses on?

  13. Amos

    June 12, 2012

    I didn’t know there was still any stigma attached to glasses. This is the first time I’ve heard the term “4-eyes” in 15 or 20 years. Two of my kids wear glasses and lots of their friends do too. We do live in a generally nerdy college town. As far as I can tell kids here (not just mine) are unaware of fashion and style and trends. Are you more likely to be concerned about glasses or teased about them if you live someplace where there is more emphasis on fashion and being in style? Just wondering. I think this must change from place to place.

  14. angie f

    June 12, 2012

    My DH is blind as a bat and because of his astigmatism and prescription, Lasik won’t work and he would have to consider a different, somewhat painful procedure which freaks him out, so he wears contacts or coke bottle glasses. My 10yo son, who idolizes him, desperately wants glasses, but has perfect vision and is very jealous of his 9yo brother who needs glasses and whose prescription worsens markedly each year. That 9yo brother loves his glasses, they just make his face balanced somehow and he loves seeing and not getting headaches. We have a lot of people around us who wear chunky glasses, so that I haven’t heard any one disparage glasses wearers in a long time. I always wanted glasses, but I only need reading glasses now after law school and years of reading shortening my field of vision (that and migraines).

    I sometimes think we get a faulty impression of what is cool, what will get us laughed at–as children, even as adults. I know my 4yo regularly tells me that everyone will laugh at her for very random things (like brushing the bedhead out of her hair, wearing balanced pigtails instead of one akimbo out the side of her hair like Mork and Mindy, which she’s never seen). She has a rather bossy friend who’s constantly telling her what is okay to do, to like, to wear (what colors girls like, what toys are okay etc) which seems to be causing her to question her style sense–and mine. I try to limit her access to this friend as a result. I wonder if Isaac has similar bossy ‘trendsetters’ in his midst.

    My older daughter needs reading glasses, which she used to ditch quite frequently and lost for a while. When the migraines began and the doctor agreed that the AWOL reading glasses probably didn’t help, she suddenly became a bigger fan of her glasses. Nerdiness is in the eye of the beholder. If your goals and dreams trend to the intellectual or you feel a need to be taken seriously, then glasses can be a plus. But if glasses are cool here in Vegas, the superficial capitol of the world, I would say it’s safe to say corrective lenses are experiencing general style favor.

  15. Kaye

    June 12, 2012

    I’ve been wearing glasses since I was seven- and I was really, really excited for them. Most of my family has glasses, though, so that helped. I started wearing contacts when I was eleven, and now (at 21) I seem to split my time equally between glasses and contacts. I do get treated differently when I wear the glasses. People tend to take me more seriously. I unfortunately don’t really know how you can convince your son to wear his glasses all the time. If his sight follows the usual patterns, though, he’ll eventually have to wear them all day or see the world as a multicolored blur. If he can see fairly well without them for now… I’d let him. There’s something distinctly not-fun about being dependent on a piece of plastic to function. I wish that I had set my glasses down more often when I was able to.

  16. Laura

    June 13, 2012

    I’ve worn glasses and contact lenses for almost 20 years, beginning in high school. I definitely prefer contact lenses. In part because I think I look better without glasses (although I think a lot of people do look awesome with glasses), but more because I just hate having something on my face. I had a horrible case of acne as a teen, and I would often get painful cysts and zits just where my eyeglass eyepads touched my nose. I also have sinus issues, and the weight of the glasses on my nose gets uncomfortable. And, oddly enough, some pairs hurt my ears. I know. Weird.

    Eventually I found that rimless glasses really improved the comfort level, although they’re super pricey (isn’t that strange–lots more money for a lot less frame?). I’m glad I found them, because lately my eyes have been far too dry to wear contact lenses–it’s been about four months since I had to give them up. I miss them.

  17. Emily F

    June 15, 2012

    Ah, glasses. I started wearing glasses at 13. I remember being so happy to see such detail in the tree leaves we drove past on the way home. I don’t remember being teased for them – but I was teased so much at that age anyway that maybe it all blended it. I don’t remember hating them until I was in college, but I also don’t have a single picture of me wearing my glasses in high school. I don’t know if I religiously took them off whenever a camera appeared of if I just wore them when they were needed. Anyway, after my first year at the Y I couldn’t stand putting them on anymore and I finally faced my fear of sticking something in my eyes. I’ve mostly worn contacts since then, but I’ve always had glasses to wear every once in a while (or at night when my eyes are worn out).

    A few months ago my toddler broke my glasses and it took a while for me to get another pair. I was surprised at how much I missed being able to wear them sometimes. I got a chic pair of dark chunky frames finally and love them. I’ve started to wear glasses more often.

    I do not understand why people who don’t need glasses would want to wear them. It’s the oddest phenomenon to me. My husband – who has 20/10 vision naturally – toted around a pair of fake glasses (thankfully never wearing them) for a few years until I finally chucked them while packing for a move. He wants me to get some kind of laser surgery but I refuse. I can’t stomach the thought of what’s involved. Scary!

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