The optometrist has good news for me: My vision is stable. “Give or take a step,” he says, although at this point, I don’t have it in me to care about anything less than a full diopter. Plus, the retina’s looking “golden.” That’s the important part, he says. Most people don’t think about their retinas, but I do — I think about them at least once a year, sometimes twice, always from the comfort of a slightly reclined optometrist’s chair.
I suppose it just comes with the territory. I have a comically bad case of myopia, possibly the worst out of everyone I’ve ever met. It sounds more harrowing than it is, however, and thankfully, I’m able to see fine with contacts or glasses. I really don’t consider it that often; so long as my retina keeps looking golden and the optometrist keeps giving me good news, I’m as content as anyone else.
Other times, I’m less content, such as when I’m in the middle of a pandemic and I start running out of contact lenses. For the uninitiated, there’s this rule about contacts where you often aren’t allowed to get new ones without having an up-to-date prescription — hardly ideal for social distancing. Still, I can’t afford an eye infection from old lenses, so I put on my good mask and my glasses — and then I put a second mask on top of the first one — and then I sit very far away from the other patients as I wait my turn to go sit in the optometrist’s chair. It isn’t until I’m led into the room that it occurs to me I could have just worn my glasses for the next six months.
The thought passes quickly, as thoughts often do, and suddenly, I’m thinking about NBC’s “Hannibal.” A question strikes me: Is Will Graham nearsighted or farsighted? I can’t quite puzzle it out. He has glasses, but he appears to wear them at random, and on top of that, they appear less and less as the show goes on. Maybe he doesn’t need them; maybe he’s faking it for clout. Maybe NBC’s glasses budget got slashed. Or maybe somebody just realized Hugh Dancy’s eyelashes deserved more screen time — the most likely answer, I think.
The optometrist throws some letters on a screen. I read them out loud. My train of thought leads me to another Hugh Dancy classic, 2004’s “Ella Enchanted,” which naturally leads me to the rest of the early 2000s Anne Hathaway-led princess film discography. And it always comes back to Anne Hathaway, doesn’t it? Her “Princess Diaries” series was iconic, to say the least, taking the tropes of a classic high school rom-com and applying them to a fantasy setting.
It’s unfortunate that one of the tropes it holds onto is the tired “movie makeover” — you know, that thing when a character takes off their glasses, restyles their hair a bit and puts on something formfitting. “The Princess Diaries” may be one of the worst offenders: I’d wager a good chunk of my generation has memorized Hathaway’s before and after looks, her glasses askew and mouth hanging open in one moment, eyes bright and shining in the next.
After telling me about how normal and not detached my retina is, the optometrist leaves me in the office as he goes to collect something. I start thinking again.
I think about Hathaway’s princess, contacts in, hair detangled, girlboss fire in her eyes. I think about Velma from “Scooby-Doo” — the live-action movie, not the animated series. I think about “Miss Congeniality,” a movie that I haven’t actually seen, though I have seen the pictures of pre-makeover Sandra Bullock in her glasses and grayscale “lazy girl” outfit. I think I could have been a stunt double for lazy Sandra Bullock; I might even have that outfit.
I think about being 10 years old at my fifth grade promotion, all dressed up with straightened hair and glasses nowhere to be found. My vision was better back then, so I could get away with not wearing them for a day or two. I remember the surprise coloring my teacher’s voice: “Wow! You look so pretty. I mean, you were always pretty,” she quickly corrected, “but without your glasses — wow!”
In a way, that moment back in fifth grade makes me feel as though I’m in a movie, which isn’t as good of a feeling as you might think. The truth is, Hollywood isn’t very fond of glasses. It’s a mark of deviation, and sure, sometimes that deviation is celebrated — where would “New Girl” be without Zooey Deschanel’s clunky frames? But “lovably quirky” isn’t the same as “normal.”
As I leave the optometrist’s office with a new prescription, I start thinking that maybe Anne Hathaway looked better in the before photos; the pose was unflattering, but her hair looked nice with a bit of volume to it. And as for the glasses, maybe there are worse evils — so long as she’s happy, you know? Then I get home, rip my glasses off my face and toss them on my desk, and I feel utterly normal once more.