By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.
My youngest daughter turned five last October. For her birthday, her aunt and uncle, my sister-in-law and brother, got her a funky pair of pink rimmed glasses. She was extremely excited, and so was her older sister. The seven year old sis instantly knew what she wanted for her upcoming birthday. ‘I want some glasses just like that!’
When December rolled around, said older daughter got a package in the mail from said aunt and uncle. Sure enough, inside was a new pair of glasses. Happy day!
Neither of my girls need glasses to read or to see far away (unlike their parents), and so these glasses are simply fashion accessories. They wear them some days, and not others. Often, when they want to ‘dress up’ fancy, they will break out their frames. Wearing them to school, or preschool is all about the image.
I would be remiss to point out how wonderful I find this. The perception surrounding glasses seems to be evolving from when I was a kid. Back then, there was a stigma to wearing glasses, and that stigma was an American tradition. It was so common that you can even find the normalization of this stigma in children’s books of my era. Take for instance Marc Brown’s book Arthur’s Eyes, in which Arthur the Aardvark needs to get glasses. The first day he shows up at the bus stop with his new eye-wear his friends laugh at him. His best friend Buster even calls him a ‘freak’. In 1979, when this book was published, glasses were obviously a symbol of the social outsider that everyone, even children, could recognize. If my daughters’ friends and classmates are any indication, this traditional stigma is dissipating among kids today.
What a revolutionary change this could be for American culture! Just look at the twentieth-century outsider terms for those who wore glasses: Nerds, geeks, and eggheads. These people were outsiders in schools, at parties and within pop-culture because they were intellectuals. Glasses=brainiacs=social outcasts. Perhaps now this stereotype is transforming. Perhaps being smart is becoming, dare I say it, cool?
I hope so, but I want glasses to remain a perceived sign of intelligence, since the psychological process called ‘enclothed cognition‘ may make this perception into a reality. Put simply, ‘enclothed cognition’ studies have found wearing certain clothes can have positive or negative effects on cognitive processes. Wearing a lab coat can make people think more clearly; wearing exercise clothes will make people want to work-out more. As far as I know, studies have never been done regarding the effect of wearing glasses on our cognitive processes. But, it seems only logical that the perception that glasses make you look smarter will make you feel smarter, which, in turn, will actually make you smarter.
Are glasses going to remain cool, or is this just a fad? I don’t know. All I know is that I will keep pushing my kids to wear glasses, even if they never need them for medical reasons. They and their friends may or may not think it makes them look smarter; there is no question in my mind it makes them look cute.