Astigmatism and a stigma

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the fifth grade. We all lined up as usual to take our public school vision test. I giggled my way to the front of the line. This would probably go like previous years.

Finally, it was my turn. Was that an “F” or an “E”? Was that an “O” or a “C”?

“Kathy,” the visiting optometrist started, “it looks as if you’re going to need glasses.”

I was already different than the children on my block. They attended the neighborhood school and I was bused to a magnet one. My hair hung down my back, while other girls had cornrows or braids with colorful beads. I spoke “standard” English when everyone else used “ain’t” and double negatives with ease.

And now I had to add wearing glasses to this list?

My first reaction was a single tear from my near-sighted eye. Another soon formed and trickled down my cheek. Before I knew it, I was full-on crying, in front of the whole fifth-grade.

The visiting optometrist whispered, “Now dear, you don’t want to make the people who wear glasses feel bad, do you?”

She was talking about Alexander Adams, a kid named after a president. She referred to Eli Korner. A nice boy, but not someone I wanted to be in the glasses gang with.

So my mom took me to a place called For Eyes. My first pair were lilac. If I had to wear them, then I was going to look as cool as possible doing it.

***

Fast forward to 1991. I had just graduated high school and had a job. All this time, I’d been wearing the glasses that someone else could afford for me. This time, I’d wear the glasses that I wanted.

My first pair, with my own paycheck were Laura Biagotti’s. I’m pretty sure I paid over $200 for them. But it didn’t matter. I was fly. Ironically, I’d also decided to ditch wearing them in public. It was time for me to enjoy the convenience of contacts.

That was back when you could get a pair of annuals and they would last, well, all year, as the title suggests.

I wore those contacts so much that Dwight didn’t even realize I needed to wear glasses. I slept in those contacts so much that the optometrist had to threaten not to give me a prescription because you know, you’re not supposed to sleep in contacts.

Every year, I’d renew my contact lens prescription. And every other year, I’d renew my eyeglass prescription, wearing them at night only. I held on to this routine for 25 years.

***

Much like many prescription holders, my eyesight worsened over time. Much worse. But it didn’t matter. I could hide the truth behind my contacts. Decades later, companies discontinued annuals and only offered monthlies.

Everything was good, until this year.

My eyesight had worsened still. Because according to Dr. Suddath, no matter what, when you’re over 40, your vision will continue to decline, regardless of the starting point.

My current prescription is: -7.50 with a -1.75 astigmatism and -8.25 with a -1.00 astigmatism.

All this technical mumbo jumbo means I can no longer wear monthlies. My contacts only come in dailies, which cost $106 per month. Say what?

This means, as my good friend Mek suggested, “Maybe you should embrace the glasses now?”

And suddenly, I felt like I was ten again. I cried and cried, like a week ago y’all.

It might sound silly. But there was a slight fear.

Most people don’t even know I wear glasses, for real. Most people don’t know that if I didn’t have these contacts in, I wouldn’t know who was standing in front of my face. Most people don’t know that wearing glasses is what makes me feel 10% less confident in public spaces.

Most people don’t know that I’d been holding on to a feeling of inadequacy for 33 years, all because I couldn’t see clearly.

Sheesh! 

I had subscribed to a stereotype about wearing glasses and safely hid behind contact lenses. Well, it has to end here. I’ll have to shed this made up stigma and find the right frame for my (public) comfort level. 

The journey to loving me for me in this and every moment continues, glasses and all.

Do you have any hidden insecurities you’ve held on to since childhood? Share them below so we can support one another. 

Behind the Kwote: Be You

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My sister-in-law and I have different personalities. Our one commonality is being married into the same family. The last phone conversation we had stemmed from a final attempt at building a long-distance relationship, so that family events wouldn’t feel like two strangers meeting for the first time. This is how it went.

SIL:     Kathy, you’ve always been rude and mean to me.

Me:      Really? How was I rude and mean to you the last time we saw each other?

SIL:     You didn’t say anything to me and you didn’t want to listen to my advice about Kesi’s hair.

Me:      You’re right. I didn’t say anything because whenever I do, then you call me rude and mean and when I don’t say anything, you still call me rude and mean. But, it’s funny cause you always tell me to be myself.

SIL:     <sigh> Well, I’m not going to tolerate rude behavior.

And she shouldn’t. But after lots of overthinking, it seemed that my SIL wanted me to be myself in ways that pleased her. The 2011 visit we’d discussed is when I tried something different and said very little. I thought it would keep conversations peaceful.

However, it backfired because in essence, for me to speak few words is not me…at…all.

Our phone conversation revealed how I’d stopped being myself to appease her for no reason. Her perception of me remained. From that day forward, I’ve learned to be myself, regardless of others’ positive or negative opinions.

My Photoshopped Self

You hear it all the time. Be yourself. How hard is it to be you? And what exactly does that mean? Is it okay to throw a filter on an image and crop it so that you look a little prettier? What about when you ask someone to re-take a picture cause you forgot to suck in your belly? I don’t really have the answer. In fact, I only began to question this  recently.  Being myself in photos has always been pretty simple. Until I learned one day how easy it is to present a different version of me. A Photoshop version.

A few weeks ago, I needed a professional picture for my book. I contacted my neighbor, Mr. LeeVon, a professional photographer. One Saturday, we walked around our shared apartment’s backyard and took a few shots. Here’s the one that I chose:

be_yourself1

Looks okay, I thought, until Mr. LeeVon said, “Okay. Gimme a minute and I’ll touch these up for you.”

“Oh wow,” I said, “You’re gonna make me all fancy!”

A couple of hours later, my phone vibrated while I stood in the Target checkout line. It was my Gmail. Mr. LeeVon had sent the Photoshopped picture.

“Oh my gosh!” I showed my husband. “I look like a celebrity!”

He squinched up his face and said flatly, “He needs to try it again. That looks fake.” be_yourself2

My eyes dropped. And then my smile.

“Show K—,” he directed.

I couldn’t stop staring at the transformation. “Look at this!” I said hoping for some semblance of validation.

“Oh no, mommy. It looks…I don’t know. It looks…plastic. That doesn’t look like you.”

At this point I was a bit annoyed. All I had said was that I looked like a celebrity. “Well, what should I tell him, then?”

“Give you some natural lines. Make your face look more real,” my husband offered. “It doesn’t look like you,” he reiterated. And then, “You can’t have a book about being yourself and the picture doesn’t even look like you.”

Okay. He had a point. How could I promote the idea of “being yourself” and not look like my-self. I had a brief internal struggle. Why not just use the original picture? Why have a touched up image at all? I asked Mr. LeeVon to try it again, repeating my husband’s words almost verbatim.

Here’s the revision. be_yourself3

My husband liked it. My daughter liked it. I liked it. And so did 100 other Facebook friends. Secretly though, I felt a little fake because picture number one is how I really looked, even if there is very little difference. I also began to understand how quick it is to become filtered and phony. All it takes is one slightly altered pic and a little external validation.