The Real Reason The Tired “Ugly Girl In Glasses” Trope Needs To Die

Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
"Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." As anyone who wears specs knows, Dorothy Parker's famous quote is hardly fact. Unfortunately, many Hollywood movies and TV shows still abide by the rule that a woman is only attractive to men once she removes her eyewear. Dig a little deeper into this trope and you'll find a heavy dose of sexism. BuzzFeed recently called attention to a tweet from research physicist Andrew Porwitzky, PhD, in which he shared a passage from Isaac Asimov’s 1956 essay “The Cult of Ignorance.” The tweet went viral, because Asimov's words about Hollywood sexism are as true in 2016 as they were in the '50s. Asimov, who came along years before She's All That and The Princess Diaries insisted that beauty and glasses are mutually exclusive, wrote a startlingly accurate essay about how Hollywood forces women to remove their specs before they can become popular or attractive to men.
The problem with this trope isn't that it shames people with poor eyesight — it has to do with the idea that glasses are a symbol of intelligence. Though having poor eyesight is, obviously, in no way correlated to your IQ, glasses have long been associated with being bookish and "nerdy." Film and television take these symbols into account — it's a way for them to get across big ideas in the shortest amount of time. Hence, removing a woman's glasses essentially means to say, "You'd look so much prettier if only you didn't look so smart."
Mona from Pretty Little Liars recently subverted this trope. The former villain is brilliant, with or without her glasses, but she spent years hiding her own intelligence by wearing contacts in lieu of her former spectacles. It worked: People thought Mona was a smart, unattractive nerd with her glasses, and a beautiful, dim-witted popular girl after she underwent a major makeover. But really, Mona has always been the same character — she just used this tired trope to her advantage. People underestimated the beautiful girl's intelligence, while the nerdy girl with glasses remained under the radar and mostly ignored.
Are things changing? It's hard to say. Jess from New Girl is certainly considered attractive with her glasses, but she's also framed as "adorkable" — as though she's just hot enough to make up for her nerdier qualities. Sadly, that's how things seem to be in Hollywood: Women are welcome to be smart and "dorky," as long as they are beautiful enough to compensate for it.

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