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Translated by Manon Defrasne
If glasses usually compensate for a deficiency, or correct vision disorders, they also highlight the individuality of those who wear them and “nowadays belong to this system of objects that represent our ‘standing,’ index our social status, demonstrate our open-mindedness to modern life and expose the expression of a style” (Evrard, 2003). However, their accessibility and popularity seem to overshadow the sociocultural symbolism of the object itself.
The latest Canadian population-based study focusing on eye disorders revealed that 57% of Canadian adults presented with related eye disorders and, in most cases, had been provided appropriate eye care to correct the disorder (Perruccio et al., 2010). Since alternatives do exist (e.g. laser surgery and contact lenses), adorning one’s face with ophthalmic lenses seems like a personal choice (Murray and Albrechtsen, 2012). For some people, glasses must be conceived as an “undefinable mix of aesthetic and eroticism” (Evrard, 2003).
Vintage frames made its way back into today’s fashion a few years ago, and choosing a certain type of frame allows people to show others their cultural references and codes of seduction. In that regard, a brown pair of round glasses or a massive plastic frame with rectangular-shaped glasses both refer to two different styles: the 1930s style and the early 2000s style respectively. If glasses were initially about overcoming a handicap, they now aim to enhance the body and face of the person wearing them.
Glasses, Fetishizing Bodies and the Erotic Capital
The intimate relationship between the person wearing glasses and the glasses themselves is illustrated by Vitols (1994): when someone dies, it is difficult to throw away their glasses as they are profoundly associated with the person. Furthermore, glasses are usually put on the face of the deceased during a funeral, so that their appearance corresponds to that of them while they were alive, and to avoid a magnified sense of unreality in the mourning family.
Glasses are always in contact with the body—just like clothes—and they allow the wearer to express their desires (Vitols, 1994). According to Frank Evrard, author of the essay L’érotique des lunettes, the proximity of the object to the body on a daily basis refers to a process of body fetishization (by oneself, but also by others), since the body would become capital: “[Glasses] refers to a dual practice of your own body as a capital and a fetish, or a consumer item” (Evrard, 2003).
English socialist Catherine Hakim (2010)—even if offering a heterocisnormative understanding of seduction—suggests that the body is a ‘sort’ of capital, which can be economic, cultural or social. For Hakim, the body—erotic and eroticized—can explain, in some cases, some social phenomena such as social mobility. Sexual attractiveness is the cornerstone of erotic capital, which has several dimensions (aesthetic, visual, physical and social) that can be accumulated over time, and utilized in several professional spheres:
“Women and men in many other jobs can also exploit their erotic capital: actors, singers, dancers, models, receptionists, secretaries politics […], some people who work in public relations, many people who appear on television (TV) or in films—anywhere where looking good, charm, and social skills are important, including politics” (Hakim, 2010).
Social presentation is one of the components of erotic capital and refers to clothing, make-up, perfumes, jewelry and other accessories that are meant to display both a particular social status and a unique style. Glasses thus have the potential to nourish an individual’s erotic capital by highlighting some facial and personality traits, or by displaying a specific social identity. For example, small brown glasses are mainly associated with bibliophiles (Murray and Albrechtsen, 2012).
If glasses draw attention to the face, they also transform and hide it like a mask would. Vitrols (1994) says that “glasses can be seen as a social mask used to express codes, fears and desires.” In this regard, desires seem to be linked to three types of fantasy: sapiosexuality, eroticized power dynamics and deviant bodies.
Nerd Sex Appeal
Glasses used to be associated with clothing style, but not anymore because of the link they have always had with knowledge, and, therefore, with the mind (Vitols, 1994). Sapiosexuals are attracted to intellectuals and scholars, but why are glasses more associated with intellectualism rather than a handicap, at least in 21st century pop culture?
During the Middle Ages, religious men, suffering from presbyopia, and often holding candles and wearing spectacles, worked on transcribing sacred texts: glasses were thus associated with rigour and effort (Vitols, 1994). Subsequently, the creation of universities in Europe facilitated the access to and democratization of knowledge. Since then, glasses have become a work tool for several intellectuals, such as researchers, philosophers, professors, students and authors. Vitols (1994) points this out stating, “their common point is their strong relationship with the book world, and with writing in general.” Moreover, eyeglass wearers have repeatedly been persecuted, since their appearance corroborated their belonging to specific groups, critical of totalitarianism: intellectuals, journalists and artists (Evrard, 2003).
Wearing glasses—ideally round glasses—is thus a way for people to show others that they belong to a certain social class and to outline their thirst for knowledge, but also to express their desire to be liked (and sometimes eroticized) for their intelligence.
If glasses are sometimes part of seduction, they are usually seen as an obstacle in intimate proximity: it is common to take glasses off and to use this gesture as a way to emphasize the upcoming sexual pleasure, or to make it a courtship ritual (Vitols, 1994). Keeping glasses on during the sexual act is more exceptional than usual.
Since pornography oftentimes relies on fantasies and unconsumed possibilities of those who watch it, wearing glasses in mainstream or alternative pornography is no exception. In real life, you do it without glasses—in porn, they do it with.
In 2017, Mia Khalifa was the second most searched porn star on Pornhub (Pornhub, 2018). In most of the videos she partook in during her pornography career, Khalifa wore big plastic glasses. Likewise, other alt pornography famous figures—Charlotte Sartre and Mickey Mod, did not hesitate to wear glasses to impersonate, respectively, an obedient student in Lessons in Discipline and a perverse doctor in Dirty Doctor.
Moreover, Pornhub noted that men are 160% more likely than women to use keywords that will lead them to videos with glasses (for example, “glasses porn”), and that visitors aged 18 to 24 were more interested in this sub-category. Although the searches for this sub-category equate to 2% of the searches for “MILF,” the “glasses porn” phrase is as searched as “students” and “swinger” (Pornhub, 2016). If this phenomenon seems marginal, it is important to notice that the #girlswithglasses hashtag generates more than a million photos on Instagram.
The erotic potential of glasses cannot be exhausted without an alternative reading of it, beyond the generally accepted codes of porn and seduction. The Glasses Overs Contacts (GOC) phenomenon—when someone who does not have a serious vision problem still decides to wear contact lenses under thick glasses—and virtual spaces that eroticize myopic women (including the unbeatable High Myopic Girls) remind us that standards of beauty can be overturned and questioned: “There is one more important part in wearing glasses －the sexual part. Like many other GOC wearers I like women with strong glasses. The fact that they wear glasses with thick lenses does not detract their beauty. The opposite is true. For me, their glasses and their lenses accentuate and magnify their beauty and sexual attractiveness” (What is GOC?, n.d.).
No matter if they are considered a fetish or just having a (really) preferred sexual interest, GOC adepts and the devotees of myopia seem to see a kind of beauty and eroticism that society has trouble seeing.
By highlighting the relationship between glasses and the body, by appealing to notions of intimacy, fetishization and erotic capital, and by emphazing the symbolic charge of the object—in terms of its links to knowledge (sapiophilia), power (pornography) and subversion (Glasses Over Contacts)—the erotic potential of glasses is underlined. As a cultural object, glasses offer the potential to make visible the mechanisms by which individuals create, embody and project an identity, in order to embody desire.
Evrard, F. (2003). L’érotique des lunettes. Paris : Éditions Imago.
Hakim, C. (2010). Erotic Capital. European. Sociological Review, 26(5), 499-518. doi : 10.1093/esr/jcq014
Murray, S. and Albrechtsen, N. (2012). Fashion spectacles, spectacular fashion : eyewear styles and shapes from vintage to 2020. Londres: Thames & Hudson.
Perruccio, A.V., Badley, E.M. and Trope, G.E. (2010). A Canadian population-based study of vision problems: assessing the significance of socioeconomic status. Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology, 45(5), 477-483. doi : 10.3129/i10-061
Pornhub. (2018, January 9). 2017 Year in Review. Retrieved from https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2017-year-in-review
Pornhub. (2016, August 2nd). Looking into Glasses Porn. Retrieved from https://www.pornhub.com/insights/glasses-porn
Vitols, A. (1994). Dictionnaire des lunettes : historique et symbolique d’un objet culturel. Paris : C. Bonneton.
(s.d.) What is GOC?. Retrieved from http://bobbygoc.sweb.cz/texts/textindex.htm