Thoughts · Young Adult

Where Are the YA Characters Who Wear Glasses?

Where Are the YA Characters Who Wear Glasses_

When was the last time you found a character in a young adult book who needed glasses? Were they ever one of the teen main characters?

I was inspired to write this post by American Panda by Gloria Chao because Mei, the protagonist, admits to being nearsighted. Mei narrates, “Because of my nearsightedness and my mother’s tenet that ‘no woman is attractive in glasses,’ I recognize people by silhouette and motion” (Chao 3%). I wear glasses most of the time because I’m nearsighted and need to see clearly what is happening around me. When I was in high school, I mostly only wore my glasses in class so I could see the whiteboard, so I relate to Mei describing how she recognized people by their blurry shapes. Now I fully enjoy recognizing people with more detail when I wear my glasses.

American Panda by Gloria ChaoAs I finished the book, I started thinking about how often I see young adult characters with glasses or contacts. Except for the occasional blind character (Isaac from The Fault in Our Stars) or boy who wears glasses (e.g. Simon Lewis as a mundane in City of Bones), I don’t remember if I have read a YA book where the girl doesn’t have 20/20 vision before June of this year. I especially don’t remember ever reading from the perspective of someone who was farsighted, with or without corrective lenses. If I have read these books, it’s been way too long since I read it to remember.

So, I tried some quick googling to find a list of these characters, and I didn’t find much success beyond finding blind characters. I did try to get into Blind, by Rachel DeWoskin, which is about a girl who became blind in an accident, but I couldn’t get into it.

I digress. The more important point is that I’m not encountering many YA books that include characters where it is mentioned that these teens have imperfect vision or are in some way wearing glasses or contact lenses. If there are a lot of these books, I haven’t found them, and I would appreciate any recommendations you have, especially if they’re girls who wear glasses. Assuming that these books are few and far between, why would that be? A lot of people in the United States do not have 20/20 vision and wear a corrective lens to see. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a graph that shows the percentage of children from ages 6 to 17 who wear glasses or contact lenses. Their website says, “In 2016, the percentage of children aged 6–17 years who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses was higher among girls (36.2%) compared with boys (29.1%). . . . Among both girls and boys, children aged 14–17 years were most likely to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses” (Centers for Disease Control par. 1). While this is not a majority, these are high percentages for teens, the target audience and age of main characters in YA books. If so many people wear corrective lenses in reality, why isn’t it represented more in YA books?

I can take a couple of guesses. The first is that for as little as I’ve seen of YA characters wearing glasses or contacts, I have to wonder if this lack of representation falls under one of the issues of YA only wanting to show people fitting certain beauty standards. In other words, YA still has a tendency to show beautiful people, and that tends to mean people not wearing glasses in this culture. My second guess is that authors may not have experience with realities of needing glasses as a teen.

Whatever the reason, I would like to see more characters who don’t have optimal vision. I want to see more characters with glasses or contact lenses, characters who don’t have 20/20 vision, blind characters, etc. All it takes is a mention of this character putting glasses on or taking contacts out. If it’s important to the plot, there can even be a moment where the character is having trouble seeing something without their glasses.

For now, I appreciate that Gloria Chao made Mei’s nearsightedness and lack of glasses an important feature in American Panda. Even though I really want to give this girl a pair of glasses.

What do you think about characters having glasses or otherwise imperfect vision? Do you have book recommendations for characters who need glasses or contacts?

* I apologize for having only percentages marked. The Kindle edition only has location numbers, so I went with percentages.

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control. “QuickStats: Percentage of Children Aged 6–17 Years Who Wear Glasses or Contact Lenses, by Sex and Age Group — National Health Interview Survey, 2016.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 66, no. 34, 2017, p. 917, www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6634a7.htm.

Chao, Gloria. American Panda. Kindle ed., Simon Pulse, 2018.

28 thoughts on “Where Are the YA Characters Who Wear Glasses?

  1. I was thinking about this the other day, maybe because I saw a children’s book with someone wearing glasses on the cover? But, aside from Harry Potter, I don’t think I can name any glassses-wearing characters!

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  2. I’d never really thought about this before, but now you’ve mentioned it I realised that I really haven’t read many books where the characters wore glasses. I wear glasses myself and I really don’t think there is much of a big deal about it. At one point everybody was buying fake glasses because it was considered ‘cool’! YA really does have a bit of problem with representation thought. Great post😊

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  3. I think I can name like two: Harry from Harry Potter, and Simon from City of Bones. I’m trying to remember if anybody else I’ve read wears glasses, but since I read a lot of fantasy, they don’t really have glasses in fantasy worlds. Although they should. (Except the mousey library scholars. They always have spectacles.) I didn’t realize this was a thing until I came across this post and realized, yes, where are all the people who wear glasses?! Most of my friends wear glasses. My boyfriend wears glasses. Everyone in my family except my sister wears glasses…

    I started wearing glasses in fourth grade when I realized I couldn’t see the board. My last name starts with an R, so I was always sat in the back when we were seated alphabetically. I found myself asking to move closer, and the teacher recommended my mom take me to get my eyes checked. I started off being nearsighted, but within a year I had to wear glasses full-time, and my eyesight has only degenerated over time. I’m resigned to the fact that at some point in time, I’ll end up being mostly blind. I’m already having trouble driving at night. (Although that could be attributed to the fact that my doctor messed up my new prescription and I have to wait until I can see another doctor about my eyes…)

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  4. This is a great discussion Carrie! Now that you mention it I wear glasses and I didn’t even make a character in my own work who doesn’t have perfect vision! That is distressing to note… I don’t think I did that due to wanting to show perfect characters… honesty I think its just because I didn’t think of it as a worthy flaw. What I mean is that my characters have flaws that are way worse! I do have a character who wears glasses all the time but due to the sun not imperfect vision. ❤️ Fascinating!! You really made me think!

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    1. I hadn’t really thought about it that way from a writer’s perspective. If your characters have plenty of other flaws or challenges, I’m not sure what adding imperfect vision would do to them or the story. It is something to think about. Thank you for giving more insight into creating characters.

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  5. This is such an interesting topic! I have to say, I can’t remember main characters wearing glasses, except for Harry Potter right now and it really is a shame. We get some side characters wearing glasses, but I can’t recall a main character wearing glasses at the moment and that really sucks, given all the teenagers and people in the world in general having vision problems and having to wear glasses. Definitely a topic to think about 🙂

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  6. Thanks for the insightful post (and the citations)! Your thoughts are making me consider giving the main character in my current WIP vision issues. I’ll let you know how that goes!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 9 (started wearing contacts at 16, but now that I got new comfortable glasses I mostly wear my glasses again and contacts when I feel like it) and I never thought of this? You’re right – so many kids/teens were glasses, so where are they? I remember in 9th grade our physics teacher asked us how many of us wore glasses or contacts and about 1/3 of the class put their hands up.
    All the characters I can think of are boys too (Harry Potter, Simon Spier from Simon vs). Where are the girls?? Loved this post! Thank you for making me aware of this

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s funny because I find what gets represented in YA fiction is very much cyclical. One year a lot of people are wearing glasses, the next LGBQT+ characters are more popular, then it’s girls with dark brown hair and fighting skills, etc. There used to be a few more depictions of glasses-wearers, but now I don’t really see it at all. It is quite prevalent in MG fiction though (I can think of at least 10 without blinking). I have been wearing glasses for 17 years and have never felt like I needed to have girls and women in fiction with glasses to relate to them – I’ve more felt that people with my personality were not represented (analytical and quirky, but also sensitive, independent, and intense – yet not a stereotypical robot or b*tch).
    Another example for you is Meg Murry (A Wrinkle in Time).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As someone who is legally blind, I’d love more main characters with vision issues. I can see, but I’m missing an eye, and the vision in the remaining eye isn’t ideal.

    People of the Lightning by W Michael & Kathleen O’Neal Gear features a character who would be considered legally blind. Pondwader is a favourite character. The book is hist fic, not YA though.

    I wish I were more motivated with my own writing… I’d write a half blind character!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for writing this very insightful article! It’s true so many teenagers have glasses and there’s not nearly as much representation as there should be in YA novels. Having glasses is nothing to be ashamed of and hopefully YA novels in the future can learn to recognize that!

    Liked by 1 person

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