Disclaimer: I wrote this review while participating in an influencer campaign by Mumsnet on behalf of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.
“I’d really like to try contact lenses,” my daughter tells me.
I look at her warily. She is eleven.
I got contact lenses when I was twenty-two. I’d just landed my first Real Job and was finally getting paid Real Money (unlike previous jobs, paying a special form of money that could seemingly only be spent on rent, food and cinema tickets). Contact lenses were my first grown-up purchase. I have worn them ever since. I’m not 100% sure, but it’s possible they would be my Desert Island Discs luxury item.
Nonetheless, when my daughter tells me she wants contact lenses, something very stern and determined inside of me says a firm No. I start trying to find ways to justify my position.
“They’re very complicated to put in,” I reply.
My daughter is too polite to say anything, but I can feel her disbelief. She’s seen me put my contact lenses in. She’s seen me take my contact lenses out. She knows exactly how much complexity is involved. Liquid eyeliner – now that’s a challenge. Contact lenses? We both know I can do it even when I’m not even awake enough to talk about cornflakes.
“You have to use lots of different chemicals to keep them clean,” I offer.
“Do you use lots of different chemicals to keep your lenses clean?” Her face is very sweet and innocent. “Because I’ve never seen you do it. Can I watch you one time?”
Bollocks. She’s got me. I wear disposables. Furthermore, I have worn disposables for years. Now I come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I even saw contact lens solutions.
Oddly enough, nearly two decades earlier, my mother raised the same objection to me. To my mother, contact lenses were fiendishly complicated beasts requiring regular treatment with tablets and chemicals and split-second timing and, I don’t know, your own custom-built sterile lab space or something. I told her about one-step solutions and monthly disposables, but it was no good. Contact lenses worried her. Now I know how she feels.
“I’m quite grown-up,” my daughter tries. Perhaps she senses my weakness. “I think I can handle them. I manage my brace all by myself.”
This is true. Since she was eight, she’s been subjected to a binator, which made her dribble and forces her jaw forward and required her to learn to speak with her teeth clenched together. Of course, it has also worked miracles on her overbite and protected her from a lifetime of dental issues. Nonetheless, it was a hell of a thing to take on. Without her commitment and cooperation, it would never have worked.
“But you can see just fine with your glasses,” I suggest, and then I have to stop.
I can still remember the astounding surprise of my first pair of contact lenses. Under the supervision of the optician, I put them in. Then I walked all around York town centre, being amazed, and seeing stuff.
No smears! Peripheral vision! It is raining and yet I do not care because the raindrops are not coating the surface of my glasses and interfering with my field of vision! I am Seeing-Eye Woman; hear me roar! It was like magic.
“I’d really like to try contact lenses,” my daughter tells me.
“Why?” I ask. Maybe if I can find out her reasoning, I’ll be able to talk her out of it.
“You see,” she says, “I don’t like having to wear my glasses all the time. Sometimes I want to look different.”
“But glasses don’t make you look ugly,” I say.
“I don’t want to wear them all the time,” she repeats.
Damn, I think. I suspect I’ve just found the problem. Her problem, and also mine.
I want my daughter to be comfortable in her skin. I also want her to love her skin, and all the rest of her, just the way it is. It’s a tension I know we’ll come back to many times over the next few years. Being honest, this is the easy end of it. She’s not asking for a nose-job or high heels or silicone implants. She just wants to have the option to leave her glasses off and not walk into stuff.
Over the next few years, I’m sure we’ll argue about her appearance on a regular basis. The words You’re not going out like that are going to come up in conversation. Out of all the things she will Not Be Wearing as part of her quest to look her best, surely her glasses shouldn’t feel like such a big deal?
And yet, contact lenses still feel like a step I’m not ready for yet. Why is it such a problem? Maybe because I’m afraid that if I let her have them, I’ll be sending the message Actually yes, glasses are unattractive and you should ditch them as soon as humanly possible.
Yes, I think that’s it. I’m afraid that if I let her have contact lenses, I’m giving her permission to look down on all her glasses-wearing friends and classmates. Before I’m comfortable letting her have contact lenses, I want to be really, really sure she’s totally absorbed and fully internalised the knowledge that glasses do not equal ugly. (Also, the important truth that glasses let us see where we’re going – a privilege many of our short-sighted ancestors would have given anything for.) I feel as though, in letting my daughter have contact lenses, I would be cheating her of an important life-lesson.
Now I write that down, I can see how stupid it is. Even the most dedicated contact-lens wearer will still be a glasses-wearer too. I wear my glasses every single day. Sometimes I wear them all weekend, along with my pyjamas. But still, but still…
I promise I will think about it, and I do. In fact, I think about it for weeks. I am still thinking about it when a Mumsnet survey pops up about vision correction. I have a woo moment and decide this is a sign from the universe.
A lot of the questions are about self-esteem. Essentially what they’re asking me is, Do you think your child likes that they have to wear glasses? I find these questions uncomfortable to answer. It feels too much like an admission that we’re now in the territory of worrying about body image and outward appearance. How has this come around so soon? She still sometimes plays with little plastic animals, for God’s sake. But she’s also nearly old enough for secondary school. I finish the survey, then hesitate a long time. Do I actually want us to be chosen for the trial?
The hell with it, I think. She wants to try them. They might not even pick me anyway. Let’s see what happens. I press “send”.
My daughter doesn’t know about this yet, but when she does, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled. I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing, but at least I’ve finally got to the bottom of what’s bothering me about the whole contact-lenses-for-my-daughter question and faced its absurdity. It’s time I accepted that contact lenses aren’t a cosmetic enhancement – they’re a corrective appliance. We’re going to try contact lenses, and see where it leads us.