Removing his spectacles was part of Clark Kent’s metamorphosis from geeky journalist into superhero. With popular symbolism like that, perhaps it’s no wonder that Francine Jellesma has found many children endorse negative stereotypes about people who wear glasses.
Jellesma conducted a literature review finding 28 relevant studies on this subject published since 1980. Although the results showed glasses were far less salient to children than other identifying features, such as gender, their views on glass-wearers were largely negative. For example, asked to compare pairs of children, one of whom was always wearing glasses, 5- to 9-year-olds consistently rated the child without glasses as prettier and better looking. Another study found that children were less interested in being friends with glass-wearing peers.
The one positive caveat was that many children associate the wearing of glasses with superior intelligence. For example, asked to draw a smart person or a scientist, children tend to depict their creations as wearing glasses (but they don’t do so when asked to draw a stupid, nice or nasty person). Jellesma said this association was probably aided by the prevalence of intelligent, glass-wearing fictional characters like Harry Potter and John in Peter Pan.
What about children’s views of their own glass-wearing? Here the findings from four relevant studies were more encouraging. Studies that have tracked the general self-concept of children over time have found little effect of their changing to wearing contact lenses, suggesting glass wearing isn’t that important to the way they see themselves. It’s only when attention has been focused specifically on self-perceptions of physical appearance that changing to contacts has made a difference, with contacts boosting appearance-related self-esteem. Also relevant are studies looking at children’s willingness to wear glasses. Younger children don’t’ seem too bothered, but there’s evidence of older children refusing to wear glasses, especially in urban areas. Jellesma said this could be due to fears of bullying in larger schools with more hostile social environments.
Jellesma concluded that more positive, glass-wearing media role models could help improve the self-esteem of glass-wearing children, and improve the stereotypes that children hold about people who wear glasses.
F.C. Jellesma (2012). Do glasses change children’s perceptions? Effects of eyeglasses on peer- and self-perception. European Journal of Developmental Psychology DOI: 10.1080/17405629.2012.700199