Movie Clichés – The Ugly Girl in Glasses


The ‘Ugly Girl In Glasses’ movie cliché. Glasses on a woman in a movie equals her being unattractive. Movie logic determines she’s in desperate need of a makeover and she must lose her frames in order to get any man’s attention – no matter how plainly gorgeous she is in reality

Movie Cliches Ugly Girl In Glasses

In our real world reality, this woman is a drop dead gorgeous specimen of a female being. Any healthy heterosexual male (and some women) would immediately do a quick double take at this lady and try to stop the urge of staring. They would try to whip up enough strength as not to faint by just being in the same area as this beautiful creature. How can such beauty exist in the same universe as us mere mortals???

However, we’re going to talk about ‘Movieland’ here. This is the magical, fantastical world where perceptions don’t mirror our reality. This is a place where this stunning creature can easily be cut down to being a mousey, shy, meek, easily dismissed woman who NO man would be attracted to because of one piece of fashion wear she’s saddled with…

…she’s wearing a pair of glasses.

Oh the horror!

The ‘Ugly Girl in Glassess’ has been a popular movie cliché for ages! While the invention of eyewear was meant to improve lives and assist people with poor eyesight to navigate life clearer, the aftereffect was that for many years it inadvertently became a handicap for women – or so the movies have tried to make us believe .

Typically, if a woman in a movie is wearing glasses she can be a number of things – an all business no-nonsense prissy lady, a disguised wildcat or the nerdy girl no one wants to get stuck with.

It’s the nerd persona where movies have gotten the most mileage out of ‘the girl in glasses’ trope. The big makeover transformation of a wallflower into a bombshell in movies have become a popular device and one that appears to appeal to plenty of gals out there.

You know the routine. Geeky girl that no one has paid attention to, especially the boy she really likes who has had his sights set on the cheerleader for most of the movie. Our heroine takes the first step of becoming a head-turner by removing those coke-thick googles that have been hiding her face for most of the movie.

Rachel Leigh Cook Shes All That 1999 movie makeover
Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That

Films like She’s All That, The Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, all follow this basic framework. Thanks to a quick montage, our unpopular nerdy girl is now the talk of the town and that guy who’s ignored her suddenly sees her in a whole new light. Smooch. Success!

Of course the woman’s unattractiveness can also be helped with frumpy or outdated clothes, along with an unappealing conservative hairstyle. An oversized sweater is a simple wardrobe tool to hide the woman’ attractiveness and cover up the killer body she’s sporting. But it’s the glasses that are the key! I get disappointed if a makeover movie doesn’t use the glasses hurdle for our heroine to overcome.

The paramount step in a makeover is to take those glasses off! A girl can’t possibly be hot when she’s a four eyes! As it is said, ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’. If those eyes are covered by a nerdy pair of specks than there’s no way of seeing how hot this woman’s soul is!

A woman being saddled with a pair of glasses is the perfect stage for a dramatic makeover. A more dramatic metamorphosis than Lon Chaney Jr. turning into the Wolfman!

There’s the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where the featured movie is the terrible 1986 film Alien From L.A. starring supermodel Kathy Ireland. She plays a nerdy misfit (seriously) and no surprise she wears glasses. The leading man is ignorant to this geeky girls beauty – that is until she takes them off and sports a bikini. It is then the revelation hits him that she’s actually a knockout.

The MST3K crew have a funny reaction to this shocking absurd surprise by exclaiming, “WOW! She’s not wearing glasses!”

Princess Diaries 2001 Anne Hathaway movie makeover
Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries

Once this ‘plain dame’ whips off her glasses, lets her hair out of that tight bun and have it fall to her shoulders she becomes a new woman. NOW she becomes a real head turner. She struts with confidence and suddenly she’s surrounded by men trying to buy her a drink.

It becomes sort of ‘unwrapping’ a beautiful woman – although it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to any half way observant guy. Most Hollywood actresses have a real disadvantage when it comes to playing nerdy girls – they’re just too beautiful to be convincing as a lonely wallflower. Hooking them up with a pair of thick power frames is a small bandaid on a major problem.

There’s an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where the featured movie is the dreadful 1986 film Alien From L.A. starring supermodel Kathy Ireland.

Alien From LA 1986 movie Kathy Ireland MST3K episode glassesShe plays a nerdy misfit (seriously) and no surprise she wears glasses. The leading man is ignorant to this geeky girls beauty – that is until towards the end when she takes them off and sports a bikini. It is then the revelation hits him that she’s actually a knockout.

The MST3K crew have a funny reaction to this shocking absurd surprise the movie feebly attempts to make by exclaiming, “WOW! She’s not wearing glasses!”

The irony is that the folks who really are in need of glasses in the movies are the guys who can’t see how attractive a woman is even when she’s donning a pair of spectacles!

It doesn’t say much for men who can be so easily dismissive of woman just because she’s wearing round glass over her eyes. This movie stereotype probably didn’t help the eyewear industry much.

With this antiquated line of thought being pounded into the heads of women they probably prayed for 20/20 vision every night. A woman being told by an ophthalmologist she needed to wear glasses was probably like being sentenced to a prison term.

How To Marry A Millionaire 1953 Marilyn Monroe glasses
Marilyn Monroe in How To Marry A Millionaire

Think, Marilyn Monroe in How To Marry A Millionaire. She’s cursed with myopia and requires glasses to….you know….see. But she hates wearing them in the presence of men because as she says, “Men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses.”

Can you imagine, any man not having any interest in Marilyn because she was wearing glasses??? Only in movie land would that be a deal breaker.

A girl ditching her glasses can easily be played for comedic effect. She has to squint because she can’t see anything. She does a lot of stumbling around, bumping into things, unable to identify people or misreading things. It’s the basic Mr. Magoo type of humor.

It would actually be more beneficial to their love lives if all these movie women were blind! They’d probably be asked out on more dates if they were forced to have a seeing eye dog rather than be forced to wear glasses.

I always thought it was a bit amusing in It’s A Wonderful Life the fate that befalls on poor Mary when George is wiped from existence.

Jimmy Stewart is taken to an alternate reality and learns of all the horrors that would befall on his family and friends had he not lived and been a part of their lives.

Donna Reed Mary Its A Wonderful Life librarian glasses old maid
Donna Reed wearing specs in It’s A Wonderful Life

He learns his brother is dead, his uncle is in the loony bin, the druggist killed a kid. George’s nightmare culminates when he discovers what has become of his wife Mary….she’s a librarian AND SHE WEARS GLASSES!

“Nooooooo! What kind of ghastly world have you brought me to Clarence?!?!”

I question the credibility of Mary’s destiny. Donna Reed is flat out adorable whether she’s got a professor look going or not. Somehow I don’t picture her ever becoming a mousey old maid librarian just because her eyes got bad from reading a lot and she wears frumpy tweed jackets. I envision most of the male population of Bedford Falls running over to that library trying to make time with her by signing up for library cards.

I think the reason she wears glasses in this alternate universe is all the reading she’s now been doing at the library. Being smart is another side effect from glasses. You would think that would be a more positive trait that would help lend to the attractiveness to women in movie land, but it isn’t.

In movies, being smart isn’t that desirable a trait for a woman and carries little weight with suitors. Males in movies aren’t that interested in a woman who reads books and has a mind that operates fully. It’s much more of a selling point if they have a nice figure and can have fun!

A Swingin Summer 1965 Raquel Welch James Stacy glasses
A four-eyed Raquel Welch in A Swingin’ Summer

Like, Raquel Welch in A Swingin’ Summer. She’s a real book smart nerd who’s always reading something. This clearly means she’s unattractive and there’s no way she’s worth getting to know.

That is of course until this bookworm takes off her glasses, drops her books, learns not to be a drag and starts dancing to a groovy beach song. She shockingly turns out to be a far out chick, and pretty foxy to boot!

One of the earliest ‘ugly girl’ in glasses scenes is from the 1946 Howard Hawks 1946 classic The Big Sleep.

Humphrey Bogart is detective Phillip Marlowe, who stops into the Acme Bookstore to get some information. He’s greeted by the bespectacled bookstore clerk Dorothy Malone. In our reality, the most captivating bookstore clerk you could ever dream of meeting. Of course in the cinematic illusion of this encounter, she certainly shows some interest in him, but Bogie doesn’t react much towards her,

He asks if he can just hang out and wait there for awhile. That’s settled and they prepare to share a drink together. While talking, Bogie bluntly asks Malone if “she has to….” pointing to his eyes. Malone then takes off her glasses and lets her hair.

The Big Sleep 1946 Humphrey Bogart Dorothy Malone bookstore glasses scene
Dorothy Malone & Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep

It’s then Bogie’s eyes widen and gives her an amorous “Hello!” and her replying with an equally flirtatious “Hello” in return. Suddenly the drab time he was to spend in that bookstore just got a whole lot more exciting once those glasses came off.

It’s a terrific scene. I’m sure there are earlier examples of the cinematic prejudice of glasses, but the one from The Big Sleep is one of the most famous, and entertaining. Check it out, it’s a short scene, but both Bogie and Malone are great in it.

A girl ditching her glasses can easily also be played for comedic effect. She has to squint because she can’t see anything. She does a lot of stumbling around, bumping into things, unable to identify people or misreading things. It’s the basic Mr. Magoo type of humor.

This glasses cliché can also be applied to men. One of the requirements of being a movie nerd is to be wearing glasses. They usually are hindered by big ugly specs, along with dressing very poorly

Glasses can also be used as a disguise. When our hero has to play down their awesomeness and go undercover, to be sure of not being recognized they might throw on a pair of glasses. They have to ‘nerd themselves up’, and a pair of glasses is a small, but effective means of doing this.

Superman 1978 Christopher Reeve Margot Kidder Clark Kent Lois LaneOne example is when Kurt Russell goes undercover as a dorky out of towner infiltrating a brothel in Big Trouble in Little China. There are plenty of others that we can point to who used this camouflage tactic.

The most famous example of this is of course Superman. We all know how absurd it is that no one can tell Clark Kent is Superman just because he’s wearing glasses. As if that completely transforms him and throws all suspicion away from him.

Yet, somehow this feeble disguise doesn’t make Lois Lane look twice at him, but sans his glasses her knees get weak. Are glasses really that major a drawback???

Lynda Carter sported a pair of specs in the Wonder Woman show with the same magical results. The glasses disguise worked so well for her, Gal Gadot decided to use the same trick in the 2016 film Wonder Woman.

Lynda Carter Gal Gadot Wonder Woman glasses disguise
Wonder Women Lynda Carter & Gal Gadot disguising themselves

Ok, forget everyone not being able to recognize Diana Prince is really Wonder Woman. I’ll accept that. But how could every guy within eyeshot not be completely enamored and turn into a stumbling, bumbling schoolboy when she’d walk into the room??? Superhero or not, who is this woman? Glasses can’t possibly have that kind of neutering power!

Today, this has just become an acceptable piece of movie logic. In reality we all know it’s silly, we might shake our heads at the idea, but we just go along with it for the sake of the story.

These fictional dimwitted men in movies that ignore women in glasses are representative of actually how Hollywood views these four-eyed ladies. They’re the equivalent to Lois Lane, who are dismissing women in glasses.

There’s that niche group of men who are fans of women in glasses. They dig that librarian look, the sexy secretary, the hot scientist, the sexy nerd. Is that considered a fetish thing? Whatever it’s called, it’s a rarity to see a woman lead character saddled with glasses as part of her entire look throughout an entire movie.

Wouldn’t it be mind-blowing if a movie had a scene of a woman shopping for a pair of glasses, feeling better about herself that she can now see better and getting nice compliments about her new frames by strangers on the street!

Tina Fey glassess cute sexyThat will never happen. In movie-land the girls have to ditch the frames, get some contacts and do some killer eye makeup. I doubt they’ll ever be many movies with a woman wearing glasses as the lead any time soon. I don’t seen many bespectacled ladies on movie posters – unless they’re playing the dorky friend.

Even Tina Fey, who became a popular glasses-wearing lady, I see wearing hers less and less. I usually see her in all these commercials for American Express sans glasses. That’s disappointing.

There’s not as much of a prejudice of girls in glasses as there once were in the real world. Now glasses can look sheek and stylish. Contact lenses are an easy alternative today for woman who fear the dreaded scarlett glasses label too or they could even do some lasik surgery to rid themselves of those dreaded frames.

But if there’s ever a need of a movie makeover for a female character, just put her in a pair of ugly frames and you’re good to go! Rest assured glasses are an easy tool to ugly up even the most breath taking beauties in Hollywood – at least by movie logic.

A 1950’s newsreel that explains the ways bespectacled women can make the most of wearing glasses based on scientific research and Hollywood makeup experts. They try to argue – ladies don’t panic, wearing glasses doesn’t have to make you ugly!

2 thoughts on “Movie Clichés – The Ugly Girl in Glasses

  1. 2020 Netflix movie The Half of It the main female protagonist wears glasses throughout the whole movie. No makeovers. CW’s DC series Arrow, Felicity wears her glasses most of the time.

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