Why did Superman wear glasses to conceal his identity? Why did that little accessory signal to all of society, regardless of culture or language, that he was the antithesis of everything Superman stood for as a social and physical body?
Why would you never hit a man with glasses?
I’m sure you’ve heard of social constructs, disability is one of those. Disability as we know of it today was defined during the Industrial Revolution. A person who could no longer contribute monetary was useless; house wives contributed by maintaining the lives and well-being of the money earners but even still, they were only partially considered human.
Industry evolved, capitalism dominated, and technology innovated. In the early 20th century disfigurement caused from working in factories were normalized. Rather than giving the injured a stigma it was a badge of honor, of sorts, these injuries indicated the disfigured man was hard-working and industrious. He was a real man. He was sexy.
A man with glasses was not. His anomaly wasn’t a result of capitalism, but of personal failure; perhaps even punishment for sins of his parents. Someone who uses glasses wouldn’t be fit for working in a factory where precision of sight could be a life or death matter. A glasses user could work though, so they were put into office positions and over time their particular stigma of disability became one of nerdiness.
Spider-Man wore a mask which narrowed his possible identity down to everyone with a similar body shape; lean and muscular, built for super heroic activities. He could be one of many from a relatively large pool of suspects, so why did Peter Parker wear glasses even though Spider-Man had a facemask?
Of course Peter Parker wore glasses before being bitten by a radioactive spider and so his everyday life needed to stay consistent; He would be suspicious otherwise. Other than that, the glasses were still signaling something very un-super and un-heroic.
Wearing glasses no longer signified an inherent lack of physical ability, glasses didn’t make Spider-Man look too weak to be a superhero. Glasses now signified the inherent lack of emotional and personal ability. Peter Parker wore glasses which made him a nerd therefore he could never be the heroic type.
In 2018 can a person with glasses work in any industry? Of course. Does the degree of their sight impairment affect whether they are disabled or not? Yes. Somewhere on the spectrum a glasses user passes over disabled into something else altogether; glasses now have the ability to become an ornament of fashion rather than function.
The hipsters of yesteryear has made glasses a fashion statement. By the 1950s more stylized designs were being produced but the cost still made it evident a first glance whether a person was wearing glasses because they needed them or because they were wearing Glasses™. This was exacerbated by geek chic in the 00’s. The popular fashion was still nerdy, but far from disabling.
Other disabilities are beginning to see a renaissance of fashion. Prosthetics have always had issues of falling into the Uncanny Valley, there is a predicament in making a life model so close to realistic and not making it convincing enough turns out horrific, like Sophia.
When you are disabled, you are seen as a monster; but you are a familiar monster, you’re from the same blood and boil as the humans. If you use prosthetics you come from the Uncanny Valley and that’s a whole other type of monster. Prosthetic users often go without or modify their prosthetics to look less lifelike because it brings less stigma.
Being able to define humanity in your own way, as opposed to a medical model, is innovative and beautiful.
Manami Ito performing a violin cello with the use of her custom prosthetic bow arm, begin at the 30 second mark.
Ito’s abnormality takes nothing from the performance, in fact, it gives it another layer of artistic value.
Conceptualizing human bodies that aren’t entirely organic has crossed over from science fiction into mundane reality. This is become a great issue in sports industries not only with steroids but with prosthetics.
Blade runners are leg prosthetics made from carbon fiber invented in the 1970’s. Through the use of kinetic energy the wearers have the ability to walk and even run in a realistic manner. They are popular not simply because of their efficiency, but because they look cool. They are something people enjoy wearing.
When used in competition there is an ongoing argument over unfair advantages. This strikes me as funny because whenever an able–bodies complains about disabled people relying on assistive equipment, they wholeheartedly deny that shoes and such are, in fact, assistive equipment. Humans aren’t born with the ability to walk barefooted anymore, they’ve become disabled under the medical model.
In the 2016 Olympics Matthew Centrowitz won the gold medal, and set a new world record, in running. In the Paralympics of the same year Abdellatif Baka one. His gold medal by beating Centrowitz’s score by 1.7 seconds. For all intents and purposes the two should’ve been competing against each other but Baka has a visual impairment, thus making him disabled.
The Paralympics are often thought to be titled as such because the athletes are assumed to be paralyzed. In fact, Paralympics comes from the Latin root of “para” meaning alongside or altered. The Paralympics are the Olympics but the athletes aren’t completely able-bodied and neurologically typical.
Matthew Centrowitz was the celebrated gold winning Olympian but he wasn’t, nor is, the best, Abdellatif Baka beat him with no unfair advantage but because of the association with disability it somehow means far less. Centrowitz is a hero for achieving his dreams, Baka is a hero for overcoming his disability.
In a way, that’s true. He didn’t ascend disability but he overcame the bigotry, the legal, and social blockades that make him disabled. His vision had nothing to do with that.
With more freedom, more time, and more resources disabled people are customizing their own accessible’s and it’s beginning to migrate into high-fashion.
Consumerism created disability but now it’s ironically blurring the lines as able-bodieds code themselves as disabled to be fashionable. Glasses are used in mundane fashion. But even over depictions of disability are becoming more common.