We've watched these movies a hundred times, where the gawky girl with the crush gets a makeover just in time to win the affection of her dreamy yet oftentimes flawed man.
Despite our love of these films, it's arguable that they set a ridiculous precedent for how men value women. That you can't be geeky or intelligent if you want to win the 'man of your dreams'.
A film theory about women in glasses on the big screen has resurfaced on the internet when research physicist, Dr Andrew Porwitzky tweeted a section of Isaac Asimov's essay "A Cult of Ignorance" criticising Hollywood.
Isaac Asimov's critique of the "ugly girl with glasses becoming popular" from 1956 is spectacular. pic.twitter.com/toxMCVRLgA— Doktor Andy (@DoktorAndy) October 30, 2016
Asimov, a scientist and science fiction writer places his focus in the essay on the significance the Hollywood cliché of 'Laura Lovely'. She is the stunning actress who is assumed ugly when wearing glasses. While for the average man seeing a woman in glasses is no different to seeing a woman without glasses, in film 'Laura Lovely' is considered 'plain', until she gets her makeover.
This is a recurring theme in films, where before a makeover, women are invisible and not worth being noticed.
Asimov also claims that,
"The glasses are not literally glasses. They are merely a symbol, a symbol of intelligence. The audience is taught two things; (a) Evidence of extensive intelligence is a social hindrance and causes unhappiness; (b) Formal education is unnecessary, can be minimised at will and the resulting limited intellectual development leads to happiness."
Some of the most famous teen films and rom-coms are makeover movies. Just think about She's All That, The Princess Diaries, Funny Face, Grease and so many more. They have been around as early as 1942's Now Voyager. The film follows Bette Davis' Charlotte Vale, who was overweight, shy, and she had a monobrow and glasses. She undergoes several changes, including being admitted to a mental asylum and emerges a new woman.
The trope isn't exclusive to just women. Occasionally the roles are reversed and we see men undergo a makeover, most notably in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Crazy Stupid Love and the 80's classic Can't Buy Me Love. We also see it with Clark Kent/Superman. However, as pointed out by HitFix the fact that this trope dates all the way back to the 1940s, it is strange that it features so prominently in films today.
The makeover gets a 'makeover'
Nonetheless, in recent years we have seen the makeover trope undergo its own 'makeover'. As seen with Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Easy A we are increasingly seeing that the 'makeover' is associated more with personality rather than physical appearance.
Sadly the trope still exists
Despite our increasing acceptance of differences within music, art and even the fashion world, film has continued to perpetuate this 'ugly girl' theory.
Though the films may be subtler or attempt to subvert the theory like The Duff in 2015, they still end up pandering to this make-over complex in some way. Vox aptly explain the theory in the video below.
One argument that could be made is that by removing the 'glasses' that make the female character seem intelligent for the male character, we're promoting the idea that we have to hide our intelligence from men to win their affection.