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Why does Harry wear glasses before he found out he was a wizard?

Here are the facts:

He lived with the Dursleys, a family of relatives that didn't care about him, to the point that Harry didn't get his own room, own toys, used his cousin's old clothing, was locked in a closet under the stairs and, later, locked inside a room that was used as a storage of discarded stuff.

The Dursleys didn't care about Harry's health (physical and mental) at all. They were forced to raise him. Why did they care about his vision?

This is my theory:

Teachers at Harry's Muggle school noticed he had bad vision, so they insisted that his uncle and aunt take him to a doctor. The Dursleys were the kind of people that are always worried about that other will think about them, so they took Harry to get his vision checked and buy him his glasses to keep up the appearances (they did this "keeping up appearances stuff" in the first book when they bought an ice cream for Harry).

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15  
Today the UK's healthcare system provides free vision tests, and subsidized glasses purchases, for minors. Not sure if that was the case in the 1980s, though – Jason Baker Feb 21 at 1:46
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@JasonBaker if glasses were subsidized in 1980s, the Dursleys had no reasons for not giving Harry the glases he needed, and also avoided getting into problems with the school. – Broken_Window Feb 21 at 1:48
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Yeah, that was my point. In fact, that's perfectly within character for the Dursleys: when pressed into making a healthcare decision for the child they hate, take the route that costs them nothing – Jason Baker Feb 21 at 1:50
25  
They also provided him with food and clothing. Probably grudgingly, but still. They're negligent guardians and generally horrible people, but they're not monsters. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 21 at 15:07
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Harry had really bad eyesight. Maybe he flipped omelets and pancakes onto the walls. Necessity over monstrosity. – Brindha Feb 21 at 17:24
up vote 113 down vote accepted

As someone who was in school during the 1980s in the UK, I'm very pleased to confirm that free eye tests were an annual event. Teachers and parents/guardians were both made aware of potential difficulties and, because of the availability of NHS glasses (free from optometrists before 1985 and free to the bearer of a voucher after 1985) it would have been seen as borderline abusive for the child not to be provided with a pair of glasses if they had been diagnosed with long or short sight.

Harry's glasses seem very similar to the C-range of free glasses provided to children in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and which were undoubtedly the inspiration for the glasses described in the books.

You may wish to note that the company which made these frames also made the glasses seen in the films and that JKR was herself a recipient of NHS glasses in her younger years.

enter image description here

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4  
+1 for the hand drawn circle! – Mithrandir Feb 22 at 12:13
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@mithrandir - it's more of an oblong. Perhaps you need an (NHS) eye test? :-) – Valorum Feb 22 at 13:37
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Also, Dumbledore's half spectacles are up there. I agree about the "borderline abusive" treatment, your teachers will notice, and raise the issue until you get it settled. – JFA Feb 22 at 15:14
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Petunia somehow cared a little bit about him, and the glasses would also be something Dudley could laugh about. – mgarciaisaia Feb 22 at 16:30
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@Mithrandir it's freehand – Raystafarian Feb 22 at 17:48

I personally believe that it's due to the chores. At some point, they noticed that Harry has problems with doing his chores (cooking, gardening...) that are consistent with very bad vision, and reluctantly gave him glasses (perhaps asked for them from some friends) so that he could do the chores better.

It is also possible that the glasses came with the original Harry package back in 1981; presumably James and Lily could have guessed that their son might have had bad vision (certainly Dumbledore would know enough to guess that). Perhaps, at some point on or before the 1st of November, 1981, glasses in normal two-year-old size (or even a bit larger, if they were intended for future use) were bought for young Harry; with how tiny Harry was by age eleven, the glasses could easily still be just barely fitting (it is mentioned that they are by then too small), and once in Hogwarts they could probably be adjusted magically.
Going on from that... perhaps Mrs. Figg got him the glasses (at some fairly early point, perhaps around 1983). It would certainly fit both the timing, and her. I'm surprised I didn't think of this idea earlier.

From my own experience... my memory tells me that I wore the same pair of glasses from 4 (or even a bit less) to 7-8 years old, and that a pair bought when I was about 5 was stolen when I was 14 (by which point it was a secondary spare, but still useful, and only secondary because it didn't fit my worsening vision well). Based on that, it would have been very possible that the glasses were bought before school (or even earlier); I suspect my fairly small size at young ages (in particular, my weight at age 11.5 was 27 kg) is a good approximation for young Harry.

Note that Harry had successfully learned to read, and indeed did not seem to have any problems reading while in school (which he would've needed to do much); otherwise he would've had trouble ever getting higher grades than Dudley, since so much of the school system depends on being able to read. This makes it likely that he got glasses before going to school; either by 1981, for chores, or perhaps in preparation to school (though, again, I guess it's possible that he'd already learned to read by 1981 anyway, and it's unclear exactly how much were the Dursleys non-caring for him while he was still a baby).

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8  
"perhaps asked for them from some friends" The Dursleys, obsessed as they are with what other people think of them, don't seem like the kind of people to go asking for hand outs just to avoid buying Harry glasses. – Anthony Grist Feb 21 at 12:00
    
@AnthonyGrist Sure, but it could've been the same sort of "friends" they tended to leave Harry with when going on vacation or something. (It's discussed in the zoo chapter that they can't find anyone, but there's a decent-sized list they go through before they figure that out.) And really I wrote that section down before I figured out the Mrs. Figg solution (which is way more likely). – January First-of-May Feb 21 at 12:08
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+1 for the chores connection. That was my first thought as well. However, it's likely that Harry received glasses the same way other kids his age in the UK would have received them, which (according to the current accepted answer) seems to be through a government-provided program at no cost to the recipient. – Ellesedil Feb 22 at 17:54
    
I didn't consider the fact that Harry could be forced to do house chores. Well, I don't remember reading about it in the books. It is a posibility that the glasses were thanks to Ms. Figgs, but she seems to be a very distracted person. – Broken_Window Feb 23 at 3:00

Firstly, I agree with your theory that Harry's teachers might have asked the Dursleys to take him to a quick eye check owing to his constant vision problems in class.

If not that, then I definitely do not see any incident/instance where the Dursleys might have observed or taken notice of his vision problem.

"Petunia, I see Harry's behaving oddly; rubbing his eyes a bit too often these days. Maybe we should take him to an eye check or something." said Vernon never.

In addition, as mentioned in the comments above, I am not completely sure whether regular free checks are a thing at schools in the 1980s in the UK. If yes, then maybe that should be a nice rival theory to yours.

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The NHS definitely existed at that time, but the article is a bit too heavy on politics and light on standards of care to determine whether Harry would have been eligible for free vision treatment. – Kevin Feb 21 at 6:41
    
@Kevin Yeah, the topic of free vision checkups and subsidy is debatable :) – Dawny33 Feb 21 at 6:45
    
+1 for "said Vernon never" :) – Jane S Feb 21 at 7:15
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About once a week, Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted that Harry needed a pair of glasses. Harry must have had more glasses than the rest of the boys in his class put together, but it made no difference, his eyes simply would not focus properly onto his plate – they'd be all over the place. – leftaroundabout Feb 21 at 13:54
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+1 for "said Vernon never". I'm laughing my ass out! xD – DRS David Soft Feb 22 at 20:47

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