Do You Even Need Those?

March 7, 2020 / Camille Bao

“Sixty percent fashion, forty percent necessity,” my friend nonchalantly replied when I asked about his new half-framed glasses. He appeared a little bit more sophisticated. Mature, even, with a hint of retro flair. Distracted by the novelty of it all, I didn’t notice the numbers until later. Sixty. Forty. That twenty percent difference taunted me. What were glasses, really, if they weren’t an absolute necessity?

For me, glasses weren’t a choice. I don’t remember the exact moment traffic lights at night became obscure colorful dots, but I do remember the terror of my first eye test. My future was hanging by a thread, determined by the number of letters I was able to recite correctly from 20 feet. I stammered on line four, and the 20/20 vision I had dreamed of disappeared from my sight. The optometrist scribbled something down on his clipboard and picked up a pair of trial lenses. “Try these,” he ordered, handing me the ugliest pair of glasses I have ever seen in my life. I put them on with silent resentment. Slowly, then all at once — everything became clear. I blinked and blinked at this new reality. I could see the specks of dust on the carpet and the storefront signs across the street. My eyes wandered everywhere, completely mesmerized by how sharp the world really was.

Back in 2010, glasses were on the brink of being cool. Justin Bieber's "Baby" came out earlier that year, and obsessed tweens soon fell in love with his lensless glasses. But the glow up culture that permeated almost every Hollywood movie of the past decade lingered. Despite the rise in celebrities who sported glasses as accessories, glasses were still the thing you took off before becoming hot. Even with my newfound clarity, I was worried about the teasing that would come at school.

When I started picking my very first pair of glasses, my mom tried them on with me. She had wanted glasses so badly as a teenager that she read in total darkness in hopes of ruining her eyesight. “Glasses were cool,” she said, her vision still intact. At that moment, I believed her, still captivated by how different my perspective was through a thin lens. Without a care in the world, I championed my new rosy pink frames.

“You look so different with glasses on,” people told me the next day, with a tone that shattered a little bit of my confidence. After multiple versions of that in the years to come, I began to believe them. I did look different — and not in a good way. No matter what frames I wore, smaller eyes, nerdiness and smudged lenses always situated themselves at the forefront of my identity. Watching my friends gradually turn to contacts, I begged my parents to buy me them, too, but they thought contacts were too expensive and too dangerous. I was left behind — with no one to look up to but Asian dads who all seemed to be wearing the same wire-rimmed frames. I would sometimes take off my glasses in front of the camera, despite barely being able to see where the lens was. I wanted what most of my friends had: the ability to make a glasses-free, judgment-free impression on others.

After years of doubting what my mom had said, glasses did become cool. Justin Bieber was no longer one of the only ones igniting controversy over wearing glasses for fashion. My friends, despite already having contacts, surfed for the newest chic frames. Everyone seemed to want Harry Potter’s round specs but not his poor eyesight.

At first, I hated this glasses trend. Why weren’t glasses cool back when I was still an awkward four-eyed nine-year-old? We — the optically challenged — wore them as medical devices before they became a mere accessory, an add-on to whatever sophisticated, grunge or playful statement piece on urban streets. Yes, we complain about them constantly, annoyed at how they fog up whenever they’re near a cup of hot ramen, how they prevent us from laying our heads down comfortably, and how the genetically blessed can never relate to these very real struggles. Nonetheless, glasses still make up our childhood. We fully rely on them to guide us through whatever lies in front of us. Stripped of all judgment, aren’t we all just people trying to see?

Perhaps I was too harsh. After all, from my first rosy pink frames to my current metallic gold, I have hoped that others would see me for who I was, undefined by the nerdy-intelligence and unattractiveness associated with glasses. Internalized beauty standards have prevented me from truly owning something that has been a part of me for almost ten years. Ultimately, I’ve come to understand those who can see the full peripherals of the world. They want that extra outlet, those frames, to further paint their personality. In truth, we are all searching for our identities — with or without glasses.

So, to my fellow glasses-wearers annoyed by the question, “why don’t you wear contacts,” I hear you, and you are not alone. Keep looking on. And it’s still okay to be forty percent annoyed at those posers who wear fake glasses. I will try, however, to be a bit more empathetic, to be perhaps at least sixty percent accepting. And in a spirit of acceptance, I will say this to those with 20/20 vision — you are truly, undoubtedly a hundred percent blessed.  ■

By: Camille Bao

Layout: Adriana Torres

Photographer: Katie Pangborn

Stylist: Carlie Roberson

HMUA: Rya Ashok & Taylor Stiff

Models: Susanna Wang & William Gonzales

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 13 here.
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