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May 12, 2010

I really need to get new glasses. The ones I’m wearing now are several years out of date, with several big scratches as well as diabetes thrown in for extra prescription-changing fun. My sunglasses are from the prescription before that, and are making me dizzy and headachy with basically no depth perception. I think the regular ones have been helping the migraines along recently. Sounds like time to take advantage of a 2-for-1 deal at Specsavers, eh?

The thing is, my relationship with eyeglasses and trying to choose new frames is more complicated than it ought to be. I really, really dislike trying to find frames that might just about work. Similar to Margaret Cho’s observations, “My skull is such – that is a memorable phrase isn’t it and worth repeating – my skull is such that a normal pair of glasses will not fit my head…The anger that I have right now is directed toward those who make, design and market glasses, which are probably essential to all people at one time or another, specifically not for – a skull like mine – if you will – a skull as such. So fuck all y’all.”

I am not Asian. Still, I am tempted to give the more reasonable migration hypotheses some credence, since pretty much my whole skull seems to be “wrong”-shaped in the same ways. Yep, it’s the skull that’s wrong.

Could Thayendanegea/”Joseph Brant” have kept up a pair of glasses to save his life? He had enough to deal with already. It may be very different and lower-level stuff, but so do I. There’s a somewhat eerie resemblance going.

Nobody in my family can keep a pair of glasses up, what with the low nose bridges and big, flat faces with high cheekbones. Nary a soul. And most of us wear them.

It was worse when I had the giant plastic ’80s glasses (also gotten when I was 8 ) that I remembered AnneC mentioning. I had an assortment of pink, blue, and lavender frames, all huge and very plasticy. Right after I put them on, they rested on my eyebrows and got grease marks there. After a minute or so, they slid down to rest on my cheekbones. I kept both greasy marks on the lenses and indentations on my face from that, along with lines of pimples once puberty hit. In spite of the “Did someone blink?” factor, my eyes are in fact not very deep set, so my eyelashes brushed up against the lenses; not only was that annoying, I ended up with a lot of lashes in my eyes! They slid completely off my face at least twice a day, and more than one pair got broken that way. (My mom’s did the exact same things–so no problem there–but I kept getting told off for being careless at school. Yep, I loved having them fly off and break, especially the couple of times they got purposely stomped on. Which is another story entirely.)

Apparently, it is just about possible to get plastic frames that work, possibly requiring aftermarket surgery on the nosepieces; my earlier experiences with them just make me want to avoid them like the plague. Bit of a shame the plastic frames are so popular again. Talk about potential for frankly unusable design.

Besides thinking I’d look a lot better without them (and hopefully stop getting made fun of for the reverse-raccoon effect I kept, as much time as I spent outside), that made RGP contact lenses very appealing indeed when I was 12. They bring their own set of hassles, but it’s a bit of a shame that I haven’t been able to stand wearing them for years now, especially with the allergies.

Metal frames with proper, adjustable nosepieces were a revelation. As soon as they became popular again ca. 1990, I switched over. At least they ride enough higher at the bridge not to rest on my cheekbones, though a couple of pairs have stayed against my eyebrows and greased themselves up annoyingly that way. Still, if I find a pair wide enough that the earpieces don’t dig into my head, the bridge is usually wider too–really unsuitable proportioning there. They still won’t stay up on my nose, though they rarely make a serious bid for whatever special freedom spectacles find on the floor.

The most recent, narrower vaguely rectangular pair (the best fit I could find at Specsavers), with evil slippy little round nosepads I haven’t gotten around to replacing, usually come to rest at a point which places the top of the frame right in my field of vision–and astigmatic blur above that. I have to look down to see through the middle of the lens, which is less than ideal–like really substandard bifocals. And, as I saw several Asian-Americans mention, the weird slidy tilt my sunglasses always get lets in blinding light at the top. With the slip-and-tilt, I’m not getting the intended prescription even when they’re new. While much better than the huge plastic frames that kept flying off my face, it’s still not a great situation.

Me, with the dog
How my glasses usually sit on my face now. These are the ones with the evil little round nosepads.

Most of this is harder to take with my sensory issues. Like scratchy clothes or annoying sock seams, I cannot ignore it after a while. Up to a certain point, apparently most people can. Still, I’d pretty much resigned myself to uncomfortable glasses that don’t let me look through the middle of the lens–what with having the “wrong” kind of head and all.

So, a few months ago, I was nearly overjoyed to find out that some manufacturers (prominently, Oakley) are now making “Asian fit” sunglasses for the US market. And the problems they work around were exactly the same problems I’d had with frames. If I could wear non-prescription sunglasses all the time, and liked Oakley’s styling–not to mention felt like getting them from the US, where there’s a lot more demand–that would be great.

Apparently, it really might be possible to find frames which will pass the smile test: ““I smile very wide to see if they’re going to move; that’s the test” (good opportunity for them to plummet to the ground, IME). I had no idea.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one waiting for suitable prescription eyewear. (How strange!) It turns out that there is now one designer turning out “Asian fit” optical frames at somewhat reasonable prices: T.C. Charton. And, somewhat luckily, they seem to be based where we’ll be moving after Nigel’s visa gets sorted out, so are easy to find there; two optical shops in Mountain View alone are carrying the line. They’re also offering the frames online, but especially given the track record to date I am so not going to buy anything I haven’t tried on–much less try to convince another optician to fit lenses into them.

I am glad to find out that somebody does make frames (available outside East Asia) that might have a hope of fitting me. I’m glad that somebody–even if it was an Asian-American who couldn’t find frames that fit–finally figured out that there’s a pretty big untapped market there.

Still, I am really honked off that something as basic as suitable glasses frames for non-European faces are still so hard to find, and you have to pay extra to get them. If you are in the very limited geographical areas where they are even available at this point, without paying $700 for Japanese designer frames–which may or may not be suitable for your own non-European (i.e., typical of most of the world) features. It pisses me off that I have very little chance of finding frames that fit where I am living now, when I need new glasses.

I know that a lot of people of African descent have exactly the same trouble with glasses and noses. So, out of curiosity, I tried to find out if anybody had thought to cater to that particular market–roughly 12.3% of the 2000 US population, besides those whose ancestors “passed” but who still have characteristically African nose shapes. (Like a number of my relatives, actually.) That would make economic sense, right? Hell, there’s a substantial untapped non-European market here in the UK, some with “low” (as compared to whose?) nose bridges. Could certain ideologies be trumping even enlightened self-interest here?

Not too surprisingly, I couldn’t find anything. Nada.

The closest I ran across was frames designed for people with Down Syndrome, which is good in itself, but not really what I was looking for. The designer’s patent application, which I ran across initially, points out: “There have heretofore been no eyeglass frames made specifically for people with Down syndrome according to research which has been done on this topic, and likewise no eyeglass frames for people with similar facial characteristics* and for those with a depressed nasal bridge or low set noses including those individuals of African descent and Asian descent. About 87% of children with Down syndrome require glasses.”

Unfortunately, I can well imagine that, attitudes still being what they are, not many other people with “low” noses are buying these. They are also mainly available through online ordering, without trying them on. This strikes me as a serious accessibility issue.

Appallingly, searching on terms like “African nose bridge eyewear” (or “glasses”), I kept getting results with individual Black people talking about not being able to keep their glasses up, designs surface styled to appeal to, say, hip hop aesthetics–and ones shilling rhinoplasty. Try it, if you want boiling blood.

Never mind the rather large potential market for glasses that fit, apparently you can get shit injected into your bridge “(so the glasses will not slide down on the nose)”. Ack. “People who could greatly benefit from a non-surgical rhinoplasty are people who would typically get nasal implants to augment their noses, such as Asians, African-American, or Hispanic patients.”

That’s a pretty big part of the population, just looking at the US (and neglecting us non-Hispanic Indian types). “Typically”, I would prefer to be able to buy usable, suitably designed assistive devices so that I can see, rather than to “augment” my nose into a state some people find more acceptable. But, maybe that’s just me.

If making money is the main goal**, why might I think there’s more profit to be made overall from necessary products people can use than from “ethnic rhinoplasty” (“Anyone who seeks a new shape for the nose and who has nasal features typical of their ethnic group is a candidate”)? Interesting what products and services are deemed necessary.



* Like me, apparently; Carrie Buck came from a similar Tutelo background, and that photo looked like we could have been sisters. Gotta love the attitudes that produced the “Mongoloid” label! (‘But there’s more! The man for whom Down Syndrome is named, John Langdon Down, claimed in 1866 that the facial characteristics of people with Trisomy 21 represented a genetic regression, because Caucasians should not have “Asian” facial features.’–excellent piece, meloukhia!)

I had basically no nose bridge as a kid. Not only is that generally treated as a highly unattractive characteristic, but throw in some nasty stereotypes, and such features still get people diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome–“due to a bias in diagnosis that occurs because of a lack of knowledge of the regular morphological features of Native Americans”, Asians, and apparently an awful lot of adoptees from the former Soviet Union. Indeed, “a flattened midfacial area” is only “flattened” in comparison to some expected state (reasonable or otherwise), and that description reflects the idea that there really is something wrong with our skulls.

So, yeah, the glasses frames aggravation is only a fairly piddling symptom.

** And I’m not saying that’s a good thing, at all. It sure does get used as an excuse a lot, though it breaks down kinda quickly under scrutiny in many cases.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2010 7:41 pm

    Wow, that sucks.

    I had no idea how uniform glasses frames were — and Margaret Cho’s right, glasses *are* something most people will need at some point in their lives, and people’s heads and faces come in all sorts of configurations.

    I have the kind of prominent, high-bridged western European nose that apparently all of the glasses makers have, which means I can keep them on my face but by the end of the day I will have these angry red welts on either side of my nose. I also have the thing where my eyes are right there behind the glasses, which means my eyelashes touch the lenses. If I wore mascara my glasses would have black smudges in the middle of them.

  2. Leonora permalink
    November 26, 2010 12:53 pm

    Hi, I was very interested to read your views on glasses. I have been having trouble getting glasses to fit my 7-year-old, who has Down syndrome. I have now found someone in Harpenden, a quick train ride from St Pancras, who has offered to order in the frames from Erin’s World which are suitable for his particular facial features. So I am going to go up there and get him to try on frames, and I hope that, for the first time, he will get a good fit and be able to see through his glasses. We both like travelling by train. I use www dot to find my way to places I don’t know. If you are still looking for glasses, why not give them a ring. The dispensing optician said that the specs are sometimes good for people of Asian descent, and they might work for you too even though you’re not Asian. By the way, I loved reading your blog. With best wishes, Leonora

    • urocyon permalink
      November 26, 2010 8:36 pm

      Glad you found somewhere that will order in frames that will work. And thanks for the pointer. I ended up finding some that just about fit at Specsavers, but will keep the other optician in mind for the next time. 🙂

    • James permalink
      March 5, 2011 7:37 pm

      Hi Leonora,

      I live just outside of Harpenden and am looking to find which optician it is you are referring to. My 6 year old daughter also has Down’s Syndrome and we’ve just been told she needs glasses too. If you could email me and let me know that’d be fantastic.

      All the best,


  3. Leonora permalink
    March 6, 2011 10:56 am

    It’s Skye Opticians. On the main north-south road – about ten minutes’ walk from Harpenden train station. L

  4. Burn Notice permalink
    September 4, 2013 10:54 am

    I am of african decent and I have a great deal of trouble finding eyewear that fit. It seems like the eyewear manufacturers have some issue with manufacturing eyeglasses for the most populous people on this planet.

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