Bespectacled

How wearing glasses has changed over the years

I was only four years old when I started wearing glasses, and spent my early school years as some sort of bizarre creature, notorious for my bespectacled face. I stood apart for two reasons: firstly, it is rare to find four-year-olds with glasses, and secondly, there were fewer bespectacled people back then than there are today. Usually, some middle-aged people used reading glasses, and older people whose eyes had weakened with age, wore glasses regularly.

This earned almost anybody who wore glasses and wasn’t elderly, myself included, a mildly stinging sobriquet: “Chashmish”, a Hindi word meaning “bespectacled”, but in a slightly derogatory sense. I spent my early years of school with that word floating in the air around me all the time. I wouldn’t say I particularly hated it, but it could sometimes become too tedious a baggage to carry.

Not many children in lower primary school wear glasses, and those who do acquire a kind of fantastical fascination in the eyes of their peers. A glasses-wearing-kid was as absorbing as—if not more than—a magical creature in an illustrated book. First it was the person wearing glasses: “Look, he is wearing glasses!” “Can you see without them?” “How many fingers is this?” “Can you play blind man’s bluff without binding your eyes?”

Then, it was the glasses themselves: “Show me your glasses!” “Can I put them on?”… The chashmish’s friends would spend ages examining the glasses, touching them, feeling them, putting them on and screaming as if they had seen monsters (“Oh my god, you are blind!), and leaving a thick layer of fingerprints on the lenses.

By the time I reached middle school, this fascination had died down a bit. I found more and more people of my age wearing glasses. Admittedly, they had only just started wearing them, while I had been wearing mine for a few years already, but it certainly meant that wearing glasses was a little more normalized. There were two evident reasons: the “kids” were now “tweens”, so it wasn’t as bizarre for them to have issues with their eyesight, and secondly of course, was the fact that technology was rapidly changing, laptops were becoming widespread and smartphones were slowing coming into fashion, bringing with them an obvious damage to the eyes. By the time I reached high school, nearly half of the students were chashmish. They wore them because they had eye problems. However, surprisingly, a few wore them just for the sake of it (a.k.a. fashion). There would also be the occasional character who wore them to seem a bit more grave and “nerdy”, and, hopefully, be taken more seriously.

Around this time, a strange new creature called “fashion” starts knocking at the doors of the teenage mind, and we start feeling the need to look and appear in a certain manner.

The world of fashion has always intrigued me. It is so far apart from the ordinary world in which we move about, and yet so inextricably linked to it. Fashion has continuously shaped the way we look at spectacles: they are either a symbol of maturity (and therefore, attractive), or else they are seen as awkwardly nerdy and unapproachable (hence, unattractive). It has always baffled me how the same thing can be both so desired and so derided all at once. Today, people who have absolutely no problems with their eyesight, wear spectacles to acquire a certain image, while many who do have troubles with their eyesight refuse to wear them, choosing to suffer or to wear contact lenses instead (personally, I can’t say which is worse).

It strikes me as rather strange that people who wear glasses because of a genuine handicap are seen as unappealing, but those who wear them just to appear fashionable are seen as bold, attractive, and magnetic (bonus points if you are a celebrity). There is a very unsettling dissonance here; something we could do well to think about for a bit.

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