(Note: When I write “Asians” here, it’s shorthand for people of Asian ancestry, in particular East Asian.)
My entire life I’ve had difficulty getting glasses that fit me. If a pair of sunglasses fit me around the front, they’d tug my ears forward. If they fit my ears, they’d hug my temples too closely and give me a headache. During my PhD, I had to wear safety glasses for hours every day, and all of the lab goggle styles stocked in the store would give me a headache after an hour, except for one… which gave me a headache after THREE hours, and cut into my ears, so much that I’d sometimes have raw spots around my ears (gross).
Look at this shit. Look at what I have to put up with. The frames are actually cutting into my cheeks, and if I wear the glasses for more than 5 minutes, I have indentations on my cheeks when I take them off. When I smile the glasses rise by a centimetre. And these are the BEST ones.
I’ve also had issues getting fitted for a motorcycle helmet – I could only squeeze my head into one helmet out of the three aisles of helmets at the bike shop, and it squished up my cheeks like I was some sort of Disney critter.
It turns out that I’m not just suffering from a persecution complex – there’s a reason behind my sad plight. Glasses are just racist.
Let me explain.
The field of anthropometry (the measurement of the human body) has had a shifty past, with skull measurements used to justify slavery amongst other horrific misapplications of science. But there are differences in the average head shape in people from different ethnic backgrounds, and head shape is crucial for getting things like helmets and sunglasses to fit. Head and face products have traditionally been designed to suit a Western market – if Asians do indeed have different head shapes, then these products won’t fit, and as well as being uncomfortable, they’d be unsafe.
For years they’ve tried to measure head shape using rulers, but it’s hard and time-consuming to describe a 3D object with a bunch of 1D linear measurements. Luckily, some smart people invented 3D scanning technology, and some other people started scanning in everyone’s heads. CAESAR (Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource) was the first database which tried to capture what the average person’s head looked like, scanning in over 4500 heads from Europe and the US. In 2008, a group from Hong Kong Polytechnic University started SizeChina, a digital database of 2000 representative Chinese heads. From this data, one of the important trends was that Asians tended to have rounder heads, with a flatter back and forehead. (It’s important to note that these are trends in head shape, not absolute rules – there will be Caucasians with rounder heads than most Asians, for example.)
Sunglass companies have caught on too, with Oakley putting out “Asian fit” glasses, which sounds like it could be kinda racist, but it’s certainly better than sunglass-induced headaches. These glasses are designed so that the frames sit slightly higher on the bridge of the nose, since Asian faces tend to be shallower, with less pronounced nose bridges and more projected cheekbones.
Personally, Oakleys are a bit too sporty for me, so I’m looking forward to when more brands start making sunnies that fit Asian head shapes. In the meantime, I’ll be buying sunglasses from Asian stores online.
Matt Phillips, Why Oakley’s “Asian fit” sunglasses aren’t racist, just science. Quartz, November 2013.
R Ball, C Shu, P Xi, M Rioux, Y Luximon, J Molenbroek, A comparison between Chinese and Caucasian head shapes. Applied Ergonomics 2010, 41, 832-839.