Do Asians really need their own sunglasses?

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(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.

asian-glasses

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.

What gives?

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.

Further Reading

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.

 

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23 thoughts on “Do Asians really need their own sunglasses?”

  1. Great post! It was very interesting to read 🙂 I totally hate safety goggles like the ones in your pic, and it’s worse when you’re sweaty and they’re constantly sliding down–because hey, you gotta look down at your bench, right? I once found some safety glasses that had two bendable rubber prongs at the nose bridge (don’t know if I’m describing it right), and I think those might work well for Asians because you can adjust it. And I know people usually think about Asians when it comes to lower noses, but I wonder if other ethnicities (namely blacks) struggle with glasses issue as well?

    Reply
    • When I was reading up on this issue, I came across a lot of suggestions for those bendable rubber prongs (I don’t know if there’s a better name either), so I think you’re right! Some places even sell prongs that you can add to your glasses, but sometimes it still won’t work because of the angle of the lenses…

      I think other ethnicities would probably have different issues! I expect that there’ll be a wave of head/face products designed for people African ancestry when Africa’s middle class get really big, thanks to capitalistic forces.

      Reply
  2. About time!! I hated having to wear safety glasses over my own glasses in the lab. They didn’t even sit on my face. I had to buy prescription sunglasses last year and I’m pretty sure I tried every type in the range. When the lady helped bend the arms of the glasses, I told her to really bend them and she was like… ‘are you sure??’, otherwise they would have fallen off my face when I tip my head forward. I can’t wait to see more companies design eyewear catering for this different face/head shape.

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    • I remember when my childhood optometrist would spend a full 15 minutes attacking my glasses with pliers and making me retry the glasses a million times! I didn’t appreciate it then, but those glasses fit me so well, I used to do handstands in them and everything.

      Reply
  3. Thank you for this! I’m Caucasian but I have big chubby cheeks (as does my mother, and most of my maternal cousins). I have a very difficult time finding glasses because the majority rest on my cheeks. And yes for me too, if I smile they go up at least a centimetre. Humans come in all shapes and sizes – it would be nice to have more options!

    Reply
    • More options is always good! It’s a pain when you don’t quite fit the average shape. I have a massive issue with clothes as well – my lats are a size 12 but my waist is a size 8 and my butt is size 10, so now I just buy stretchy stuff and hope for the best…

      Reply
  4. Oh my god, I had no idea this was an Asian thing. My glasses cut into my cheeks, and make dents behind my ears. Safety glasses are horrible. But the worst thing was when I had to wear a respirator for work- the nose piece is too high and also stands away from my bridgeless nose; the whole things-even the small ones- are too long for my face. NEVER found one that fit me. I’d end up stuffing paper in the top of the nose area and having to open my mouth the whole time to pull it down or it jammed into my eyes. I am SO glad I don’t have to deal with those any more!

    Reply
    • That sounds nuts! I’m so impressed that you persevered. I was pretty proud of myself when I jammed cardboard into the hinges of my safety glasses, but that’s nothing compared to your respirator Macgyvering!

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  5. It’s not racist its just common sense, come on sun glass and helmet companies there’s a huge market to exploit get to it?

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  6. LOVE this post! I took a class in college on Biological Anthropology, where we learned how to determine a persons age, sex, and ancestry using their skull, and other bones. They have a display at the Dental Museum in Baltimore, Maryland where they have 2 skulls out you need to determine the sex and ancestry based on distinguishing factors. It is 100% true that Africans, Caucasians, and Asians (and this actually includes East Asians, Middle Easterners, and Hispanics) have different shaped skulls. One thing in particular is the size and shape of the jaw. Caucasians have a small jaw, the next biggest is Asians, and Africans have the largest jaws. That mean that in general, Caucasians teeth don’t fit in their mouths, and they will have crooked teeth, while Africans might have gaps between their teeth. Sorry for my rambling, I always thought this was so cool! 🙂

    Reply
    • That class sounds fascinating! It suddenly makes sense why so many of my Caucasian friends had braces but only a few of my Asian friends did, even though I had a lot more Asian friends growing up…

      Reply
  7. About the helmet, I always wondered if my head was strange since it does squish the cheeks !
    I also wear glasses and it’s so true that none fit perfectly (I have Chinese origins).
    Thank you for this post ! I learned something 😉

    Reply
    • The cheek squishing is the worst! My teeth dig into my cheeks and I feel like I’m going to bite a hole in my face if there’s any hard braking.

      Reply
  8. have you heard about TC-charton, they fit better on me than other glasses (I’m chinese) but they’re really expensive ($250+) and hard to get….Sadly, because I also have a wide face, seems like only the “men’s” style fit well…women’s are too narrow.

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  9. I’m definitely with you, Oakley frames don’t really match my style either…

    But I recently found a brand called Covry (www.shopcovry.com) that has really aesthetic frames and advertises their “Asian fit” as “Elevated Fit”. I bought 2 pairs from them and they’re so comfortable and stylish!!

    Reply
  10. Really interesting! I struggle to get glasses because my face is quite narrow. I scan the displays and try on loads before I find a pair that fits. Normally I am left with little choice. Strange how opticians make no concession for face shape and size, especially since they use so many fancy machines for measuring your eyes and prescription strength. If glasses were grouped better and people knew their fax measurements, it would be so much easier to choose glasses and you could probably steer clear of any ethnic labels at an opticians.

    Reply
    • That’s a great idea! Glasses can be so expensive, it makes sense to have face measurements like they have bust/waist/hip for clothes…

      Reply
  11. I’d suggest that Asians start to use neutral or positive descriptive words on Asian features in English language. Most of these words that we currently use were historically chosen by white English authors with substantial bias. Positive and commendatory terms were associated with European/white/Caucasian body and facial features whereas negative or derogatory terms were commonly used on non-European counterparts. For instance, John Bannon in the book History of Americas decried south American natives were “absence of body hair”. Clearly the European feature was treated as the norm. From the Asian point of view, we’d rather describe the whites have “excessive body hair”. Negative or derogatory terms on Asian features, such as massive cheekbones, weak or absent canine fossae, short nasal spine (Caroline Wilkinson, Forensic Facial Reconstruction. 2004) were all used to describe how Asian features “deviate” from the “normal/standard” European/white feature. These descriptions were deeply rooted in English language and now Asian English users simply accept and use them. I’d believe non-white native English speakers must be able to come up with better terminology for this purpose.

    Reply

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