Seeing the World Through a Different Lens

One billion people worldwide need eyeglasses or contacts. How do Stuyvesant students feel about them?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Emily Young-Squire

Imagine the world seven million years ago. It is dark, its inhabitants primitive. Bands of cavemen roam the land, eager to get their hands on anything they deem remotely edible. Life is hard. It is even harder for those who cannot see. They are left behind while others go hunting, forced to fend for themselves in a world they can barely make sense of. Nothing is easy, and nothing is clear. They are abandoned and alone—all because they cannot see. Luckily for today’s visually impaired, the invention of glasses and contacts have transformed the world of vision and leveled the playing field for those who would otherwise be extremely disadvantaged. Today, glasses and contacts are common and widely used, especially by students at Stuyvesant.

Freshman Iris Lin is one of these glasses wearers. For Lin, going to the glasses store for the first time was a novel experience. Just a kindergartner when she found out she needed glasses, Lin was enthusiastic about her new eyewear, partly because of the frames. “I was actually really excited to get glasses. When we were picking out frames, I [chose] purple ones with hearts, and I was really excited to wear those,” she said. However, this newfound excitement quickly morphed into something less positive: “My mom was really disapproving of [the frames], and she warned me about spending too much time on the [computer] screen, so that excitement kind of turned into disappointment.”

Lin’s mom was not the only one disillusioned about glasses. “Once I started wearing them, I thought ‘Wow, I have to wear these 24/7, except for when I’m sleeping,’” senior Taaseen Jahan said. “It felt like a bit of a chore, but it wasn’t too much of a burden.”

However, this initial distaste for glasses has worn off for many students who, as time goes on, have learned to love their clunky companions. Freshman Lesley Lo, a long time glasses wearer, has found that her eyewear has even become something of a personality trait. “I’ve changed the style [of my glasses] a few times, but I have been wearing glasses 24/7 every single day since first grade, and I think that my friends really do recognize me with glasses,” she recalled. “[Glasses] have changed my life. I definitely think they’re sort of a part of my appearance. Being without glasses would be really different for me.”

Junior Tina Jang echoed this thought. “I remember the first time I wore my glasses and it felt kind of awkward, but now they are like a part of me. I get used to it, and now I don’t even notice,” she said. In fact, glasses are such an integral part of her life that she used to give them names. “I’ve had four glasses so far, and the first time I was like, ‘Oh, this is a male! This is Mr. Mustache!’”

For senior Zachary Gelman, glasses have their upsides as well: “My favorite part [about glasses] is that some people think they make you look more intelligent.”

But not everyone appreciates their look with glasses. Junior Isabella Chow started using contacts for that very reason. “For some reason when I wore my glasses, I just thought I look[ed] like the version of me that I never wanted to be called, like the person [who] was only known for their smarts,” she explained.

Jahan, however, thinks that glasses don’t always do much to convince people of your superior intellect. “[There are] tons of people [who] don’t wear glasses but are super smart, and some people can look a lot prettier or more handsome just by wearing glasses. It’s really up to the style that the person wants to take up,” he explained. Jahan has also personally felt the impact of the stereotypes associated with glasses. “Wearing glasses has made me feel like a nerd before, but only because of the appearance. I think it’s a misconception that wearing glasses makes you a nerd or that wearing glasses in general is just a downgrade in appearance,” he explained.

Jang also shared her thoughts on the stereotypes surrounding glasses. “The stigma that comes with glasses is so old-fashioned. I read this book about World War II with this boy who gets bullied and called ‘Four Eyes’ just because he wears glasses,” she said.

Nerdy stereotypes are not the only problems glasses bring—the tedious upkeep glasses require is irritating too. “The problem is, you have to clean them all the time. I don't clean mine enough, so they are always super dirty,” Gelman said.

Glasses wearers have had to adapt to the unique problems the coronavirus presents as well—masks complicate things. Gelman explained, “When you are wearing a mask, your glasses fog up, and you can’t see out of them. So when you're walking with your mask on, you can’t see, but you can’t really take your glasses off because you can't see things without your glasses.”

However, for those like Gelman who are annoyed by the cumbersome care glasses require, there is a solution: contacts. The very latest technology the world of eyewear has to offer, contact lenses offer the adventurous an opportunity to experience the world in a brand new way. Jang is one of those people. Finding herself bored with her normal glasses during quarantine, Jang decided it was time to spice things up with contacts. Unfortunately, she ran into some unexpected difficulties. “I didn’t know that I have really, really dry eyes because of my Dad’s genetics,” she explained. “I can only wear contact lenses for two hours unless I have eye solution, and if I don’t, I get really, really red eyes.”

Jahan, too, encountered issues when he first purchased his contacts and tried to use them: “The trouble of wearing contacts is putting them in and taking them out. I know it takes me five to 10 minutes just to take them out, and it’s so difficult. When you first wear contacts, you have to worry about whether you’ll be able to take them out and if you’ll [accidentally poke] your eye out.”

Chow expressed similar sentiments. She uses night contact lenses, which allow her to see without glasses or contacts throughout the day after sleeping with contacts at night. Chow described her struggle with contacts: “Sometimes when you put [the contacts] in the wrong spot and you miss your pupil, it just gets lodged in the white area of your eye, and you can't get it out.” She continued, “I remember in the beginning when I was putting them on, I would get scared every single time, but I knew I had to at some point.”

However, for those concerned about contacts, senior Theo Schiminovich offers his take: “One thing to remember is that millions of people [put] contact lenses in their eyes every day, and almost all of them don't have problems doing it. So it's a pretty safe thing to do.” He continued, “I was really concerned about the idea of touching your eye, but the eye is actually pretty strong.”

For those who abide by Schiminovich’s wise words or simply overcome the initial challenges contacts present, contacts can be life-changing. “When I first wore contacts for the first time, it was so surreal because I could finally see everything clearly without having huge frames on my face,” Jahan recalled. He continued about the effects of contacts on his confidence: “The biggest benefit is that you look [how you] naturally [do] without anything on your face […] It makes you feel like a different, brand new person overall. I think it gives me more confidence.”

Schiminovich shares this positive sentiment. “My favorite part [about contacts] is not having to worry about [my eyes] throughout the day and not having to worry about glasses being there. I am able to do more things without thinking about my glasses.”

But glasses or no glasses, insecurities about appearance are universal. For those feeling uncomfortable about their new eyewear, experienced glasses-wearers offer their words of advice.

“You look ugly if you wear the wrong type of glasses. I was told I look cuter with circular glasses,” Jang said, emphasizing the need to find the perfect fit for you. “You should not have any stereotypes before you get glasses, and [you should] just learn more about your facial structure and know that you have options.”

Despite the insecurities that one may have about glasses, glasses can brighten up our somewhat ordinary lives and lead to memorable moments. Senior Abir Taheer shared a memory from elementary school where his class was riding four-wheeled floor scooters during gym class. “We were messing around on those, and then someone was going directly toward me, and their head collided with my head, and then my glasses broke because of that.” While it was tragic for his glasses, Taheer looks back fondly on the experience: “I did leave school early that day and then went to the store to get new glasses. But then that was memorable.”

Glasses or contacts, whatever it may be, have shaped human lives tremendously. These inventions allow the visually impaired to clearly see an otherwise blurry world. Though both glasses and contacts come with different pros and cons and preferences may be debatable, one thing is clear: these devices are instrumental in allowing people to see with 20/20 vision, even when the future of 2020 is so unclear.