Whether it be of the dark, spiders, or the apple tree in your backyard coming alive, many if not all of us have that one great fear. Adventure books and movies often depict their main characters going on some great journey to overcome that great fear. Do you want to guess what mine was? I’ll give you a hint: it’s sitting on my face right now. Glasses. Yep, you heard me. Glasses were the equivalent of a nightmare to me. Whenever I tried to imagine myself wearing those plastic frames, I’d instantly be plagued with memories of my childhood role-model, Arthur the aardvark, being called four-eyed or have flashbacks of the no-bullying presentations we would listen to in elementary school. However, over time I have come to realize that glasses are my hero, not my nightmare. First, let’s look into how they serve a functional purpose by helping me see, a fashionable purpose by helping me follow the ever changing trends, and a social purpose by making people assume I’m smart because I wear glasses. Then, let’s put on our own glasses and try to see how glasses play incredibly important roles in our lives and yet are taken granted by those who most need them. The most well known of the three purposes of glasses we’ll take a look at today is their ability to enhance vision, however, we need to understand the basics of the eye’s anatomy and how it works before we can even scratch the surface of the functionality of glasses. There are 4 main parts of the eye: the pupil, cornea, lens, and retina. When you look around, scattered light merges together and passes through the top layer of the eye, called the cornea. It then goes through the lens and pupil to get to the back of the eye where it meets the retina. The retina is a complex layer of light-sensitive cells in the back of your eye. It is the most important and the only part of the eye you really need to worry about because most of the science behind the functionality of glasses is centered around the retina. Now we know just enough about how the eye works to understand a few common vision problems that make glasses necessary. First is hyperopia, also known as farsightedness. Farsightedness occurs when the image does not focus before it reaches the retina. People affected by this condition cannot see objects close by clearly but can see objects further away. Next in line is myopia, also called nearsightedness. The cause and effects of this condition are the complete opposite of farsightedness. It occurs when the image focuses before it reaches the retina and results in clear sight when looking close, but not afar. The last one is astigmatism. This condition is the result of an irregularly shaped cornea, the part of the eye that functions like a window by controlling the amount of light that enters the eye. Because the light cannot be controlled and directed onto the retina properly, this condition results in blurred vision at all distances and is commonly accompanied by mild headaches and eye discomfort. According to the American Optometric Association, these 3 vision problems make up what we often refer to as “refractive errors” because they affect how the eyes “refract” light. Now you may be asking yourself, “Why isn’t she talking about glasses?” Well don’t worry, we’re here. Glasses are essentially just two lenses connected by a plastic frame. There are two main types of lenses, convex and concave. Convex or plus (+) lenses are used to correct nearsightedness. They have surfaces that curve outward and as a result give them a shape similar to the number zero. Because of this physical feature, convex lenses are able to bend the light entering the eye in a way that pushes the light’s point of focus back to the retina. On the other hand, we have concave or minus (-) lenses which are used to correct farsightedness. These lenses have surfaces that curve inward and are able bend the light so that the point of focus is pulled back to the retina. How much the light is bent depends on the strength of the lense which is measured in diopters (D). With all this new information, we can now take a look at and correctly decipher a lense prescription. Wearing the correct type and power of lens makes up for your eye’s inability to correctly project light on your retina. That brings an end to our little crash course on the anatomy of an eye and how glasses can fix any deviations in our vision. Apart from being unbelievably helpful to a great number of the people on this planet, glasses have another significant purpose: fashion. Cat eyes, oversized, circular. That’s a simple list of the many types of glasses we wear today. Earlier I stated that “glasses are essentially just two lenses connected by a plastic frame.” Let’s add on the fact that these plastic frames can quite literally come in any shape, size, style, and color. However, glasses weren’t as diverse as they are now as soon as they were invented. As a matter of fact, it took hundreds of years for them to develop into what they are now. Glasses, aka spectacles, were invented in Italy by Salvino D’Armate in the year of 1285. At the time they were either held in front of the eyes or just balanced on the nose and were mostly worn by monks and scholars. Jump ahead a few hundred years to the 1400s. This was a critical period of time because a growing rate of literacy and availability of books encouraged new designs and eventually the mass production of glasses. Simply put, more people began to wear glasses. Another few centuries later in the 1700s, the side or temple pieces that rest over the ear were invented so that people no longer had to hold them in front of their eyes. Some of the common styles at the time were Martin’s Margins, Wig Spectacles, Bifocals, and Scissor Spectacles. Martin’s Margins were developed by Benjamin Martin and were characterized by frames commonly carved from cattle horn. Wig spectacles were exactly what they sounded like, glasses with long temple pieces that extended far beyond the ears and popular with men who wore wigs. Bifocals were glasses with lenses that had two parts with different strengths and scissor spectacles were the first type of handheld glasses to be invented. In the 1800s, larger scale manufacturing became possible and so glasses came in fewer styles but much greater numbers. Between 1900 and 1920, the pince-nez and lorgnette were invented. The pince-nez (literally meaning “to pinch the nose” in french) had no temple pieces and were made to fit snugly on the bridge of the nose. Sooner or later, people realized that they were too uncomfortable and invented the lorgnette. The Lorgnette was a variation of the scissor spectacle that consisted of a pair of glasses with a single, long handle that made the glasses resemble the fancy masks worn at masquerade parties.  In 1913, sunglasses were created by Sir William Crookes of England and finally in the 1940s, advances in the manufacture of plastics made glasses available in every shape, size, style, and color. Since then, glasses have become an integral part of a person’s wardrobe and in need of constant modernization according to the newest trends. The last purpose is the psychologically appealing aspect of glasses. As of now, about half the US population wears glasses and on top of that, almost everyone concurs on the fact that we, four eyed light benders, look smarter than those who don’t. Although this is just a simple stereotype, there is a very plausible historical explanation backing it up. Like any other invention in its time, glasses were viewed negatively for the first few hundred years following its invention because they practically called attention to a flaw or deficiency in the wearer’s biology. However, as time passed, they took up a different symbolization. They signaled that the wearer needed their eyesight more than others. For example, if you worked in a factory or a field, glasses were of no use to you, however, if you worked as a teacher or a doctor, those glasses were what defined your work. As you can see, glasses were equated with a person’s IQ as far back as the 17th century! A portrait of a Venetian man completed sometime between 1610 and 1620 depicts this new symbolization. This piece of art is believed to be one of the first commissioned portraits to feature glasses. Neil Handley, a man recognised as one of the country’s principal historians of spectacles and visual aids, once commented on this artwork stating, “Gone is the fear of what the eyewear might negatively imply. His only fear seems to be that the glasses might fall off and his hands are outstretched as if to catch them. To this man, the spectacles might perhaps signify intelligence, literacy, and social standing.”(To Wear or Not to Wear). This notion of glasses signifying social standing may not be relevant now, but it was quite important back in the day because glasses meant that you needed to see fine details like printed scripts and that could only be done with an education which was a privilege only the richest could afford. However, things changed once again a couple hundred years later. In 1908, the first legislation was presented and required states to provide optometrical services. By the 1950s, eyeglass companies began advertising glasses to “patients” rather than “customers” thus making glasses a way for people to correct their eyesight rather than a sign of education and intelligence. Although history has the true meaning of glasses all laid out in front of us, social norms have yet to catch up. I can easily guarantee you that we can continue to think that glasses make us look smarter for another couple hundred years. On a closing note, it has been scientifically proven that thick blocky frames make you look smarter than thin ones. So I advise all of you, if you are going for a smart, intelligent look on the day of your most important interview, switch out those stick thin frames for the blocky ones, even if it may be for just that one day. We’ll wrap up this spec-tacular crash course on glasses with how greatly they impact the everyday lives of their wearers and yet are not appreciated nearly as much as they should be. According to firstsighteyeglasses.com, “activities and performance can be greatly altered by poor eyesight for both children and adults”(Adults & Economic Impact). Those of you with glasses, imagine a life without them and those of you without glasses, imagine a life in which everything you see is blurry and unfocused. For us students, we couldn’t possibly succeed in school because what can a student do when he/she cannot see their textbook or notes in front of them or the whiteboard at the front of the class and for adults, vision limitations would present you with struggles with even the simplest of tasks in your daily lives. On a larger scale, in less developed countries around the world, hundreds of people with vision deficiencies are often misdiagnosed with other common vision problems like ADHD and dyslexia. These misdiagnoses often prevent them from getting the attention required to fix their truly simple vision problems that will just get worse and worse the longer they are left uncorrected. According to a study done by Dr. Ian Smith of the World Health Organization (WHO), “eyeglasses are a low-cost intervention, however, many less economically developed countries that lack basic infrastructure for distribution and have insufficient equipment and personnel to provide eyeglasses to those in need”(Adults & Economic Impact). This inability to provide a simple fix to their problems end up trapping these people in poverty and as a result affects the lives of hundreds of people and more  tragically the futures of countless children. In reality, glasses are really just plastic frames that connect two lenses, but when thinking about a life without them or about the lives of hundreds of people who don’t have them, glasses are so much more than that. They are “essential for us to lead a productive life”(Adults & Economic Impact) and a huge step towards fixing a global scale problem we call poverty.As you may now all see, glasses have come a long way. They started out as objects purely meant to help us see better, then after centuries of revision became integral parts of our wardrobes. They picked up a key stereotype along the way and proved to be essential for us to lead the full and wondrous lives we live today and a key advance to the end of a global scale problem. I now think that I made quite a spectacle of myself when calling glasses the equivalent of a nightmare when truly my life would have been the equivalent of a nightmare without glasses.


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