As the optometrist focused the image in front of me, I gasped slightly at the clarity. Pulling back from the phoropter and peering around it to see the same image blur away, I turned to him and asked, “Is that how I’m supposed to see?” I couldn’t believe the difference! I start thinking how it all made sense. Always wanting to sit close to the television or blackboard. Passing on a game on the basketball court because the basket seemed too impossible to hit. Avoiding certain activities altogether, all because I didn’t see well. When he finished the exam, he told me I definitely needed glasses. Unlike most kids, I was relieved. I didn’t really mind needing to wear them. The plain fact that I could see better was enough to fill me with excitement. A new world would open up. Being a naïve 5th grader, I had no idea how true that would be and how that trip to the eye doctor would impact my views on perception versus reality.
We walked across the hall to the room where I was to pick out my first pair. It felt like an initiation. As if I were joining a club linking me to all of the images that come to mind of history’s most notable glasses wearers. Being a brain, geek or anyone that’s associated with achieving. I relished the idea! I would possess this seemingly utilitarian vision aid, and would have this object in common with many of the greatest thinkers throughout time. Just like the ones that I was learning about in school. Leading me on a path to great accomplishment. Convinced that I was well on my way to obtaining the golden ticket, I feverishly began trying on frames.
With the help of an optician, I chose a pair that I felt looked and suited me best – a large round pair of spectacles that covered my eyebrows, as well as the tops of my cheeks. They resembled glasses worn by Bill Nye the Science Guy (one of my favorite TV celebrities from the Saturday morning lineup that performed science experiments between cartoons). Two weeks later I returned to pick them up and stared at myself in the mirror. It was an awakening of sorts: partially for seeing clearly for the first time, but also for the realization that the kid before me seemed different somehow, unfamiliar. As the first days passed, I noticed everything. The subtle nuance of the many different shapes of tree leaves. A beautiful detail that went unnoticed until autumn when the foliage fell to the ground where I could easily inspect it. A large mass of red, green, and gold, high overhead was all I could distinguish before. As I grew more comfortable with my improved vision, I began losing interest in the details that my new vision afforded me. Yet, I still felt a sense of change or transformation that I couldn’t put into words.
Some years later while in high school, I took my annual trip to the eye doctor as I had done since 5th grade. The same optician still worked there. “Hello Jamar. What will it be this year?” She said as she leafed through my file. “You’ve had round gold or silver and plastic tortoise over the past few years. Is there a look you’re going for this time? How do you see yourself?” She asked probing questions that echoed deep within me. “I haven’t given it much thought,” I said. It was at that moment that it became clear. She had helped me to see my eyewear in a different light. Eyeglasses are more than a utilitarian device to help one see. They are truly an extension of one’s self. Sure it isn’t a far leap that the style and look of eyewear has an influence on what one looks like, but the weight of what that really meant resonated. The viewer, often subconsciously, is influenced by what they see. The eyeglass wearer has a direct impact on that reality, by portraying an image with the glasses they wear. This realization rang so true that I decided to test my theory.
I chose a frame that year that was very different in style and look from my previous glasses. Ivory colored Emmanuel Khan frames with brown tinted lenses, very similar to hipster styles worn today. Very chic and fashion forward. Until then, I was content to wear similar styles with subtle differences year to year though the overall look was nearly identical. Bookish round glasses with very little distinction or emphasis on individuality were my frames of choice. With this new look, I noticed a difference in how people interacted with me. It seemed as though they had formed some preconceived idea as to who I was or what I was like. My eyeglasses had somehow transformed, literally overnight, how people perceived me, as though I had changed in some significant way. With each prescription change came a new opportunity to reinvent myself.
Throughout my career as an optician, I’ve had great pleasure in exploring this theory by styling people with eye wear that personifies the wishes of the wearer, bringing to life how they see themselves or how they wish to be seen. A youthful looking man may want the appearance of maturity to gain respect in the workplace. A diminutive woman may feel the need to make a bold statement to help be noticed. Einstein said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” I know when he uttered that phrase, it was in reference to how the illusion of reality relates to theoretical physics, but nonetheless it applies. I believe it is apparent with the choices we make in our personal style, with our eyewear choices being one of the most influential markers of illusion. Alas, we can count on one thing when it comes to wearing eyeglasses. However unintentional, our eyewear choices do and will impact how we are perceived thus influencing the illusion which we are creating. This illusion impacts our shared reality and if reality truly is an illusion, it is well within our power to create whatever illusion our hearts desire!