The Girl Behind the Frames

Inspector Artsy

I was indifferent to the Occupy Harvard movement for a long time. Yes, it was a pain to present my ID every morning as though I were trying to buy beer rather than drag myself to class. Yes, I cried out in frustration when I realized the gate I had been hurrying toward was unyieldingly barred. But in some ways I admired the protesters. If I were them, I would get bloody sick of looking at John Harvard and thinking of how many people’s pee has coursed down his breeches. One day, however, my ambivalence toward the Occupy movement turned to unbridled dislike. I was walking from the direction of Annenberg through the Yard one nippy evening during finals period when a security guard asked me, “What’s with everyone wearing these big glasses?” My reaction, admittedly, was rather severe, but I couldn’t help it. I was incensed. “Sorry that I’m minus 5.5 in one eye and have thick frames,” I snapped.

But as soon as the words were out of my mouth I felt guilty—not because I had been rude to the security guard (What right did he have to comment on my eyewear, anyway?), but because I had lied. I lied not about my eyesight—yes, my myopia really is that severe—but about the reasons I wear thick frames. Who am I kidding? Just because I’m almost blind in one eye doesn’t mean I have to go around with frames as thick as Velma’s. Thankfully, technology has advanced enough to allow large visual correction with relatively slender lenses. Indeed, technology has advanced so far that, if I wanted to, I could chuck my glasses out the window and get laser eye surgery for as little as $299 an eye, according to Google ads.

Yet I have chosen to wear glasses for the past 10 or so years, and each new pair has gotten thicker and thicker until I reached my current pair. Granted, my vision was deteriorating each year, but my choice of frames had less to do with my declining eyesight and more to do with my increasing awareness of my “artsiness,” and, even more, my desire to seem artsy to my peers. I got my first pair of thick glasses, by which I mean chunky, dark plastic frames, my sophomore year of high school. “Look at me,” they proclaimed on my behalf. “I can wear bold frames and not feel self conscious about it. I’m embracing my inner geek.” I flatter myself that I embraced my inner geek before it was hipster or cool to do so, which really means that I just looked like an idiot, instead of a suave, intellectual hipster. But whatever, I’m still giving myself some credit for being ahead of the curve.

My second pair of thick glasses out-nerded the first by a long shot. I still have this pair, and it is the pair that sparked the testy encounter in the yard. They are made by Cutler and Gross, a British eyeglass manufacturer whose website is far too trendy for its own good. Google it—it’s quite a laugh. It markets its current collection with a Hong Kong Love Story: “He was a broken hearted journalist, she was a beautiful but world-weary young married secretary….” Seriously. This is on the website. And as silly as it is, I think it’s actually rather a clever bit of marketing. What glasses-wearing woman doesn’t want to look like a “beautiful but world-weary young married secretary?” That’s what I was going for when I chose those Cutler and Gross frames: big, black, bold, ballsy. The purchase of that storied pair coincided with the veritable pinnacle of my high school artsiness: I was editor of the newspaper and spent the summer acting in a play at the Edinburgh Fringe, and my glasses were proud of it.

I wish I could say I have outgrown this need to affirm my interest in literary and dramatic arts through my eyewear, but the truth is I haven’t. This winter vacation, I made the mistake of travelling in contact lenses, brilliantly leaving my two pairs of costly glasses in my dorm room. I know how bad my eyesight is. A month with no glasses just wasn’t going to happen. And so my first stop once I got home was the glasses store. With hardly a moment’s thought, I selected a slightly smaller but thicker pair of black Persols, rather more “Mad Men” than the Cutler and Gross pair, but, I hoped, just as artsy.

—Columnist Anjali R. Itzkowitz can be reached at