But the data given don’t support the conclusion

So Oakley makes a line of sunglasses that they bill as “Asian fit”, that they’re designed for the parameters of the Asian face. This article concludes that Oakley’s “Asian fit” sunglasses aren’t racist, just science, but the data given don’t really support that claim.

The obvious problems are that 1) “Asian” doesn’t describe any kind of morphological uniformity, and 2) it’s not clear that the range of variation in facial structure is sufficiently distinct. Sure, the human brain is really good at discriminating racial groups, and there are obviously general differences, but Indian/Korean/Chinese/Japanese/Thai/etc. have subtle differences in their features, too, so why are they all being lumped together? And further, the parameters that vary and that might affect the fit of a pair of glasses seem to show a lot of overlap with other groups. For instance, the article shows one morphological parameter, nasal height, and how it varies in different racial groups.


Whoa, look at the range in each of those groups: you would think that there might be some people of European ancestry who could use “Asian fit” glasses (with the caveat that this is one parameter, and there could be consistent patterns of covariation with others that reduce overlap).

As the article goes on to say, other companies than Oakley don’t make the Asian distinction at all, just producing a range of glasses that just fit. That seems like the wiser choice.


  1. NitricAcid says

    When Oakley uses the term “Asian”, they seem to be using the term to refer to eastern Asians (Japanese, Chinese, Koreans); the chart that is being shown may or may not include people from India, Pakistan, and other parts of Asia, who don’t share the facial characteristics being described.

    Other companies “just make glasses that fit”- these are the ones being marketed in Asia for the “typical” person who lives in Asia. That makes perfect sense- if you’re selling glasses in Japan, make them so that they fit the Japanese. But if you’re selling glasses in California or London, wouldn’t it make sense to market a range of glasses for the variety of different face shapes found in such heterogeneous populations? And wouldn’t it make sense to label the different styles so that people can find glasses that fit them without having to try on every pair in the store? It’s better than making glasses that “just fit” the average person in California, and assuming that Californians are *all* or European extraction.

    That’s a problem we have in the lab- we order “standard” safety goggles which are meant to fit the “standard” North American face. They fit nicely on most students. Some students cannot wear them. We’re a tiny college with very little ethnic diversity (apart from the year that we had a crop of exchange students from Nigeria), so we don’t routinely stock goggles of different shapes for different faces. Such students have to buy their own or suffer with goggles that don’t fit.

  2. busterggi says

    Dammit! Any good scientist knows that when the data doesn’t match the conclusions then you have to change the data.

  3. thelifeofbrine says

    Why are the error bars different lengths? Are they proportional to sample size? Why do I feel bad about asking this about a chart that is part of a defence of a racist add campaign? Time for another margarita.

  4. gillt says

    Sure there’s overlap. But why ignore the clear trend that Asians are near the top of the trend? Is it not significant? I would think it is more insensitive to pretend all of your customers faces fit European facial morphology.

  5. rodriguez says

    Sometimes I sell glasses in a small optical that stocks about 700 frames. I can say with complete confidence that there are three morphological variations that correspond to three ethnic groups I can think of. It happens that in my shop, people in those groups come occasionally but not often enough to permit any kind of choice for them. I’m left showing one or two models at most. All I can do is apologize for the lack of choices for them.

    There may well be a real untapped market in some countries for Oakley, but to crack it they would need to sell sunglasses with different bridge (nose) and temple (ear) configurations than what Americans buy. If they are trying to sell in East Asian countries, they definitely would need to change the shape of their frames in those two dimensions.

  6. rodriguez says

    iow, it may be that this chart isn’t convincing enough. But there are enough differences in faces that people in opticals have a hard time providing frames for everyone if the default assumption is that all customers derive from European stock.

  7. Marsha says

    I’m as white european as they come and I struggle to find glasses that fit because I have this “asian fit” face. Other companies may make that type of fit but there is no word that I know of that corresponds to this feature – until I started buying “asian fit” glasses it was hit-or-miss for a good fit. So, yes, maybe it’s a poor term, but until there’s a better standard common term that means the same thing, “asian fit” works.

  8. quidam says

    Not as strange as some hiking boots, advertised as fitting better since they were made on a North American last rather than a European one.

    Really? American feet have evolved that quickly? I was born in the UK and now live in Canada – are my feet mid-Atlantic?

  9. John Horstman says

    Anthropometry? Really?

    For all those tempted to defend this, the issue isn’t with offering different styles for differing facial structures and a broad range of styles in areas with extremely diverse populations. The issue is the racialization of the naming conventions. “Asian” is a meaningless term in this case – it only applies to some Asians, and the glasses will fit people from elsewhere much better than the ‘standard’ fit for their “race” if they happen to have facial characteristics that don’t fall in the middle of the range (note the extensive overlap in the graph) for that “race”. “Race” is entirely a social construct, a classification of particular morphological traits into unstable groups based on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than the biases of the anthropometrist in question, which has now been essentialized as an identity category/vector of discrimination in many places. This is seriously prone to circular reasoning as well – define race based on certain facial structures, and suddenly everyone with certain facial structures tends to have more similarity to others in their same race. Shocking!

    Of all the stupid, racist shit I’ve seen in the last week, applying a thoroughly-debunked field of scientific inquiry that had its short-lived heyday a century ago to product design might be the stupidest (not necessarily the most racist, though).

  10. MetzO'Magic says

    I’m right in the middle of reading tamino’s first textbook on statistics (so that I can better grok the statistical discussions taking place in the AGW blogosphere), and just got to box plots last night. Timely. I now understand quartiles, and that those dots above the Asia and N. Africa boxes are outliers. Can’t rule the world yet, but it’s a start :-)

  11. rcs says

    It would make sense to me to market them as “high bridged nose” or “narrow” or whatever the main variation of the original fit is. That would appeal to anyone who has a hard time finding sunglasses that fit.

  12. palefury says

    @ NitricAcid – we have had the same problem with safety glasses in our lab. Those people with comparatively flatter nose bridges – had problems with the safety goggles slipping down their faces. Fortunately our institute has managed to source several different types of safety goggles so all nose types are catered for.

  13. mnb0 says

    If race is a meaningful concept then Indians belong to the Caucasian race (and some of them have darker skins than any Afro-American). Possibly you mean Indonesian?

  14. haitied says

    Ahh they should probably stick to making effective polarized lenses rather than generalizations. However I think this is probably more marketing than anything.

  15. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    @9 …. Me too.

    It’s a wider face with prominent cheekbones and a not beaky nose. Often seen in Slav and Rus populations. (thank Genghis Khan and Atilla the Hun)

  16. mattc867 says

    My girlfriend, who is from China, constantly complains that none of the glasses here fit her face well. She says the glasses here aren’t built with asian faces in mind. Now that still doesn’t make it true; but I can say I know at least one Asian person who would find this object fact and not racism.

  17. ck says

    quidam wrote:

    I was born in the UK and now live in Canada – are my feet mid-Atlantic?

    I dunno. Are your toes webbed?

  18. mordred says

    @9 & @17 Yeah, I too have yet to find a pair of glasses that fit me well. But I don’t think the “asian” models would help. Does anybody make glasses for Neanderthals? They might fit…

  19. jennyjfwlucy says

    On the other hand, though, Japanese people refer to themselves as having “sauce”(ketchup or HP) faces or “shoyu” (soy sauce) faces — meaning a face that is either more typically Western with a high nose bridge, double eyelids, etc., or more typically Asian, with a flat nose bridge, single eyelids, etc.

    I have to agree with Marsha — clearly there is a need for different fits for different types of faces (probably also shoes) that fit BROADLY into racial categories but not perfectly, and it is a shame that there aren’t less loaded terms for them. I can’t see marketing “flat face” vs. “sharp face” safety goggles. Maybe we could borrow culinary terms?

  20. NitricAcid says

    @21- if there were such “less loaded” terms, they would quickly pick up baggage and become loaded terms.

  21. carlie says

    Good lord, all they have to do is make a code for each fit type, add a little chart for the sunglass displays, and then they get a whole new marketing campaign billing it as a pseudo-custom fit.

    Here’s the commercial:

    “Faces come in all shapes and sizes [montage of happy faces of many types], so why would anyone think that one pair of sunglasses fits all? [picture of really ugly big sunglasses with the “no” symbol through them]
    Our new line of sunglasses is customized for YOUR face. Find your face shape [picture of the fit chart], match it to its Perfect Fit Number [pan to the next column of the chart], and you’ll get a pair of sunglasses that is designed to make you look fantastic. [person picks out the clearly-labeled glasses, puts them on, smiles at how awesome they look in the mirror]
    No matter how much trouble you may have had finding sunglasses in the past [montage of people looking sadly at ugly, poorly-fitting glasses], there’s a Perfect Fit that will fit you, (chuckle) well, perfectly! [montage of same people finding their number, smiling in their new glasses]
    Perfect Fit Oakleys: You’re one of a kind, so shouldn’t your glasses be, too? “[one of the people slides glasses down their nose, winks at camera]

    See? No “Asian fit” required.