Social Crutches

by Ahn Wee


Today I bought my very first pair of sunglasses. I know it probably sounds too trivial an issue for the average human being. In fact, my mother even raised an eyebrow and asked me:

“What the hell did you need that for, anyway?”

Right at that moment, I could have enumerated a number of scientific facts and theories in safeguarding health particularly the human eyes—-but instead of doing just that, I just stopped and looked away. She then proceeded to tell me about how certain sunglasses in malls could be fake, and ruin my eyesight instead.  She also quietly implied that it was a particular pathetic investment for vanity’s sake. I wasn’t entirely offended by her disapproval and skepticism. It was just that the reason that I had in my heart was something I could not muster in her presence. The real motive I had in buying them were something neither the greatest living ophthalmologist nor optometrist could explain.

I bought it so I could raise up my head and look straight in front of me in public vehicles where I might unintentionally lock into someone’s gaze. I bought it because I now have the perfect excuse to look at anyone without having the consequences of eye contact. I bought it so that no one could ever read my nervousness in public places among a sea of strangers. To put things simply, I bought it as my social crutch.

What I particularly find to be strange now is that this particular Audrey-ish pair of sunglasses is supposed to be a progress of me taking responsibility and accountability for myself. Growing up, I rarely had a choice in buying the things that I wanted to wear. As the youngest of 3 children, the usual system was either a hand-me-down or “I’ll-buy-it-for-you”. Nobody had the time to take me to malls, and if they did they all particularly felt too impatient waiting while I choose which pair of shoes I liked best. So I basically grew up feeling ashamed in having to take initiative in building an image of myself. I wore clothes purely as a necessity and nothing more. I know it sounds all too dramatic but trust me; it does get to you at one point. It feels uncomfortable to wear clothes that suited your sister, and then wearing only to know that it did not flatter your body as it did on hers. It feels uncomfortable that someone buys a pair of shoes of a style you weren’t totally cool to begin with. If “Power dressing” is such a real word then it’s not at all empowering in being where I have been, and I sincerely believe that power lay in the ability to become creative.

As you now see, I have been rigorously making ways into improving myself from the physical aesthetic aspect to the deeply psychological behaviors and attitudes. Coming from a family of strict introverts, I grew up living like a hermit my entire life. I’d like to say that introversion is NOT one of the things I’d like to change about myself. I am happy as myself in that particular way. I am not however happy of the effects in the years of being strictly sheltered from a world beyond the confines of my home—because I grew up to be extremely shy and timid. I avoided all social events, and I turned down anything that needed to built on intimacy or social connection. Hell, I even had a phase wherein I disliked having my photos taken. If it was any consolation on my part, I tried my best to escape within my imagination with the help of books and films (and occasionally, video games)—and it did help me in a way. I learned a lot of different perspectives and different approaches to life as I indulged myself from a genre to another. In spite of this, it still wasn’t enough.  “Math is like life in a way”, as my old geometry teacher in high school once said. “It’s one thing to know what is what and another in knowing what to do and actually doing it”.

From a previous romantic relationship gone wrong, I was able to try and challenge this definition myself. He might have failed on changing me, and I might have failed in helping him grow but I certainly am able to do more things now. I could go on personal walks without having to feel guilty about my mother’s rules. I could go on to public events and realized it wasn’t the kind of life that I wanted to live (certain standards of being socially “cool” is not entirely “cool” as it seems). I have been working on my shyness, but why did I buy myself a social crutch?

To my defense, I think sunglasses provide a certain synthetic form of sprezzatura—the art of studied carelessness (direct words from the Oxford English dictionary here). It’s the ability to sheathe one’s personal desires, emotions and thoughts under the façade of innocent apathy. I mean certain changes can be good but doing it rapidly fast at the same can be quite alarming and threatening the ego. I guess it’s sort of like the training wheels of bicycle or that my eyes just need protection from the sunlight. Sure.