Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 07/8/2010

Circle Contact Lenses: The Terrifying Future of Beauty as We Know It

behold: circle lenses

behold: circle lenses

As Joan Jacobs, in her great book The Body Project illuminated, the idea of teen girls working to improve their bodies in a detached way – as if it were a project with perfection as its goal, rather than relating those alterations to ourselves – is not a new one. Girls have been focused on the pursuit of changing our appearances for at least a century, probably longer. At first it was “slimming,” or reducing what we ate, and wearing specific clothes (thank god the girdle is gone; I take pride in my food babies). And now we’ll do just about anything; whether it’s a diet of dexatrim max and laxatives or a $500 facial, all so that our waistlines, our skin, our [insert body part here] will be more pleasing to the world. It seems like there’s almost no limit to what we’ll do. Almost no limit until now. Now we’re compromising our organs in order to have the perfect body.

This New York Times article points to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video for the rise in “circle lenses,” special contact lenses from Asia that are unavailable in the US and come in bright colors: violet and pink, for example. These lenses make the eye appear larger by covering the iris and parts of the whites of one’s eyes. But I don’t think we can blame the All Powerful Gaga for this one.

Lady Gaga in the Bad Romance video: Computer, not circle lenses - also not the issue

Lady Gaga in the Bad Romance video: Computer, not circle lenses - also not the issue

Now, it’s strange enough to imagine somebody actually looking in the mirror and thinking to themselves, “Now if only my eyes were pink…then I would be the most beautiful girl in the land!” But this whole concept of trying to look more doll-like (inanimate, because we are not supposed to have thoughts or feelings and you can do whatever the hell you want with us) and innocent/weak (Men don’t want girls who are able to complete thoughts. They want these phrases to be on repeat in your head: “that sandwich is coming right up,” and “sexual favor now, or in 5 minutes?”) is being taken to the next level.

The article also draws a clear comparison between the similarity of the effect of these contacts on a girl’s appearance and the look of anime girls, further indicating the desire to be objectified. And while I don’t know a ton about anime or its overall significance in Asian culture, I am aware of a game called Pachinko that is at least huge in Japan. This is a game that is generally played by men in “pachinko parlors” where the basic point — aside from some sort of pin ball guise — is that female anime characters are overly sexualized, and in some instances give the player a pornographic show. So, there is definitely a weirdly pornographic undertone to the whole anime craze.

And while the article seems to focus on American girls it’s pretty clear this phenomenon is more common in Asian countries (I’m an American girl and I have definitely never heard of this trend.). Which makes me wonder…maybe these girls are trying to look like anime characters, but is it possible there is an element of westernization – Asian girls trying to make their eyes “bigger”? And then the idea of American girls trying on an Asian trend for size, or trying to look like an anime caricature, seems like we’re pandering to that (god awful) stereotype of Asian women – quite and subservient (innocent, doll-like). So, now there’s this creepy “I’m innocent, yet totally fuckable and if I say no I don’t mean it” vibe going on that just makes me sad/angry/appalled. Either way, we all lose.

the NYT image of a college senior wearing circle lenses

the NYT image of a college senior wearing circle lenses

And then if that weren’t enough, these lenses aren’t FDA approved. Apparently, sites that sell contact lenses approved by the FDA must verify customers’ prescriptions with their doctors while circle lens websites let you choose your prescription much in the way you choose your preferred color: anything goes – you’re the doctor now. Which is good, because the target audience (teenagers) has a vast expanse of ophthalmological knowledge. Clearly.

In the NYT article, some experts weighed on this seemingly ignored little problem. Karen Riley, spokeswoman for the FDA stated that when consumers buy contact lenses without a doctor-approved prescription / help from a doctor, they, “risk significant injuries – even blindness.” Optometrist Dr. S. Barry Eiden also warned that ill-fitting contact lenses could deprive the eye of oxygen and cause serious vision problems. So, we are messing with our eyes (a pretty useful organ– it’s not like we’re trying to make our appendix prettier) just to attempt to achieve an ultimately unattainable standard of beauty? Fab!

We always talk about unrealistic standards of beauty in comparison to models or actresses. But now, doesn’t it seem that our standard is surpassing even that 0.0001% of the population (or however many women are actually 5’11” and 110 lbs) and moving on to women that aren’t even real? We are trying to emulate literal caricatures of women that were probably drawn by men. And in the process, we’re not just objectifying ourselves; we’re dehumanizing ourselves. We’re not even allowed to be a pretty girl just for show anymore. At least society’s (once) ideally objectified girl could breathe. She had a brain even if she doesn’t use it. She was real. Now, we shouldn’t even exist off the page.

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  • O'Phylia @ at 11:14 am, July 8th, 2010

    Alright, I’m a bit of an otaku, and a considerable amount of anime and manga is drawn and created by women. I don’t mean, “That one woman who got an award that one time,” I mean a substantial amount. I almost [ALMOST] think women dominate the field. Unfortunately, they know what sells, and yes, the anime/manga craze does have porn undertones in many aspects, but so does everything else in the world.

    My sticking up for otakus every where aside, I agree with your post. We’re really trying to make ourselves into fictional characters now? REALLY?! Even in Michelle Phan’s tutorial she said Gaga’s look was done with computer graphics as well as with circle lenses.

    And it is more of the “the West is right!” stigma that just makes me so angry.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 1:05 pm, July 8th, 2010

    I’ve been changing my eye colour to match my hair since jr. high, quite a few combinations are not found in nature(royal purple, silver, brilliant aqua). Of course my contacts are prescription.

    This is a case where feminists of a particular school alienate millions of girls. People have been adoring themselves in one way or another for the past 30,000 years,atleast, that’s how old the artefacts we discovered are.

    Humanity hadn’t developed written language yet, but they wore body paint,necklaces and had hair styles.

    The real question is not why women continue to do so, but why have men stopped.

    As for hyper-sexualization, how is it any more or less correct than purity balls, or the desire for romance/relationships.

    While Homo Sapiens are sexual creatures by nature, like with most things, the manifestation of that sexuality is learned. We learn what it is to be sexual by studying our elders.

    It’s no more possible for a girl to define what sexuality is for herself than it is for her to develop language in a vacuum.

  • The Raisin Girl @ at 1:44 pm, July 8th, 2010

    From what I understand, the Westernization actually comes packaged in WITH the anime, not separately from it. Anime characters have large eyes and almost any hair color OTHER than black or dark brown, and almost any eye color OTHER than brown. It’s an art style that promotes fantasy, a place where characters can look like anything regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or heredity…and where girls who save the world somehow do so in costumes that make vintage Wonder Woman look positively prudish.

    It’s incredibly frightening to see that this fantasy world–which in and of itself is not necessarily bad, and actually contains a lot of interesting and strong female characters–is starting to become the aesthetic ideal for girls in ANY part of the world.

  • Fiona @ at 2:01 pm, July 8th, 2010

    This is a bit of a tangent, but anyone who believes anime characters look Western, or that Asian girls who watch it are trying to look more Western, should watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKTvFhRbBt8

    This contact lens trend might be silly, but Asian eyes come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and girls who try to make their eyes look bigger are not trying to look Caucasian.

  • Julie Z @ at 2:02 pm, July 8th, 2010

    @Alex Catgirl

    I understand what you’re saying, but the point I was trying to make was not about being down on alternative self-expression, but rather more about the implications of this *specific* trend. I think there is a difference between seeing a different eye color as beautiful and seeking to transform your eyes so that they might resemble a type of beauty that is based on a drawing. It brings objectification to a new level.

    And to everybody else, it’s interesting that women are so well represented in anime! But really the point, which you both reiterated, is not that anime = bad, but rather women trying to resemble anime carictures (something not even human) is the problem.

  • Alex F @ at 3:04 pm, July 8th, 2010

    I think what is really scary about this is that these contacts could hurt your eyes. I don’t want to put stuff on or in my body that isn’t natural because I want to stay healthy, you know? Sure it looks cool, but it would really suck to hurt your eye sight for the rest of your life just because of a little fad. Fashion is awesome if its safe, but otherwise just scary.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 4:44 pm, July 8th, 2010

    Juile Z said: rather women trying to resemble anime carictures (something not even human) is the problem.

    but but but I *Like* identifying as a catgirl, they are so much better than humans! =(^.^)=

  • Emilie @ at 5:09 pm, July 8th, 2010

    First off, “Girls have been focused on the pursuit of changing our appearances for at least a century, probably longer.”
    Make-up has been around for thousands of years, both for personal and practical purposes. Just the corset alone has been around for several hundred years.

    Second, what Americans may consider “pornographic” is different than what the Japanese see as pornographic. Any American fan who watches anime can see that, but Japan also has strict laws about what can/ cannot be shown in pornography featuring non-animated humans; those can be quiet surprising in the eyes of a Westerner. In Japan, being cute, childish, and doll-like is the standard of beauty for women. Just because this author does not agree with this does not give them a right to refer to this concept of beauty as “weird” or “strange,” because it is in fact the norm for many people.

    If anyone was intrigued by this article, I suggest looking into two similar issues: stickers designed to fold Eastern Asian eyes so that they look more “Western,” and the current issue of sexual abuse/ molestation on Japan’s subways and trains.

  • Circle Contact Lenses: The Terrifying Future of Beauty as We Know … | Lenslicious @ at 7:23 pm, July 8th, 2010

    [...] iPod News excerpt from: Circle Contact Lenses: The Terrifying Future of Beauty as We Know … [...]

  • Annie @ at 9:13 pm, July 8th, 2010

    I’m going to say this right now and excuse me if I sound a bit presumptuous, but it’s not like I’m giving up my right to vote by wearing colored contacts.

    I’m Asian and have been born and raised in Canada.I own circle lenses and when I bought them, the thought of looking like an anime character or doll never came to mind; I was just looking for a way to lighten my eye color. They are no worse than regular cosmetic contacts. They don’t hurt my eyes at all. I can’t actually feel them and sometimes I even forget that they’re on. If they’re damaging my eyes, it’s because they are so NOT PAINFUL that I forget that I’m even wearing contacts and leave them in for too long.

  • Hannah @ at 6:30 pm, July 9th, 2010

    I’m a anime fan and a lot of popular manga and anime is created by women. There will always be the dating-simulation based anime that has 1 “normal” guy and 5 perfect girls with big boobs and built-in panty flashes. But a lot of anime is good and has strong female characters. Alot of the award winning manga is created by women (Fullmetal Alchemist, Shugo Chara, Honey and Clover, Kimi no Todoke off the top of my head) and a lot of these have strong, intellight women as characters, who grow and change and learn about themselves too.

  • Christine @ at 7:16 am, July 11th, 2010

    I do not see the connection between Pachinko, anime, and porn that you are trying to make at all. Pachinko is a pin ball like game, not a pin ball “guise”. The point is to get the jackpot so you get more money – it’s basically gambling, not porn. Are you saying that some pachinko machines have provocative pictures drawn on them? If that is the case, then it would be better to elaborate, otherwise there is a huge hole in your logic.

    And yes there are Hentai or porn anime, but there’s normal anime as well. Just like there are porn American movies and normal American movies. I do not understand how you are getting your anime is porn connection either. There are a lot of successful female manga artists, like pointed out by the other commenters. Take CLAMP – they are one of the most successful manga teams out there and they’re all female!

    Your whole article gives off a vibe that you look down on Asian women. It seems like you have not made an effort to fully understand or even research something as basic as anime.

    Western girls have always wanted their eyes to look bigger too. Think eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, false eyelashes…! Bigger eyes make you look more intense, awake and aware. It’s not just an Asian thing.

    I do agree with you that it is bad to be ordering contact lenses from an unapproved online dealer without a prescription though. Whether they are circle lenses or regular contact lenses they all block oxygen and that isn’t good for your eyes. I wear regular contact lenses from my optometrist. If circle lenses became available through my optometrist I’ll try them in a heart beat! It does not objectify me if I want to be prettier. I am doing it for ME and to satisfy MY vain tendencies, haha. How am I “dehumanizing” myself? If I am, then am I the most “human” if I make absolutely no effort and go around with my hair in a tangle, stains on my shirt and holes in my sweatpants?! I did this years ago, when I was the most emotionally low. I feel so much better now, words can not even explain.

  • SD @ at 4:26 pm, July 11th, 2010

    Wasn’t Gaga’s video all about the unrealistic ideals that women hold themselves up to? I think, in the video, she was shown being wrestled into a tub and dancing subserviently in front of a man. How stupid, that she accomplished the opposite of what she was trying to do… ugh.

  • Elise @ at 1:42 am, July 15th, 2010

    looked up circle lenses on google images and in the process found this blog that was talking about them: http://www.queensharin.com/2009/04/circle-lenses.html
    kinda like this post, but kinda different too.

  • kat @ at 5:26 pm, July 15th, 2010

    “Asian girls trying to make their eyes ‘bigger’?” I applaud you for wanting to break gender stereotypes, but please don’t reenforce ethnic stereotypes while you’re at it. Not all Asians have small eyes.

    By the way, only a minority of anime/manga portray women in a derogatory manner. There are plenty of anime and dramas that put women in strong roles and respectable professions, thus serving as role models for many girls everywhere.

  • Bell @ at 1:41 pm, July 16th, 2010

    While I certainly agree that those lenses look weird and that women should not objectify themselves, your absolute ignorance of the topics you are treating is disrespectful. I’m sorry to have to accuse you of ethnocentrism, but that’s what it is. You should learn a bit about Japanese culture (which is as different from other Asian countries as much as Usonian culture is different from Mexican) before you attack an important an enourmous element of a culture. I’ve been a manga/anime fan for several years and took a class on Japanese history of literature and still would not consider myself suficiently enlightened to pass that sort of judgement on that society.

  • Niamh @ at 3:47 am, July 19th, 2010

    This is why the FBomb bothers me:

    This article relates American = White. You refer to American girls, copying Asian girls. What about Asian Americans? Sure, you might be referring to Asian as in nationality but “Asian” is seen as a race by the majority of people, and by using it in the same way as American, you imply you can’t be both Asian and American.

  • Tessa @ at 6:18 pm, July 19th, 2010

    I completely agree with Niamh. This post alienates Asian-Americans by assuming that all Americans are white, and that’s offensive. It just goes to show how White privilege is alive and well on feminist websites also.

  • Ariane @ at 8:11 am, July 21st, 2010

    While I usually love your articles, I see some problematics points with this one.

    First, I’d have to say I’m biased. Circle lenses SCARES me to no end because it’s really weird having peoples looking at you with damn big irises. But it’s not the point.

    The only problem in my eye is the part about not FDA -approved websites and the fact that Beauty comes well before safety in the priority list.

  • Nephailia Mortalitas Desdemonia @ at 8:10 pm, September 17th, 2010

    Wow. For me and everyone I know who has/wants/likes strange contacts, these ridiculous reasons are not the case. We just want to be different, and try new looks. You can customize your hair and makeup, why not your eyes? I guess the only thing I agree with is that it is dangerous that they are not FDA approved, and nothing is worth loosing your vision over. But girls using the contacts to look more innocent and STUPID? That is ridiculous. Maybe for some girls it is a way of “perfecting” themselves, but those girls are shallow and stupid anyways. You can’t make such a huge generalization based on that small group. Also, you can’t say those things just because you think the contacts are disgusting and weird. That is your opinion, and that’s fine. But you don’t have to go insulting people because of it.

  • Kevin Sorrell @ at 10:00 am, October 3rd, 2010

    I wear blue contact lenses, i also have some red contact lenses, my eyes are natural brown in color, i really love my contact lenses, i hope to get some softer core type ones in the future, as many people say they are very good and comfortable :)

  • asian @ at 11:00 pm, November 12th, 2010

    i am an asian and i have eyelid folds

    does that make me less asian
    i hate the fact that when asians tries to use tape for their eyelids , then they are trying to look like “westerners”

    Um, no, they are trying to look like their asian brothers and sisters who HAVE the eyelid fold.

    and eyelid fold exists in all races. not only white people have this fold.

  • Gigi @ at 5:55 pm, January 13th, 2012

    I have to say I disagree with this. Coloured contact lenses – and lenses that create a specific effect for the eyes- have been used in alternative and indeed eastern fashion subcultures for a while now. I myself wear them on occasion. I do not wear them to look “innocent” or “doll like”, and I sure as hell don’t wear them because I’m trying to imply I’m some sort of toy with no feelings or ideas of my own. I wear them to create a unique and unusual effect or colour with my eyes, in the same way I would if I wore eyeshadows or dyed my hair. I’m a proud feminist, and I simply don’t see how wearing fashion contact lenses denotes that we’re trying to look like dolls or that we’re submissive and unintelligent as suggested in this article. I find this offensive and judgemental – not what I’d expect from a fellow feminist. Contact lenses do not equate to stupidity.

  • Chung Cha @ at 10:54 pm, March 4th, 2014

    Hello!!Yes i agree that contact lenses one of the great to use in the eyes..Thanks for sharing…

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