Beauty Politics & Circle Lens
Asia's eye enlarging cosmetic lens are all the rage. Are they indicative of "white supremacy"/"the male gaze". Would that even matter?
Circle lenses are cosmetic contact lenses that enlarge the eyes of the wearer. Sometimes they change color. The reason many fans of the style wear the lens is to emulate the unworldly cuteness typically found in dolls or Disney Princesses. They range from slightly larger than natural to fish-eye bug lenses. Why would anyone pay money to look high? Neoteny. Or Western cultural imperialism. Most likely a bit of both.
We’re in a Brave New World and no matter what fashion magazines declare, nature is out for good. Due to rapidly advancing technology, pretty privilege has been democratized.
Some opt for payment plan lip fillers and others smuggle non-FDA-compliant circle lenses from Asia.
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Circle Lens aka カラコン was popularized in the early 2000s by Japanese pop stars like Ayumi Hamasaki and Namie Amuro. A few Japanese sources attribute German company ZEISS with creating the big eye lens.
I first heard about Circle Lens fifteen years ago on MySpace. Besides the high likelihood of blindness from novel internet contact lens shopping, my Mother didn’t allow me to wear circle lenses for moral purposes. “Why would someone elses’ symptom of oppression?” At eleven, all I cared about was becoming as beautiful as photoshopped strangers on MySpace and entering Ulzzang contests. I brushed off my Mom’s concerns as moral righteousness without much consideration.
When I moved to Tokyo, I realized my Mom was kinda right. Much of the marketing for reference “haafu/half” is of mixed race. In this case, it’s safe to assume, White. This isn’t exactly out of the ordinary for Japan, East Asia, or much of the non-Western world. As a Black American woman, I’m no stranger to the thin tightrope of beauty standards that women of color have to exist in. Plenty of proponents of anti-racism claim that Black America’s billion-dollar hair extension industry is proof of “internalized racism”. Arguments on the ethics of wearing imported hair weaves are frequent in Black gender war discourse. So, are circle lens and buss down weaves symptoms of White supremacy? Perhaps.
I’m not an East Asian woman and I understand things like double eyelid surgeries are big business. Therefore, I might be missing something culturally when it comes to this. I don’t want to downplay the impact that Western media could have. As a Black woman, I also understand cultural beauty pressures that push women towards a Westernized ideal.
Yet - I also hate when people moralize weave-wearing or facial contouring. Even if certain beauty trends “originate from oppression”, ridiculing women who partake in them is counterintuitive.
Leave women alone
I’m afraid I can’t explain this without sounding like a neckbeard so I’ve instructed ChatGPT to explain it instead:
TLDR; Big eyes = cute. Besides your lips, eyes are the only feature on your face that you can dramatically change without the need of surgery. With just $50 and erm, a Dr.’s prescription, you can become instantly cute.
I’m sure there’s also an argument to be made about women altering their bodies for the male gaze. This could totally be true–considering men hold the majority of power, appealing to their visual sensibilities seems like a pragmatic decision. It should be a decision that we talk about, yet I see no purpose in ridiculing women for this decision either.
After a decade of usage, my circle lens feels more like a security blanket than a cosmetic enhancer. That’s probably not good. On the flip, they’re a lot more durable than other prescription lenses that I’ve worn. I have a conspiracy that Acuvue and Bioten are paying the FDA to keep them deregulated.
the pursuit of cuteness
I believe in every person’s bodily autonomy to modify themselves without ridicule. Plenty of people who claim to be anti-nature-fallacy make an exception when it comes to beauty and physical appearance. Whether it’s in the form of fillers, botox, makeup, or lash extensions I think it’s pretty amazing that we have that freedom.
Whether it’s due to cultural imperialism or self hate—is worth talking about. But, why can’t we just enjoy making our eyes big?
The future is now