Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | The eyes have it: “Anime Eyes” are another way Asian women try to change their looks
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The eyes have it: “Anime Eyes” are another way Asian women try to change their looks

These contact lenses make the wearer

Asians have a long history of trying to change their appearance, specifically by messing with their eyes. As if it’s not bad enough that so many of us wear glasses (isn’t it enough to have a cool-looking pair?) many Asians — especially women, and apparently more Korean women than other ethnicities — have turned to surgery to add a fold in their eye lids. And now, we have contact lenses that make the wearer’s eyes look larger, like a character in an anime.

Typical rendition of anime characters with large eyesIt’s kinda creepy. Is this the latest reflection of a deep-seated sense of inadequacy and self-hate within Asians?

The “Angel Series” contact lenses — made in Korea by the GEO company — are touted as the best way to create the “Dolly Eye” look. They come in various colors, and emphasize a darker rim around the edges, which cover beyond the wearer’s iris.

These lenses have been available for months, and fashion sites first wrote about them in August. Angry Asian Man posted about them yesterday, and it got me to thinking about the image of Asians eyes, and how they’re perceived differently by Asians versus Westerners.

Westerners have exoticized the “hot Asian babe” for centuries, and the size of their eyes didn’t seem to matter — as long as they were slanted and uh, well, Asian.

But in Asia, women are more desirable if they look, well, more white. Maybe Michael Jackson was on to something. Look at magazine covers and ads everywhere, and the ultimate vision for a beautiful Asian woman is one who has pale skin and large eyes (and these days, reddish-brown hair) — not unlike the look that’s the image of women in many anime.

Girls wearing the sailor-style school uniforms is a typical image in animeTo be fair, geisha have used whiteface since long before white people set foot upon Japan. But the pop culture image of the modern woman seems based on European ideals of beauty.

Reporter Todd Inouye wrote a well-researched article in the weekly Metro magazine in San Jose, about the history and current boom in eyelid surgeries within the Korean American community.

Asians, faced with doubts about the size and beauty of their eyelids, are flooding into plastic surgery offices to outfit themselves with a new pair.

The eyelid crease, a dominant genetic trait, is determined by the structure of the levator muscle, which controls the opening of the lid. While everyone–Asians and non-Asians alike–has this muscle, in non-Asians an extension of the muscle causes a crease to form when the eyes are opened. Asians do not always have this extension, but instead have an extra layer of fat. During surgery, the doctor removes the fat and stitches the eyelid to the levator muscle, creating a crease.

Figures from the American Association of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery indicate that there has been a 35 percent rise in cosmetic surgery procedures in the United States since 1990. The surgery is catching on nationwide, in image-conscious California, and especially in the Bay Area, where both Asian and plastic surgeon populations are growing every year.

In the realm of plastic surgery, where Jewish women undergo rhinoplasty and African Americans alter facial characteristics with nose jobs, lip reductions and skin lightening, it seems as if distinct ethnic features are treated as a handicap. The surgical technique to augment two flitting folds inspires debate in the Asian American community. Is it a sellout to western ideals of beauty, or is it a way to make an Asian face more, er, complete?

Guitar playing woman, anime-styleAbout 15 years ago, there was a scandal in Colorado Springs, a military town south of Denver where there’s a large Korean community (many the wives of GIs), where an unlicensed “doctor” performed eyelid surgeries on women in his basement, and screwed up some patients’ faces. This procedure isn’t new — Inouye traces the surgery through the decades as it became a fad, and then an established part of cosmetic surgery, to where it’s commonplace, and cheap, in Korea today.

Women who undergo the eyelid surgery to add a fold acknowledge it makes their eyes look bigger, but they say it’s not to mimic Caucasian eyes. They just think it’s more beautiful, and will help them find a man. But I still question the roots of that measure of beauty.

At least, with the new “Dolly”/anime contact lenses, the change in appearance doesn’t take surgery and it’s not permanent. And it’s not as expensive, either. I’ve seen the GEO Angel Eyes available online from $18-$40 per pair.

Even unglamorous girls are drawn with exaggerated eyes, like Chihiro, the main character in Hayao MiyazakiAnd, I suppose it’s not surprising that women would want to look like an anime character come to life. I see people (though far and away, mostly white kids, not Asians) at Japanese festivals and anime conventions dressed to the hilt to mimic their favorite characters. But wearing anime eyes out when you’re not in a full-out Sailor Moon costume seems a little freakish.

The whole fad also begs the question of why anime characters have big eyes anyway — they more Western than any Asian eye could be (without the contact lenses, that is), but frankly, they’re nothing like European eyes either. The common explanation in anime fan circles is that the big eyes express emotions better, and that in general, the larger the eyes, the nicer and more sensitive the character.

But growing up, I always wondered if the big-eyed faces I saw in anime and manga (Japanese comic books) were just a way of an entire race wishing our eyes looked different.

Here’s a video (there are lots, and I wonder if they’re “planted” by the manufacturer to promote the GEO lenses) of a woman wearing the anime eyes contact lenses: