An attractive black woman walks across the street in a cute red dress with matching wedges, flawless skin and hair that could almost pass for her own. Her movements, her motion, her intent are all so graceful that they look slightly rehearsed. Your eyes glaze about her from top to bottom. You feel a sense of pride at her presence, then envy as your eyes scan her breasts and the rings that circle her neck. Her smile is bright yet doesn’t manage to intimidate you, her manner is confident, and just when you’re about to enter a state of bursting resentment for how well this woman carries her natural beauty, you lean forward and strain your eyes in realization that she’s wearing bright colored contacts… and it messes it ALL up.
A person’s eyes are usually the first thing that you see while speaking to them. While in high school, the two women that were close to my complexion that I thought were beautiful both wore colored contacts on a regular basis. One wore a light hazel and the other rotated blue, green, gray, and brown to match her outfits. I’d always wanted to try them out, but my mother would roll her eyes at me when I mentioned them. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” she’d ask. “If you don’t like your eyes, then you don’t like me,” she’d shrug. So I would eventually drop the subject in consideration of her feelings. I made a friend however, who worked at a beauty supply store and managed to get me a pair of gray contacts by my senior year. I was ecstatic. They were temporary and could only be worn for about a week or so, but it was perfect for me because I only really wanted them for the homecoming game, where I was up for queen. I remember standing on the field with my father, and while I waited for the winner’s name to be called, while my eyes scanned the stadium of white faces, I noticed a new confidence; a rush of excitement at the new element of my physical appearance that I thought made me stand out. But it really looked a hot mess….and I wish I knew then what I know now.
In the early 1980’s shortly after the inception of contact lenses into (affordable) optical culture, colored contact lenses were made available to the masses, spreading widely through flea markets, convenience stores, and beach shops. Along with changing an individual’s eye color, the lenses mimic the eyes of cats, wolves, snakes, and became so popular that by the late 1990’s they could be found at beauty supply stores for $20 a pair.
What began as a cool way of changing an individual’s physical dynamic, or an alternative to Mardi Gras masks at Halloween costume parties, was consumed by the black community (though somewhat subconsciously) as a way to stand one inch closer to the world’s intangible and timeless standard of beauty. Light eyes were a way (commonly seen among darker shades of people) to stand out. The challenge is that it is not always viewed as just a way to stand out in newness as seen in White culture with celebrities like Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Britney Spears. In our community it is usually a way to stand out despite, and that is where the hurdles line the turf. When the contact lenses stay on, when we dwell on the attention and the assumed beauty that the blue and hazel eyes grant, we are almost crippling ourselves to the ideal that what is natural to us is unattractive; that in a world of thin lines and open interpretations, we are still always on the wrong side.
In the 2004 book, Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones, the author writes:
…..the Black men who’re making millions—the doctors, the lawyers, the athletes—are going after the White woman. And I think that’s the reason why we change our appearance.” Cheryl, who wears her hair straightened with an added weave, says that Black women try to look more European, wearing colored contact lenses, for example, in order to be more appealing to Black men: “We’re hoping a Black man will say, ‘Hey she’s just as pretty as this White woman right here.’ We’re trying to get their attention.”
So are colored contacts, like blonde weaves, just subconscious emulations of what we are taught and bred to believe is truly beautiful? Perhaps. Apparently colored contacts are a huge trend in
Although there are Rx (prescription) lenses widely manufactured by Freshlook, Acuvue, and Durasoft, the majorities of colored lens users (within our community) do not have a prescription, and consume the products at flea markets and second hand shops.
In October of 2002, the FDA warned that the extended use of decorative, non-corrective lenses could result in serious eye injury. Robert Longley of usgovinfo.com wrote:
“Cases of corneal ulcer associated with wear of decorative contact lenses in excess of the recommended period have been reported to the FDA. Corneal ulcer can progress rapidly and lead to internal ocular infection if left untreated. Uncontrolled infection can lead to corneal scarring and vision impairment. In extreme cases, this condition can result in blindness and eye loss, according to the FDA.
FDA also warns of other eye risks associated with use of decorative contact lenses, including:
- conjunctivitis (an infection of the eye);
- corneal edema (swelling);
- allergic reaction;
- corneal abrasion from poor lens fit; and
- reduction in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and other visual functions, resulting in interference with driving and other activities.
According to FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the FDA has approved the prescription-only sale of some contact lenses for cosmetic use, such as colored lenses. FDA's approval guarantees these lenses were made under sterile conditions, and requires that consumers be told how to insert and care for the lenses in a way that minimizes chances of such side effects as infections or abrasions.”
However, most health hazards that result in the extended wear of these lenses can be prevented if an optometrist is visited for proper fitting.