Last Saturday the New York Times published an article about the growing trend of wearing eye-enlarging contact lenses (What Big Eyes You Have, Dear, but Are Those Contacts Risky?) The main thrust of the story was that despite the lack of FDA oversight, the sale of these lenses continues to rise. As critical as this concern over contraband lenses is (no doctor supervision necessary), I’m feeling another type of concern altogether.
While Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video and Michelle Phan’s How-To video (both referenced in the article) may have spurred the interest in American women’s fascination with the effect these lenses give, the desire for big eyes originates in Asia. Big eyes appear more “Caucasian” and “cute”, or ke’ai. Many Asian Americans are adopting this trend as they increasingly look to Asia for beauty ideas that are more relevant to their facial and body types. But women of other ethnic backgrounds are adopting it too. I’m all for sharing trends across the globe, but I wonder whether we women – Asian American or otherwise — should really be striving to be cute? When I think of cuteness I think of submission, childishness, weakness, lack of respect from men, and the list goes on.
There’s been some recent interesting commentary on Asian women’s usage of cuteness in Asian countries to actually maneuver in, if not resist, the highly chauvinistic cultures they’re subjected to (The Power of Cuteness: Female Infantilization in Taiwan by Tzu-i Chuang). The blog, The View from Taiwan , states “whereas before women were unconsciously but fully acculturated to acting cute, now they act cute because of the power it gives them over men, and because they are aware of the social advantages.” So, perhaps we could argue the big eye lens trend is a symbol of that rebellion. But I fear we American women may not truly understand this aspect of the trend and could be just channeling a young, girlish attitude.
On the other hand, the ability of American women to try on different looks – childish, sexual, sporty, masculine, which ever, may be the ultimate sign of empowerment rather than submissiveness. The debates around how we portray ourselves seem to continually take place. In fact, just last week the New York Times ran a piece about Lady Gaga’s overt sexuality in her videos (Lady Power). It questioned whether Lady Gaga’s sexual behavior furthers the objectification of women or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, speaks to female power. As you can imagine the subsequent posts were heated. Perhaps the desire for cuteness represents neither side of the coin but just symbolizes a break from the pressure to be the Alpha girls we’re expected to be. Whatever the reason, I say go ahead and look cute – it’s ultimately our right and choice to look how we want. Just make sure to get a prescription 🙂