Irritations of Modern Life: 9: Tinted Contact Lenses

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The Independent Culture
TINTED CONTACT lenses for white mice, perhaps. For gross albino rabbits, definitely, if you are planning on spending many hours gazing into their eyes. But for people? Come on. Nobody's eyes are that ugly.

Not that you'd know it, now that every cut-price High Street optician offers cheap, disposable lenses in a rainbow array of colours. I have just conducted a small survey in the street where I live in east London: two out of eight women here wear tinted lenses, fixing you with their cartoonish pea-green or violet gaze while shopping for carrots. Funnily enough, no one ever seems to go for the brown lenses, which is part of my objection to them. Tinted lenses operate on a shamelessly Aryan scale of desirability: turquoise good, dark colours bad. They also manage to turn the most expressive eyes into flat, dull circles of neon, thus adding an unattractive robo-look to anyone stupid enough to wear them.

Tinted contact lenses are the equivalent of a sock down the pants, or prosthetic bosom-enhancers stuffed into a Wonderbra - when it's time to get undressed, you can't help but think, "Is that it?" No matter that the pants may have an impressive cargo of their own, or that the cantilevered bosom may be more than acceptable; gadgetry of this sort inevitably leads to disappointment. I still remember the slightly alarmed look on my husband's face when, on our wedding night, I peeled off my false eyelashes, unpinned my hairpiece and stepped out of my dress to reveal some industrial-strength foundation garments.

When I was at university - many moons ago, before most of us were aware of the latest optometrical developments - there was a man who was considered especially desirable owing to his dazzling blue eyes. A friend of mine pursued him relentlessly, over many months. When she eventually managed to lure him to her lair, she was most put out to find that the fabulous azure gaze came out last thing and spent the night in a little container of saline solution. Although the man had perfectly nice eyes underneath, they were the colour of faded denim rather than semi-precious stones, and that was the end of that.

Apart from the fact that there is something pretty peculiar about adapting a product originally conceived for the sight-impaired as a fashion accessory, vanity comes into the equation, too. What kind of person seeks shamelessly to embellish their eyes by changing the colour? And why? There is never anything wrong with people's eyes. Noses, yes. Chins, often. Bodies, absolutely. But do you know anyone whose hideous eyes make you recoil with horror?

It is a peculiar, hard-core form of vanity that is at play here, more akin to plastic surgery (brand-new body parts) than to even the most extreme tricks with make-up (enhancing what exists). As far as I am concerned, wearing tinted lenses is a pretty foolproof way of announcing your neuroses and insecurity to the world. Look at me, they say. I dislike the way I look so much that I am wearing fake eyes in improbable colours, and I am hoping to fool you. Alas! You can tell a person by their eyes, never more so than when those eyes are made of plastic.