All Eyes On Gaga

What the popstar reveals about some lazy fashion reporting

Okay, did that get your attention? Good. It was meant to.

Now, hate to break it to you, but this piece has very little to do with Lady Gaga. We just thought we’d try something our friends at the L.A. Times and The New York Times tried a couple of weeks back: tack a dubious Gaga link to our hed and lede and grab a few extra eyeballs. (Read Gene Weingarten’s more satirical use of the same tact here.)

And now that we have you…

The two articles in question spotlight the (possible) dangers and illegality of a new fashion fad among teenage girls—large, colorful contact lenses called “circle lenses” designed to make the eyes look bigger. Both suggest the trend springs from, you guessed it, pop star Lady Gaga, who sported oversized, anime-style eyes in her music video for the song “Bad Romance.” But the link is less a true relationship than a journalist’s assumption, and not the only piece of careless reporting the two stories—“What Big Eyes You Have, Dear, but Are Those Contacts Risky?” in New York and “Those big, round Lady Gaga contact lenses worry some doctors” in L.A.—share in common.

Both jump off in similar style. From Catherine Saint Louis’s New York Times piece:

Of all the strange outfits and accessories Lady Gaga wore in her “Bad Romance” video, who would have guessed that the look that would catch fire would be the huge anime-style eyes she flashed in the bathtub?

These lenses might be just another beauty fad if not for the facts that they are contraband and that eye doctors express grave concern over them. It is illegal in the United States to sell any contact lenses — corrective or cosmetic — without a prescription, and no major maker of contact lenses in the United States currently sells circle lenses.

And from Jessie Schiewe at the L.A. Times:

Call her super-talented or super-insane, there’s no denying that Lady Gaga has a magnetic effect on young girls, inspiring thousands of young fans to don blond wigs, sheer lace leggings, yellow caution tape and even sunglasses made out of cigarettes. But, the latest Gaga trend — circle lenses, has got not only fashion critics worried, but eye doctors as well.

Except, of course, the pieces have zero evidence that circle lenses are a Lady Gaga trend at all; or that she’s even heard of them. Neither reporter offers proof that the star’s mammoth peepers in the video—clearly the result of digital tweaking, at least to this naked eye—were enhanced by any sort of contact. Saint Louis even admits as much in her next paragraph:

Lady Gaga’s wider-than-life eyes were most likely generated by a computer, but teenagers and young women nationwide have been copying them with special contact lenses imported from Asia.

Okay, but the three teenage girls the Times goes on to interview about the trend never mention Gaga as an inspiration for their new look (or their illegal online purchases). The link is almost established with mention of a YouTube makeup tutorial that shows how to use circle lenses to get the Bad Romance look. And that video has been viewed over nine million times (more now no doubt thanks to a nod from the Times), but there’s no proof any proportion of those viewers are young American girls.

The implication that Gaga “inspired” the trend is weightless in both pieces; and both writers tacitly acknowledge this in some capacity describing how the trend began in Asia. From Saint Louis:

The look is characteristic of Japanese anime and is also popular in Korea. Fame-seekers there called “ulzzang girls” post cute but sexy head shots of themselves online, nearly always wearing circle lenses to accentuate their eyes. (“Ulzzang” means “best face” in Korean, but it is also shorthand for “pretty.”)

Now that circle lenses have gone mainstream in Japan, Singapore and South Korea, they are turning up in American high schools and on college campuses. “In the past year, there’s been a sharp increase in interest here in the U.S.,” said Joyce Kim, a founder of, an Asian pop fan site with a forum devoted to circle lenses. “Once early adopters have adequately posted about it, discussed it and reviewed them, it’s now available to everyone.”

With Gaga out of the way, both stories then go through the familiar this-trend-could-be-dangerous motions. But there doesn’t seem much to it. From Schiewe:

Perhaps the biggest tiff that doctors such as Salz have with these lenses is that girls can buy these without a prescription. No prescription means no sizing or fitting of the lenses to the eye.

“Each eye is unique and has different curvatures. There isn’t just one size,” Salz said.

For those who wear contacts that are too tight, the risks include swelling of the cornea, redness or corneal abrasion. Contacts that are too loose will move around and can also cause irritation and redness.

These and other highlighted problems—sleeping in the contacts can lead to infection, ill-fitting contacts can cause visionary problems—are hardly unique to circle lenses; they’re the caveat for any contact lenses. So, in sum: these big contacts are dangerous… just like little contacts.

We’re not saying there’s no story here, but the reporting’s not there to back it up. And though other write-ups on the lenses have taken a similar tact tack, we’d expect better from these two coastal pillars. There’s nothing to show for the pop star connection, and the danger angle feels like a bit of a beat-up. The L.A. Times seems says as much in its piece.

Dr. James Salz, clinical professor of ophthalmology at USC, says the lenses aren’t radically different from the older colored contacts used for years to change people’s eye color, “except that before, the contacts weren’t also trying to enlarge the color of the iris.”

And while both articles point out there is greater concern here because the lenses are not being prescribed but bought online, and thus there is no proper medical instruction, this is the case with all un-prescribed medications bought on the Internet. And we’re not seeing stories about those.

Must be the Gaga factor, even if it’s not there.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.