BANGKOK, Thailand — For Thai teenagers, Japan and Korea emanate all that is hip: candy-colored sneakers, saccharine-sweet pop bands, hair spiked in impossible directions.
Now, in Bangkok’s after-school hangouts, a new trend has emerged. Thanks to imported cosmetic contact lenses, girls’ irises look cartoonishly huge.
“They make my eyes so pretty and colorful,” said Ganika Kamsatta, 16, still in school uniform with her boyfriend at Bangkok’s Siam Square shopping plaza. “All my friends wear them.”
In Thai youth fashion, cuteness is a high commodity, and the lenses give girls twinkling doe eyes. The contacts layer their irises with colors such as “Angel Violet” and “Nudy Celeb Gold,” which can be matched to the day’s outfit. The wearer resembles characters from wildly popular “Anime” cartoons, a fantasy animation genre also imported from East Asia.
“It stems from Korean pop stars and their power to influence Thai teenagers,” said Patchalin Puattrakul, owner of the BigEyeShop.com, an online cosmetic lens store. “Some girls want really black eyes. They don’t like the whites of their eyes. It makes them look more child-like, more adorable.”
Thailand’s culture and health watchdogs, however, have campaigned against the "Big Eye" trend. A Food and Drug Administration committee is now considering tighter regulations on the contacts, which are too often used incorrectly. Teenagers who share the contacts, officials say, could also share ocular diseases and even HIV.
Girls strolling Siam Square with "Big Eye" contacts — there are many — admit to minor irritations, such as discomfort and bloodshot eyes. But none confessed to swapping lenses with friends. “I’m only a little worried,” said Supatcha Manusong, her eyes glittering turquoise. “We just have to be careful to keep them clean.”
Stricter import guidelines have already inconvenienced BigEyeShop.com, said Patchalin, whose orders have been delayed at customs several times. But she’s hardly worried. The store continues to sell about 10 pairs each day at about $30 a pop.
“Some girls buy two pairs each month. It’s a fashion accessory,” she said. “You can’t wear the same set of clothes all year, right?”