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Young Thais go gaga over 'big eyes' contact lenses

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

At a Bangkok college’s cafeteria, a gaggle of female students peers excitedly into little vials on polystyrene trays.

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Submersed in saline solution within each bottle – with gaudy labels such as “Candy,” “Magic Color,” and “Barbie” – are the latest must-have fashion accessories: cosmetic contact lenses in pink, violet, and amber. The colors are striking enough. But it’s the lenses’ size that truly catches the eye.

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Inspired by a fashion craze that mimics the oversized peepers of popular Japanese cartoon characters, many young Thais are gaga over iridescent “big eye” contact lenses, which, they believe, lend them cute, babyish looks by enlarging their irises.

“They make you look like a baby doll,” says Darapan Wisutthiareeruk, wearing exaggerated beetle-green lenses.

Some young men, too, strive for a similar look. “I want to catch people’s attention,” notes Chaiwat Muangthong, a young man who sports a thorny-tousled lavender hairdo with matching lenses. “I match my eye color to my hair,” he adds. In both, Chaiwat has recently gone from ocher to pink to green to blue.

In beauty-obsessed Thailand, youngsters see being narak (cute) as a social prerogative.

“The [teenage] subculture dictates that a girl must be doe-eyed,” explains Pimnipa Thanawinbavorndith, a student peddling the “big eye” lenses during lunch break at her college. “The lenses also make your eyes glisten with a watery sheen.”

At malls and street markets where contacts (most with no dioptric correction) sell for $10 a pair, myriad retailers like Pimnipa’s family are cashing in on the fad.

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Within minutes the business and English major offloads several pairs and takes orders for several more.

Chonchinee Bunnag isn’t one of the takers, though. “I prefer a natural look,” she notes. “The contacts can also be harmful for your eyes.”