Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and the Rise of the Googly EyesThe bigger, the better, right? For a generation of kids, doe eyes are all the rage. Photos of young women in both Asia and the West show that this trend isn't going anywhere. Big eyes are here to stay.


The look is a melding of both the real and the unreal. Eyes that existed only in comic books and video games are entering our three dimensional world. Or, are they? Ideals are taking their cues from computerized images, and beauty isn't skin deep, it's pixel deep.

The big-eyed look isn't new. I wrote about them in 2005, when black contact lenses became all the rage. Before that, young Japanese women seemed more interested in contacts that made their eyes blue or green. The black contacts made them appear larger, thanks to black circles that increased the size of the iris. After the lenses, which initially were not prescription, hit big in Japan, contact lens makers began selling prescription versions. The trend coincided with a movement towards pale skin. For centuries, even before the arrival of Westerners, pale skin was highly prized in Japan. Coupled with a movement back towards dark eyes, shows this trend was part of a larger return to traditional Japanese beauty.

But large, bright eyes aren't necessarily "traditional" at all. Yet, in Japan, characters with enormous eyes show up all over the place—making the look appear to be Japanese. However, American cartoons—most notably Walt Disney—influenced the look in cute Japanese characters. Tezuka Osamu, the famed Japanese artist and animator, grew up before World War II a huge Disney fan. When he came of age in the years following the war, his manga characters didn't simply ape Disney's designs, but did carry their influence. There were big-eyed characters here and there before Tezuka, but since he was so influential (and so talented), his characters and his style set the tone for Japanese manga and anime. The "big-eyed look" is now synonymous with Japanese anime.

Around the same time that black contact lenses were taking off in Japan, Japanese sticker machine makers began filling arcades with sticker machines that would make people's eyes bigger. It was a software trick, and the onboard computer would locate your eyes and the make them appear "larger" by adding rings around your iris—much like the contact lens did.

This big-eyed trend continued throughout the end of the last decade in Japan. Online make-up artist Michelle Phan helped spread the big-eyed look to the West with her make-up videos. CBS News reported that teens were snapping up non-prescription "circle lenses" from Asia, warning that the lenses could damage your iris. In the West, the contact trend was apparently inspired by Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" video.

In it, Lady Gaga appeared with enormous, computer altered googly eyes. Since then, more and more young women in both Asia and the West started going all googly eyed. Honestly, I doubt that Lady Gaga's video influence the majority—though, I'm sure it influenced some of them. Rather, her video is a mainstream turning point for the look—it helps mark when the trend was no longer grounded in reality. It's a moment that the trend became altered and crystallized. It's something we can point to.

Nicki Minaj's video "Stupid Hoe" is pitching up that googly-eyed torch and running with it. Internet person Dakota Rose, who finally became famous because of her huge eyes, is set to make her debut in Japan

In the past few months, more and more photos have surfaced in Japan, in China, and in the West that depict individuals with abnormally large eyes. The photos have been either altered with software or camera tricks. The googly eyed look walks the fine line between anime cute and totally disturbing—with, more often than not, it veering into freaky.

Those photos show women (and men) starring into cameras. They're vain. They're empty. And they're not real. So don't call them big eyes. This look is something totally different, rooted in imagery and altering said imagery. They've created a look that is neither based in reality, not does it exist in reality. They're fantasy and freaky, cute and creepy. Call them googly eyes. That, or disturbing.


Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.