When Selena Gomez, Kylie Jenner, and other influencers began popping in colored contacts to different events late last year, my first thought was something along the lines of Please no—is this really a thing again? I, like many people, I’m sure, remember the last time switching up your eye color was in vogue a little too vividly—specifically, that you could spot those fake irises from 50 yards away. I had really thought that like so many unfortunate trends of the mid-aughts, this one was dead and buried. (Then again, skinny scarves are back, so maybe it’s time to accept the fact that these things never really go away.)
But in spite of this cynical gut reaction, I found myself perusing photos of Gomez at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in November 2016, where she was sporting temporary blue eyes. And I realized the reason I was so enthralled was that these weren’t the colored contacts I remembered. They looked so… real. The effect was jarring and transformative, and I began to wonder what it would be like to toy with my own genetics.
We dye our hair and use makeup to alter and amplify our features, but changing our eye color somehow feels more taboo, more akin to changing one’s height or shoe size. Then again, maybe it’s the fact that the option hasn’t been commercially available to us for very long at all—it’s more of a futuristic fantasy, fodder for The Hunger Games. I was born with hazel eyes, and have accepted that as my fate—even if my hair has been nearly every color of the rainbow at this point.
But it looks like that’s all about to change, thanks to a new crop of colored contacts that are more lifelike than ever. There’s Acuvue’s Define line, which is designed to enhance your own natural color by adding contrast and shine, and then there are true color contacts like those in Air Optix’s collection, which are so realistic a stranger would never be the wiser.
We know that there are psychological ties to hair color; just this facet of our appearance can alter the way people see us, as well as the way we see ourselves. Could the same be said for our eyes? I took it upon myself to find out. With the help of three different Air Optix colors, I decided to spend a week experiencing the world through eyes that aren’t exactly my own. Here's what happened to me.
I first tried on these deep blue lenses on a Friday, with an audience of fellow Byrdie editors. I was immediately struck by the way the contacts allowed a ring of my natural color to shine through around the pupil, and I loved the contrast between the dark aqua and my given brownish-green—it was striking but somehow still very believable.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that changing your eye color is an oddly transformative experience. I internalized the escapism and immediately began to feel unlike myself—that is, not awkward, even a little sultry. “I want to wear these out tonight and see what happens,” I mused aloud. “They’re great, but are you planning on going to a bar with very bright lighting?” a co-worker shot back. Touché.
I’ve grown to love my natural eye color, but my inner 12-year-old—the one who wanted light eyes so badly—was excited to try out this gray-blue pair. Sure enough, I felt like a completely different person after slipping these on, like I could command and intimidate a room with just a steely stare.
But then confidence gave way to outrage as I remembered that a very similar eye color actually runs in my family. How did I get so shafted by my own DNA? I texted a selfie to my younger brother, who was blessed with said naturally grayish-blue irises. “It is genetically unfair that you were born with these eyes and I was not,” I said. “We can’t all be perfect,” he replied. (Oh, the privilege.)
Nevertheless, they were also the unequivocal favorite among my co-workers and friends, both for their dramatic look and the obvious swagger that seemed to take hold of me while I was wearing them. “You are feeling those,” said a friend over drinks. I was… until I wasn’t. As fun as they were to wear in the company of both those who knew about my weeklong experiment and complete strangers who wouldn’t have known the difference, there were moments—particularly during run-of-the-mill activities like grocery shopping and grabbing a coffee—when I felt pangs of self-consciousness like I was so obviously playing dress-up. The fact that I looked so different while running the most mundane errands just didn’t sit right with me for some reason.
I had barely sat down in a meeting when the colleague seated next to me peered intently into my eyes. “Uh, what’s up?” I said with a frozen smile. “Just trying to see what color you’re wearing today,” she said. Ah. I had actually forgotten I had the contacts in to begin with—a common theme during my days with the green pair, but not an unfortunate one at all. Since they’re so similar to my natural color, the effect was subtle but flattering, not unlike the Acuvue Define lenses I’ve tried in the past.
And as wild (and mostly fun) as it was to try out those very different shades of blue, I ultimately felt most comfortable and confident with the green contacts. It turns out that while I can definitely enjoy the fantasy of channeling someone different, in the end, I’d rather just play myself.