The fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood has been interpreted in myriad ways, particularly as sexual awakening or sexual coming of age (either biologically or socially, depending on which bath-house you pray in). Perhaps if the crimson-caped interloper existed today, she'd wear fire-engine red circle lenses to accent her childlike, doe-eyed innocence.

What in the Sam Hill, you ask, are circle lenses? I didn't know they existed until I read an article on the newest (somewhat illegal) beauty fad sweeping the current crop of young seekers.1 People dye their hair, imbue their skin with permanent ink,2 and other such color-based methods of changing appearance.3 There are even color contact lenses available, if you don't care for the eye color your genes dictated (too bad Dorothy didn't have this option, as dyeing your eyes to match your gown seems a bit foolish, unless you have a mono-toned wardrobe like Johnny Cash).

Circle lenses are specially colored contacts that make the eyes appear larger because they cover not just the iris, as normal lenses do, but also part of the whites.4 In and of itself, this seems innocuous, I suppose. At least you aren't permanently disfiguring your eyes, like kids do with their earlobes by gauging. And while I disagree with the desire to make yourself appear anime and/or more child-like when you're already pretty young, I acknowledge that kids and adults do that already with clothing, makeup, Catholic school girl uniforms,5 etc. Beauty fads come and go.6 But what if the fad could actually physically damage your vision?

You can order pretty much anything off the Internet, and that goes for circle lenses as well. The problem: it is illegal to sell any contact lenses — corrective or cosmetic — in the U.S. without a prescription, and circle lenses don't require a doctor's note. Yet you can buy them online (~$20-$30 per pair) in prescription strength, or just as normal lenses for those not requiring visual correction.

Women in Asia are going gaga over these circle lenses, and perhaps that trend was kickstarted there and/or here in the U.S. by Ms. Gaga herself. In the video for "Bad Romance," the Lady appears in certain shots to have oversized Minnie Mouse eyes.7

Since celebrities spawn whackjob fashion trends,8 perhaps it's no surprise that the Internet generation of young kids has spread the word and started importing circle lenses from around the globe.9 But not only can you mess up your vision (you can pick whatever strength prescription you want), you could possible deprive your eyes of oxygen if the lenses don't fit correctly.

Here's a blurb from the NY Times article:
Karen Riley, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A., was a bit surprised, too. When first contacted last month, she did not know what circle lenses were or the extent to which they had caught on. Soon after, she wrote in an e-mail message, “Consumers risk significant eye injuries — even blindness" when they buy contact lenses without a valid prescription or help from an eye professional.

Dr. S. Barry Eiden, an optometrist in Deerfield, Ill., who is chairman of the contact lens and cornea section of the American Optometric Association, said that people selling circle lenses online “are encouraging the avoidance of professional care.” He warned that ill-fitting contact lenses could deprive the eye of oxygen and cause serious vision problems.

Nina Nguyen, a 19-year-old Rutgers student from Bridgewater, N.J., said she was wary at first. “Our eyes are precious,” she said. “I wasn’t going to put any type of thing in my eyes.”

But after she saw how many students at Rutgers had circle lenses — and the groundswell of users online — she relented. Now she describes herself as “a circle lens addict.”

“What made me comfortable is so many girls out there wearing them,” Ms. Nguyen said.

Oh, well, kudos to you, Ms. Nguyen, for making a stellar medical decision based on "what everyone else is doing." (N.B. I know Karen Riley, and she's great. That is irrelevant to the article, but I so rarely know people in the news, so I want to name-drop and seem connected.) A groundswell of users online and a group of her friends is all the scientific evidence this girl needs? Sign me up for phen-phen, then. You can buy them online from Malaysia to Toronto, in colors from pink to black and even with messages like the "highly sought after 'I love you'" lenses.

Say you want to look like Edward from Twilight - no problem, invest in a pair of the "Twilight" series circle lenses (see left). Or say you're tired of the blonde-tressed, blue-eyed girls having all the fun - purchase a pair of the blue Super Angel Series circle lenses to turn your brown eyes blue (see right).10 No matter what the occasion, you can buy lenses with wings, flowers, the aforementioned messages, etc to add that extra sparkle to your ocular orbs. If the eyes are the window to the soul, you've either just lens-blocked anyone intent on soul-peeping, or you've exposed your soul as vain. Or you could go with Groucho Marx, who said, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" Given that your eyes are fake, I'd go with Groucho.

Anyway, these lenses could cause some serious damage to parts of the eye like the cornea, could lead to infection, could damage the eye from lack of oxygen (since circle lenses do not allow moisture to flow over the eye)...need I go on? I wouldn't buy contact lenses from a hot dog street vendor, so why would I buy them from an online vendor? You get the same guarantee of product integrity and safety - i.e., none - and you could severely harm one of your five senses.

One of the more "legit" sites, or so it seemed, had a pros and cons on purchasing circle lenses versus normal color contact lenses. Let's compare, shall we?

A little searching and you discover that the site is based in Korea, which is not in itself a bad thing, but it sure is if you're purchasing a medical device (which is how FDA classifies contact lenses) from an unregulated site and you live in the U.S. Pharma Web sites from other countries clearly stipulate that they aren't legally allowed to market ex-U.S. meds to U.S. citizens (nor can they give medical advice), so why would it be ok for medical devices, especially ones that are unregulated?

Circling back to the Red Riding Hood story, the photos advertising these circle lenses are essentially soft-porn. Check out this photo, which is used to induce young women to buy the above-mentioned blue Super Angel Series lenses. Or this one, with the ubiquitous school girl lollipop. So, if I buy these, I'll be doe-eyed and innocent, yet my appearance will simultaneously suggest the same look-but-don't-touch sexual kitten naughtiness of a stripper. Awesome, where do I sign up my pre-pubescent tween cousins?

1 Although few wear capes, unless they believe they are vampires and/or attend Comic-Con.
2 "Permanent" being relative, as a few sessions with a laser-wielding practitioner can erase your tramp stamp or your faded tribute to Faster Pussycat.
3 I don't get why runaways and fugitives dye their hair, given current facial recognition software. I'd think a prosthetic nose and baseball cap would work a little better (although it seemed to work for Harrison Ford in Fugitive, so what do I know).
4 See the NY Times article here.
5 How'd that work out for you, Britney Spears?
6 I hope grunge comes back in to style. It's so much easier wearing flannel and jeans off your floor than actually caring about your appearance. I miss you, late 1980s/early 1990s Seattle grunge aesthetic.
7 I was forced to watch this video for journalistic integrity; I can't very well talk about this subject without knowing what the reporters are talking about. I am not gaga for Gaga. If you're in to bizarre, sibylline expressions of disturbing art, you'll love this video. Also note that for most of the video, especially the close-ups of her eyes for longer than a microsecond, you only see her normal and lovely greyish eyes. Why did kids fixate on the few flashes of creepy anime eyes?
8 See MC Hammer's parachute pants or 80s glam metal big hair.
9 Even purchasing pseudo-FDA regulated products from the globe is a bad idea - heparin, anyone?
10 Crystal Gayle did this in 1977, simply by discovering that her former lover found someone new.