It all started with Kanye. I was looking at a photo of him and Kim Kardashian from the 2016 Met Gala, in which Kardashian’s spectacular Balmain gown, created with actual pieces of disco ball, somehow managed to accentuate her impossible-to-accentuate-further bottom. But it was Kanye—love him or hate him—whose getup ensnared me. It wasn’t his crystal-adorned Balmain jacket that got me (although that was pretty amazing); it was his eyes, which he’d transformed for the evening into a hypnotic blue-green that was part husky, part Game of Thrones White Walker, and wholly badass.
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I decided I needed to get them myself. (It must be a by-product of my growing up in New York City, where you glimpse all manner of folks with outrageous everything, that I view the zany as beautiful.) I knew, as with Kanye, the wild color would pop against my dark complexion.
I track down Kanye’s optometrist, Mitch Cassel, whose Studio Optix office in Manhattan specializes in custom, hand-painted contacts. Cassel treats patients with eye disfigurements, as well as celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, whom he fitted with jaundiced-looking lenses for The Revenant, but the majority of his clients are people like me, angling to add an electrifying touch to their look. While a pair of his lenses can run well past the four-figure mark, Cassel insists the result makes you walk differently, “like changing your hair color.” Perfect timing, because my hairstylist had just put the kibosh on another round of bleach—my look’s current source of fantastical zaniness—until some of my breakage grew out. For the first time in three years, my hair was mostly an unfantastical brunette.
Cassel is busy with the likes of Leo, so I impatiently order myself green, garish violet, gold-flecked hazel, and dreamy blue contacts from LensCircle, a site that stocks practically every shade of FDA-approved (something to look out for!) lenses. I opt for “circle lenses,” a style with an extrawide outer rim that makes your irises appear like saucers (think: Lady Gaga lurching around in the bathtub in her “Bad Romance” video).
A few days later, I receive the package, tear it open, and have a ball trying out all the different lenses. (Note: If you’re considering circle lenses for the first time, give yourself, like, 45 minutes to actually get them into your eyes. It feels dreadfully unnatural at first—even if you’re used to regular contacts.) The violet isn’t pigmented enough to really show up over my own tree-bark-brown irises. The hazel is pretty but not nearly weird enough. The green is awesome, but the blue—especially in contrast to my skin—is it. Forget the old-timey stigma that women of color who wear contact lenses to adopt a lighter iris shade are grappling with feelings of racial self-hate: Mesmerizing crystalline-geode eyes—not found in nature, people!—and physical experimentation are pure fun.
That Saturday, I make my debut as a blue-eyed girl. As I walk around SoHo, I’m pulsating with that distinct energy you acquire from wearing a new dress that makes your waist look small and your legs infinite. I lock eyes with an attractively scruffy man, who grins at me as he passes. On the same block, a dapper-looking couple glance at me, whisper something to each other, and then look back at me and smile. As I leave a boutique, the security guard tells me I cut a nice figure. Why in the name of Yeezy have I not been rocking these my entire adult life?
Later, waiting for the subway, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around to face two women dressed like Alexa Chung, the kind of It Girl influencer types who’d have upwards of 10,000 Instagram followers each.
“We just spotted you from across the platform—you’re so exotic,” one says. “We have a clothing line. Would you be interested in coming to a casting call to model in our fall show?”
I say I’d love to and take their card. As they walk away, I think how crazy it is that contact lenses are responsible for this inordinate amount of attention. Or are they? I chase after the women.
“Can I ask you guys something?” I say, catching them as they step into their train. “Did you notice me because I have blue eyes?”
The women peer closer, their faces now inches from mine. “Ohmygod, you do have blue eyes!” one says. “We stopped you because we thought your hair and style and vibe were cool and confident.”
And then, the door closes.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of ELLE.