Why Kanye West's blue contacts at the Met Gala were so controversial


The theme of last night’s annual Met Gala was “Manus x Machina,” an exploration of fashion in the age of technology.

People came adorned in leather, latex, feathers, and metal, but of all the many striking style choices made, there’s one that has Twitter firmly divided: Kanye West’s colored contacts.

Both West and his wife Kim Kardashian attended the gala in glittering, highly-reflective Balmain ensembles that Kanye topped off with a pair of contacts that turned his normally brown eyes an icy shade of Whitewalker blue.

West wore similar contacts to Saturday Night Live‘s 40th Anniversary Special where he performed his song Wolves. The look, optometrist Mitch Cassel told People, was intentional.

“He just wanted to have his eyes to be more like a wolf—something that would pop and be more identifiable, something different,” Cassel explained. “But he didn’t want it to look too artificial.”

This time around, the effect, one imagines, was to evoke the idea of a cyborg or android—a humanoid whose body was mechanically enhanced or synthetic. It’s an aesthetic that other artists working with similar ideas have used in the past and one that many of Kanye’s fans seemed to like.


Others—particularly people familiar with black history and the community’s relationship to white beauty standards—read West’s contacts as a reification of an old, problematic ideal.

Buzzfeed‘s Saeed Jones made a point of calling West out for apparently never having read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and he wasn’t alone in his critique.


The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s first novel, tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl growing up in an abusive home and struggling with a crippling inferiority complex due to her not having white skin and blue eyes. By the end of the book, it becomes clear that the only refuge Pecola can find from her mental anguish and torment is in insanity.

In 2008, speaking to the Visionary Project, Morrison explained that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she wanted to unpack and explore the concept of black internalized racism linked to the idea of being ugly.

“I wrote The Bluest Eye because someone would actually be apologetic about the fact that their skin was so dark,” Morrison said. “And how when I was a kid, we called each other names but we didn’t think it was serious.”

She continued:

So [The Bluest Eye] was about taking it in, before we all decide that we are all beautiful, and have always been beautiful; I wanted to speak on the behalf of those who didn’t catch that right away.

Though The Bluest Eye was originally published in 1970, the concept of black beauty being measured by its proximity to whiteness predates the book and has continued since. “Becky with the good hair” isn’t just a lyrical dig that Beyoncé breathed new life back into with Lemonade, it’s a part of the long history of black hair being considered less-than due to its naturally curly, kinky texture.

In a similar vein, lighter, blue, green, and hazel eyes are often considered to be more beautiful than the darker shades of brown most commonly associated with black people. While “good hair” and lighter eyes do occur naturally in some black folks, there’s a multi-million dollar industry built up to give those with darker features the choice to alter their appearances.

Kanye wouldn’t be the first celebrity of color to come under fire for wearing colored contacts in an apparent attempt to anglicize his features. In 2013, Naomi Campbell drew criticism for a photo shoot with Vogue Thailand in which she wore contacts and apparently had her skin digitally altered to appear lighter.

Earlier this year, former reality TV star and blue contact enthusiast Tila Tequila got into a minor Twitter beef with Kanye while arguing that she was actually “Aryan” (not Vietnamese), and that #AryanLivesMattered. Most recently, rapper Lil Kim debuted a new look of her own featuring dramatically bleached skin, processed hair, and, yes, colored contacts.

West’s reasons for opting for blue eyes are entirely his own, but the optics of his look carries a much deeper significance that merely coordinating his eyes with his jacket.

When E! asked him specifically about the contacts, his one-word response: “Vibes.”

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