Elizabeth Taylor: Beautiful Mutant

Slate's Culture Blog
March 25 2011 12:41 PM

Elizabeth Taylor: Beautiful Mutant


The late Elizabeth Taylor waswidely known for her violet eyes so much so that she named her newest fragrance after them. I was slightly crushed,then, to discover that, by most official accounts ,Taylor's eyes were actually a deep blue that appeared purple when enhanced by lighting and makeup. (Truly violeteyes occur only in albinos .)


While she might not have had bona fide purple eyes, asanyone who saw Elizabeth Taylor onscreen knows, they were still  arresting: large,liquid, and framed by a thick fringe of eyelashes. With respect to thoseeyelashes, Taylor apparently hit the jackpot, genetically. According tobiographer J. Randy Tarborelli, just after her birth, Taylor's parents wereushered into the doctor's office and told that their newborn daughter had a mutation :

"Well, that sounded just awful," the girl's motherlater recall[ed], "a mutation .But, when he explained that her eyes had double rows of eyelashes, I thought,well, now, that doesn't sound so terrible at all."

Double rows of eyelashes are usually the result of a mutationat FOXC2 , a gene that influences all kinds oftissue development in embryos. FOXC2 mutations are thought to be responsiblefor, among other things, lymphedema-distichiasissyndrome , a hereditary disease that can cause disorders of the lymphaticsystem in addition to double eyelashes.

The eyelash mutation isn't always as cosmetically enhancing asTaylor's turned out to be the extra eyelashes can sometimes grow inward anddamage the cornea. And it turns out that 7 percent of people withlymphedema-distichiasis syndrome also suffer from congenital heart disease.Taylor herself had a history of heart problems in 2009, Taylor underwentsurgery to repair a "leaky valve", and her death on Wednesday was attributed tocongestive heart failure.

The late actor Richard Burton, who accounted for two ofTaylor's eight marriages, was oddly dismissive of her beauty, saying that she had a double chin, an overdeveloped chest, andshort legs. But, he conceded, "she has wonderful eyes."

Special thanks to Dr.Janet Sparrow and Dr. Stephen Tsang from the Ophthalmology Department atColumbia University, and to makeup artist Elias Gutierrez.

Photograph of Elizabeth Taylor courtesy of Getty Images.

Follow  Brow Beat on Twitter . For more  culture coverage, like  Slate  Culture  on Facebook.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.