The room was dimly lit, and Liu Siyao’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. She waved her finger in front of her right eye, and suddenly, her pupil lit up with a bright blue light. This effect, like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, had quickly gained popularity after she posted it online.
Liu Siyao, a 27-year-old ocularist, had made the cyberpunk accessory herself by implanting a small chip into her prosthetic eye and holding a magnetic switch in her hand. She goes by the handle Xintong on social media, and her video had quickly gone viral.
Since her ocular prosthesis studio opened in Beijing last year, Liu has been busy fulfilling orders from people across the country who have monocular visual impairment. Her aim is to create ocular prostheses that look as natural as possible, are comfortable to wear, and bring confidence to people’s lives.
Liu’s dream was to be a dancer, and she began learning at the age of eight. However, her dream was shattered when she lost her right eye in a car accident in 2013. She had to implant an ocular prosthesis to replace her right eyeball, which was removed in a surgery after the accident. However, the artificial eye was neither comfortable nor looked natural.
Liu had to make adjustments to the way she lived her life, particularly having to walk slowly and carefully, one step at a time, as she would often stumble on stairs and trip while walking on the street. It took time for her to adapt to her impaired spatial awareness and depth perception. She had to turn her head a full 180 degrees when crossing a road, and she often found herself banging into things while dancing.
The first three months after the accident were the worst for Liu. It was a period she describes as her darkest time, during which she was irritable and sensitive. “For a long time, I couldn’t face the reality that I now have only one eye, and I was afraid of looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the wound,” she recalls.
However, Liu did not let her injury define her. She was determined to pursue her dream of dancing and not let her monocular vision limit her. She continued to dance, taking small steps and adjusting her movements accordingly. With time, she was able to regain her confidence and embrace her new normal.
Liu’s experience with her own ocular prosthesis inspired her to create a business that would help others with monocular visual impairment. She saw a gap in the market for ocular prostheses that were both comfortable and natural-looking. Her studio quickly gained popularity, and she became known for her ability to create realistic-looking ocular prostheses that restored people’s confidence.
For Liu, her work is more than just creating prostheses. It’s about helping people feel comfortable in their own skin again and restoring their sense of self-worth. She knows firsthand how important it is to feel confident in one’s appearance, especially after a life-altering event like losing an eye.
As Liu continues to grow her business and help more people, she remains committed to her passion for dancing. She knows that it’s not always easy, but she is determined to never let her injury hold her back from pursuing her dreams. Liu’s resilience and determination are an inspiration to those who have faced similar challenges and a reminder that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.
It took Liu Siyao half a year before she could reach out to her friends and dance again. Accepting her new situation and sensitivity was a gradual process that required patience and time. After college, Liu became a dance teacher for children. During one dance practice, she was pirouetting so fast that her prosthetic eye fell out of its socket. Her first instinct was to cover her right eye to hide her empty eye socket. The experience was embarrassing, as she compared it to being naked in the middle of a room.
Liu joined chat groups for individuals with the same visual impairment and discovered that many of them encountered similar issues in their daily lives, including work, relationships, and social stigma. Currently, prosthetic eyes in China are divided into two categories: large-scale production and custom-made. Since each person’s eyes are unique in size, color, and even the distribution of blood vessels, a finished prosthetic eye is rarely realistic. Liu wondered whether she could make better artificial eyes for herself and others with similar visual impairments.
Liu understood the significance of a comfortable and realistic prosthetic eye to those in the group. It would provide them with confidence, enabling them to return to society fully. In 2020, despite opposition from her family, Liu quit her job as a dance teacher and became an ocularist. She knew that it was a unique profession that required her experience and that it would provide her with room for future development.
Liu’s ocular prosthesis studio, which opened in Beijing in 2020, quickly became busy with orders from individuals across China with monocular visual impairments. She aims to create ocular prostheses that are natural-looking, comfortable to wear, and instill confidence in people’s lives. Her dream of being a dancer was shattered when she lost her right eye in a car accident in 2013. She implanted an ocular prosthesis to replace her right eyeball, which was removed in a surgery after the accident, but it was neither comfortable nor natural-looking.
After the accident, Liu had to adjust the way she lived her life. She had to walk slowly and carefully, taking one step at a time, as she would often stumble on stairs and trip while walking on the street. It took time to adapt to her impaired spatial awareness and depth perception. When crossing the road, she had to turn her head a full 180 degrees, and while dancing, she often found herself bumping into objects.
The first three months following the accident were the worst for Liu, describing it as her darkest time, during which she was irritable and sensitive. She struggled to face the reality of her new situation and the fear of looking at herself in the mirror and seeing the wound. It took time and patience to accept her new situation and sensitivity, and she gradually rediscovered her confidence.
Liu’s unique experience and determination led her to become an ocularist, a profession she knew would provide her with more room for future development. Despite her family’s opposition, she quit her job as a dance teacher in 2020 and opened an ocular prosthesis studio in Beijing. Her goal is to create natural-looking and comfortable prosthetic eyes that restore confidence to people in China with monocular visual impairments.
Learning how to make prosthetic eyes took Liu Siyao more than a year, as it is still a niche field in China. She had to master the structural characteristics of Asian people’s eyeballs, acquire knowledge of art, and develop sensitivity to color. Liu had to work on each aspect to make prosthetic eyes, practicing thousands of times to perfect the necessary skills. In addition to learning from experienced professionals as an apprentice, she sought information from foreign courses and taught herself different aspects of the trade.
Most of the steps of making an artificial eye require careful handwork and a high level of patience. First, she creates a mold based on the patient’s eye socket, which she uses to craft a custom-fitted prosthesis. She usually uses a macro super high-resolution camera to take a picture of the client’s functional eye to re-create the eye’s shape and color.
Liu’s goal is to create ocular prostheses that are comfortable to wear, look natural, and bring confidence to the lives of people in China with monocular issues. She pays close attention to the little details, such as painting the pink part and blood vessels in the corners of the eye to make the artificial eye look more realistic. Each artificial eye takes from three to five days to make.
Creating the prosthesis is not the end of Liu’s work; she provides ongoing care and adjustment to ensure that the prosthesis remains in good condition. She also answers questions from her clients. Liu’s approach is to make her clients feel comfortable, and she understands that many of them may feel intimidated during consultations. She has had clients with atrophied eyes, removed eyes, or pupils that have turned blue, which are all common conditions for people with a single working eye. Consultations became more of a process to get them to open up, and Liu often receives letters of thanks from her clients and their families.
Liu’s family initially opposed her decision to be an ocularist, as they believed it would be difficult to make a living in this field. However, she believed it was a profession in which she had unique experience, and it would provide her with more room for future development. Liu is now fulfilling her dream of being a dancer by incorporating her skills as an ocularist into her performances. She hopes that her work will help people with monocular visual impairment rediscover their confidence and fully return to society.