Hello Kitty is taking over the world. I’ve already surrendered to her powerful cuteness. I don’t know if I’ll ever outgrow Sanrio – I’m 21 years old and Hello Kitty is still everywhere: on my keys, on my Ipod, in my car, in my makeup, on my pencil, part of my email address… So, when Sanrio came up in Sharon Kinsella’s article, “Cuties in Japan”, I tried to look at my obsession through a different lens.
Why do I look Hello Kitty so much? Well, past the obvious cuteness. What is it about Hello Kitty that inspired Kimora Lee Simmons to design a jewelry collection around her? Or motivated MAC makeup to create a whole Hello Kitty line? The little kitten jumped off of the stationary, took over everything from rain boots to kitchen appliances, and now she’s moving into the world of high-end fashion. Kinsella discusses the idea that stamping Hello Kitty on a product can make it seem more personalized. She writes: “Cuteness loaned personality and a subjective presence to otherwise meaningless – and often useless – consumer goods and in this way made them more attractive to potential buyers” (Kinsella 228). Well maybe that’s it. Do I like Hello Kitty because a cute pink rice cooker feels so much more like mine than a regular old white one? After all, it is understood in my circle of friends that if something’s pink and/or has Hello Kitty on it, it probably belongs to me. However, if everyone’s jumping on the Sanrio wagon, it can’t all be about personalization.
Kinsella’s article also talks about cute idols such as Hello Kitty perpetuating infantilism. She states “Being cute meant behaving childlike…” (Kinsella 237). While I can see a certain appeal to leaving all my responsibilities behind and retreating to the state of an innocent, carefree little girl, I don’t think that’s really why I’m so attracted to Hello Kitty.
In another aspect of my mini analysis of Hello Kitty Mania, something from Kawamura’s book, Fashion-ology, came to mind. In her section on Fashion, Modernity and Social Mobility she quotes: “People like fashion from outside and such foreign fashions assume greater values within the circle, simply because they did not originate there” (Kawamura 25). Perhaps Hello Kitty holds so much appeal for Americans because it’s something “foreign” – a cute ambassador from the exotic Asia. And because it’s foreign and exotic it becomes something novel – which, as we know, drives the world of fashion.
So why does it seem to be so popular amongst Asian American girls in particular? Could be any number of reasons. Maybe we internalize the Sanrio’s image and think that’s how we should present ourselves. Maybe we have more access to Sanrio products and decide to capitalize on this commodity of cuteness because it’s something our American counterparts desire, as well. I remember picking up some Hello Kitty stationary on a grocery trip to the Asian mart with my mom when I was younger. I brought it to school and was surprised at how much all the other girls thought it was just the cutest thing in the world. What’s funny is that everyone sees Hello Kitty as such an Asian thing. If you read up on the character you learn that she “lives” in London. Apparently, she was created as English to appeal to the Japanese girls that were so obsessed British culture at the time. Go figure.
After all of this I’ve gained a little insight into my Hello Kitty infatuation, but I still can’t fully explain why Hello Kitty products turn me into a full-out consumer whore. Her huge eyes and little pick bow still hold a spell over me that keeps me shelling out money.
- Carmel Crisologo
Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashion-ology An Introduction to Fashion Studies (Dress, Body, Culture). New York: Berg, 2005.
Kinsella, Sharon. "Cuties In Japan". Spring 2009. Class Reader.