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The Aesthetics of Cute

Cute is the kind of thing we tend to accept as universal. The phrases “Make it cute,” “I want cute,” and “That’s cute,” seem to be speaking to something we can all understand. But is your cute really my cute? I don’t think so. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time; partly because whenever the name “Disney” comes up it brings out the inner axe-murderer in me; partly because friends of mine now have small children and the things I find in their houses are to me, quite frankly, horrifying.

Two months ago I watched Bambi for the first time. OK … I didn’t watch the whole thing—after half an hour I had to retreat to the bathroom to throw up. But there was something very interesting. On the same DVD was an animated short called “The Old Mill.” It was actually quite nice. In it the animals don’t talk; they behave quite a bit like animals, and they look like animals … charming, unthreatening but proportionately correct: cute. And then, Bambi. In Bambi the animals are sickeningly saccharine, with huge eyes and long eyelashes. They speak in childish voices (lithps!) and use that shy, upward glance now largely reminiscent of Lady Diana. They behave like humans, in a creepy contortionist kind of way—with only the skin and colouring of animals remaining.

What amazed me was that “The Old Mill” and Bambi were made within a year of each other. And in fact, I was told that “The Old Mill” was a kind of test for the animation and scenery of Bambi. Leaving me to wonder, what the hell happened? At what point did animal characters become so hideously distorted, both in appearance and personality? Well, clearly it didn’t start here, as Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo were made in the 5 years prior to Bambi. (Please note, I hated Fantasia at the age of 10.) But I think there was something about Bambi that locked in a North American aesthetic of cute for generations to come.

The exaggeration of features : caricature vs. cute

A lot of what passes for cute seems to rely on a gross exaggeration of physical features. Hmmm …

Is this a caricature of an older, sad man, or is it one of Disney’s seven dwarves? On its own it is the former, but imagine it in motion with blinking eyes, and a little finger put up to that pouting mouth as one toe of its floppy foot plays along the floor. Cute hunh? If you say so …
Above caricature courtesy of this website.

Personally, the exaggerated features—and especially big eyes—creep me out. The bigger the eyes, the more revolted I am by the creature. Judging by toys for kids, I’m exactly the opposite of most people.

3 of these pigs are relatively cute to me. One is really, really not.

But whatever the size, the presence of eyes seems to be essential … or is it?

The trouble with tribbles is that they are also a rampant pest. Believe it or not, there are people in this world who think that bunnies are definitely not cute. In fact, it might be safe to say that anything in large hordes ceases to lose its cute factor. Surrounded by My Little Ponies? (follow that link). I’m freaked out, howabout you?


Smallness is also a required ingredient. Even when a cute image is rendered large, it’s important to understand its representation as something of a smaller size. Giant mice resemble rats, and are not cute. The dire warning to all potential puppy-buyers is often “Remember, they turn into dogs.”


One company that has captured a whole new market of cute is Alessi.

There we can easily witness that all you need to do is stick a face, or even a pair of eyes onto pretty much anything and it becomes cute. The addition of soft curves makes it instantly appealing and, designers take note, marketable.

Cute is in, and has been for some time, whether we realize it or not. From the VW bug to the Mini to the Smart car—not to mention the iPod. My so called research led me to a japanese site which serves quite well as an example of cute forms which have made it into our everyday products and living.

The forms and aesthetic of Japanese Manga (those eyes!) have influenced the design of running shoes, vehicles and a vast array of computer graphics. Then there’s Hello Kitty, embraced with both devotion and irony by everyone from little girls to big little girls. The North American infatuation with Hello Kitty has influenced a proliferation of simple forms in white and pink in graphic design. Note, Hello Kitty has no mouth. A mouth is not necessary to cute. I quite like Miffy, who has, um … a disconcerting “x” for both mouth and nose.

And then there’s this. See what I mean? Cute no more.


Cute can come in any colour, but the baby colours of pink, blue, white and yellow seem to be preferred. I’m a kind of cute naturalist, myself. I much prefer direct effigies of animals to those that have been tampered with aesthetically. I mean, c’mon, puppies and kittens are already cute! Why make them pastel colours and put big dewy eyes on them?

Add mega-anthropormorphic features like clothes and … uh oh. Care Bears. Sorry people, not cute. Not even remotely cute. Um, excuse me while I …

But cute colours alone are often employed for graphics, to give it that childish innocence that, uh, girls in particular, love. Oh, and then there’s white. Remember black? Remember when we wanted all our technology to be black? Not cute. These days it’s white. Or pink, or …

And marketing

Cute icons have been around for decades as marketing mascots, designed to make products somehow more approachable, friendly and humanistic.

Why does our toilet paper need to be cute? Beats me, but somehow a path was made from toilet paper to soft to pillows to fat, anthropromorphic, cute pillows with heavy eyebrows. Another famous toilet paper employs all-white persian kittens—you know the one—from cute to ass-wiping: that’s quite the leap.


How did I get this far without talking about fur? Why are tribbles cute, even without eyes? Because they’re covered in fur. Fur is the great cutifier of all things (and we laugh at plushie fetishists).

To be honest furless newborns of any kind are just kindof maggotty to me (including humans).

Are eggs cute? Not sure. Kinda; but we eat them. However, cover it in fur, add a couple of eyes and … hey, you’re not having that for breakfast—how cruel are you?

I definitely think we need more fur in graphic design.

Just add sugar

Cute requires an essence of “sweetness” in order to qualify. A baby is cute with a bow, but not with fangs. Birds are cute, but not when they’re dead. However, I’ll take a dead bird over Tweety Bird any day.

How much of our aesthetic for cute is cultural? Quite a bit, I think. Basically, Americans have a higher tolerance for sugar than most. There’s more sugar in food in the US … and in fact, more sugar in sweets—chocolate bars reformulated for the American market tend to contain more sugar than the same product in, say, Britain. And Americans have a higher tolerance for sugar in their cute. Let’s compare …

Winnie-the-Pooh vs. Winnie the Pooh

That’s right, although Disney’s largest moneymaker is the Winnie the Pooh franchise, it is just another borrowed, transformed story from somewhere else. In this case, Britain. The original Winnie-the-Pooh was written by A.A. Milne in 1926, and was illustrated by E.H. Shepard.

The Disney makeover is not as horrific as some, but they have taken what I think are perfectly cute but respectable characters and stirred a whole lot of, um, honey into the pot. And just in case that wasn’t sweet enough for the young ’uns, they made Baby Pooh.

Disney’s characters have a whole lotta smiling going on. Compare to the E.H Shepard drawings above. They’re cute; just not grinning from ear to ear.

Furthermore, although I couldn’t possibly bear to sit through a viewing of the Disney movies, I find it hard to imagine that their Eeyore would ever say anything quite so cutting as this:

“Do you know what A means, little Piglet? […] It means Learning, it means Education. It means all the things that you and Pooh haven’t got. That’s what A means. […] I’m telling you. People come and go in this forest and they say �It’s only Eeyore, so it doesn’t count.’ They walk to and fro saying �Ha ha!’ but do they know anything about A? They don’t. It’s just three sticks to them. But to the Educated—mark this little Piglet—to the Educated, not meaning Poohs and Piglets, it’s a great and glorious A. Not,” he added, “just something that anybody can come and breathe on.”

Proving that just because you’re cute, doesn’t mean you have to be stupid … or happy. I like my cute with a touch of the dark side.
(Now i think I know where i learned my sense of humour).

Just plain goofy

My home is not bereft of cute. There may be no Care Bears or Alessi toothpick holders, but I too have, from time to time, been stopped in my tracks by something so unbearably cute that I just had to have it near me. Allow me to introduce Owl Bear.

Yes, Owl Bear sometimes sits in my Aeron chair. Owl Bear is a little bit nutty. He looks slightly demonic, but he’s furry, has eyes and is, to me, very very cute. (He had a brother, who really was evil looking and I was very tempted by him as well, but alas, in the end I separated Owl Bear from his wicked black brother.)

Is a 5-headed duck thing cute? Are 10 eyes better than two? I saw the following bath scrubby glove in an airport and actually retraced my steps to buy it. I find it both hilarious and weirdly appealing. And I get a real kick out of rubbing those 5 ducks over my body in the shower.

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ARCHIVE ID 2486 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Dec.05.2005 BY marian bantjes
Bryant Cutler’s comment is:

Oh, get over yourself. This stuff DOES appeal to little kids, as intended. Smiling faces, bright colors, kids lap it up.

Also, I think it's worth noting that the Winnie the Pooh look you're dissing as American isn't an America-only thing - it's not like plush animals based on the original-style A.A.Milne stuff are sold in the UK instead. The new look is just that - newer. Disney's designers just use color and plastics that weren't available back in the day.

Nice owlbear though :)

On Dec.05.2005 at 12:00 PM
Matilda’s comment is:

That duck glove is so perverse, Marion -- I love it!

There's also a biological theory called "fubsy" which travel writer Tim Cahill explains as "The theory has it that we, as humans, are hardwired to protect our progeny, and as a result we are also instinctively protective of creatures that possess attributes common to human infants. Clumsy animals, preferably chubby ones with large eyes, big heads, and short limbs, are said to be fubsy [italics mine]." And he goes on to describe a fubsy sea lion pup being attacked by orcas (Link)

And I think there was a brief article about how the Japanese just love things that are exaggeratedly cute and big-eyed. I think it was in an issue of Eye a few years ago...

Thanks for the great post!

On Dec.05.2005 at 12:02 PM
James Cooney’s comment is:

This is a good place to add, given the first image, that Bratz horrify me beyond all reason. The pictured Baby Bratz are even worse. Good lord. Dostoyevsky's nightmare as girls' childhood toys. My girlfriend's niece loves them, and as birthdays and christmas approach, I have issued a cruel dictum: No bratz purchases or gifts from us. Perhaps it's not my place, but the line must be drawn.

On Dec.05.2005 at 12:50 PM
David E.’s comment is:

I consider Walt Disney to be one of the greatest men who ever lived. I hardly think he would have intended Disney's versions of Pooh or any other characters in the storys that they adapted to be definitive versions.

I think Hello Kitty was basically a Miffy rip-off. The character's creator, Dick Bruna, also designed really great modernist book covers in the 1950s. He has a great website. http://www.miffy.com/

On Dec.05.2005 at 12:54 PM
David E.’s comment is:


On Dec.05.2005 at 01:01 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Fubsy. What a great word. The British also have a term, "twee" which I believe means sickeningly sweet, or cute to the point of bad taste. Brits, correct me if I'm wrong.

James, yes.

On Dec.05.2005 at 01:41 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I consider Walt Disney to be one of the greatest men who ever lived.

Yes, his contribution to society and humanity as a whole is certainly undeniable, rivalling possibly only Ron Popiel as one of the great thinkers of all time.

On Dec.05.2005 at 02:24 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Only have a minute, but I just wanted to support David E.'s comments.

So many people now slam on Disney's work because of its global popularity and "Americanization" of animation and classic children's literature. But when most of the classics were created in the 60s and 70s, Disney animation was revolutionary —�creating an industry and making it available globally. It had more impact than Pixar's work does today.

Yet somewhere along the line, Disney became a symbol for the homogenization of childen's work, which I think is unfair and misplaced. Their mass appeal to so many millions of children does not equate to mass brainwashing.

Besides, there's enough room in this world for Disney, Wallace+Gromit, Dr.Seuss, etc.

On Dec.05.2005 at 02:46 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I have no issue with the contribution that Disney made to animation; as such his works are widely recognized by animators world wide. And Disneyization as Americanization is another topic.

But for myself, I've never cared for the Disney aesthetic—honestly, not ever; and my reaction against that kind of cute had nothing to do with a political agenda when I was 6 yrs old. Big-eyed pastel things don't trigger that heart-melting "Awwww" factor in me.

I'm not saying it's brainwashing, I'm saying it's cultural. Or maybe I'm just perverse.

And I'd be really interested to hear what's considered cute in other countries.

On Dec.05.2005 at 03:13 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

Tan, there is no doubt that Walt Disney was not only a dreamer, but a doer. He had the ability and resourcefulness to create things that others couldn't even dream of. As a father of three under the age of nine, I have seen almost every Disney film numerous times (not always by choice!). A lot of the commercialization of Disney has taken place in the last 10-15 years. Every feature film released now seems to have multiple pint-sized sidekicks perfectly designed to be turned into Happy Meal toys weeks before the film is released. 'Period' animated features like "The Emperor's New Groove", 2000 (supposedly set in Incan Central America) are filled with 20th-century American slang; hip-hop songs dominate the soundtracks.

If they ever successfully thaw Mr. Disney, they should debrief him slowly. He might not survive a detailed explanation of the direction his brand (last name) has taken since his 'death'. On the other end of the argument, however, he probably would be equally surprised with the company's financials as well.

On Dec.05.2005 at 03:15 PM
ben...’s comment is:

So I'm sitting down watching TV, which I only do during football season, and I realize, there is a toilet paper commercial on TV! And it just happens to be animated and have these animated talking grizzly bears prancing through some shrubbery and trees and stuff...and so I say, when did an animated grizzly bear become the salesman of toilet paper. Better yet, when does a grizzly wipe its ass? Better yet, who the hell came up with this idea? When it was all said and done I decided I wasn't going to be buying that toilet paper. I want some cute cuddly toilet paper that is going to fill nice and soft, and grizzlies don't do it for me.

As far as picking on Disney, don't forget Pixar and Dreamworks if your going to talk about cartoons, oh wait, they are CARTOONS!!!! They are meant for kids!!!! Stop trying to bring some adult mumbo jumbo into kids toys and cartoons... that is why there are the normal looking toys for YOU. Other people like living outside of a bubble and in a false reality where there problems can disappear and they can stop watching their kids who happen to be 4 aisles over bothering me in the video game section...

On Dec.05.2005 at 04:05 PM
fatknuckle’s comment is:

Tan- Just for clarification the classic Disney films were actually created in the late 30's & 40's which makes them all the more amazing.

Truth be told I love cute. Always wanted to work for Disney but gave up the animation thing for design...hmmmm. But to a point. All of that sweetness surely leads to decay.

I think Doug is dead on that all of this empasis on the huge doe eyed stuff is a relatively new phenomena, as I dont remember the things that I grew up with as being so exaggerated.

I suppose that is why I am more partial to Playmobil on the floor and Caillou on the toob for my kids, then again I have boys so I think the selection is quite different. But I think that the over exaggerated cuteness comes from the mentality that these newer toys are being targeted to children directly, who respond better to the exaggeration better, rather than to their parents as they had been in the past.

On Dec.05.2005 at 04:25 PM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

It seems to me that, in Brazil, the things/attributes considered cute are pretty much the same.

I'm not sure if the reason lies in something like a "natural/universal reaction" to particular shapes and colors or if it's just another consequence of globalism (or both). I grew up watching disney's cartoons and really loved them. The comics too. Wich reminds me of the most successful initiave we have here in this field. They're called "Turma da M�nica". You can see that the eyes are obviusly there...

Anyway, I think a great deffinition of "cute" is the look of that cat in Shrek 2. Now, that was hilarious! You know, when he glances up with those watery eyes.

Note : It may be hilarious only when contextualized

On Dec.05.2005 at 04:42 PM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

By the way, the author is called Maur�cio de Souza, and his first strip was published in 1959. See the cover of an issue that homages him in his 70th birthday

On Dec.05.2005 at 04:45 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Cute is not just for children. Admittedly, most of my examples are. But the Alessi products are for adults. There is a whole genre of clothing for young women that cashes in on the aesthetic. There is definitely a feminine slant to a lot of cute for adults, and I am reminded of Barbara Ehrenreich's Harper's article, "Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch" in which she says, in part:

There are 2.2 million American women in various stages of their breast-cancer careers, who, along with anxious relatives, make up a significant market for all things breast-cancer-related. Bears, for example: I have identified four distinct lines, or species, of these creatures, including "Carol," the Remembrance Bear; '}lope," the Breast Cancer Research Bear, which wears a pink turban as if to conceal chemotherapy-induced baldness; the "Susan Bear," named

for Nancy Brinker's deceased sister, Susan; and the new Nick & Nora Wish Upon a Star Bear, available, along with the Susan Bear, at the Komen Foundation website's "marketplace." And bears are only the tip, so to speak, of the cornucopia of pink-ribbon-themed breast-cancer products.

It's also interesting to me that Eco cars are designed largely along cute lines, while the mean-looking "masculine" designs are applied to machines built for speed over economy.

Stereo equipment over the past 10 years as well has taken on that fubsy appearance instead of the sleek, streamlined look of say Bang & Olufson of the 80s/90s.

And cute for kids has changed since I was kid, I'm certain. Think of Maurice Sendak, Barbar the Elephant, The Little Prince, countless others.

I'm not saying it's the fall of civilization, but *I* find the bug-eyed cute unappealing. I personally don't respond those weird Alessi things ... although I do respond to Miffy, iPods, tribbles and 5-headed ducks.

On Dec.05.2005 at 05:14 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I can't find a bigger picture at the moment, but there are a number of Japanese brand construction machines that are incredibly cute. They're all rounded, look like friendly little robots, and are painted in fun, bright colors. They also have cute names like Komatsu, and Kobelco.

On Dec.05.2005 at 05:35 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

As far as the article's reference to Bambi, the argument seems just a bit ridiculous…�the whole point is to inject some human personality into animals in order to tell a story. Of course the characters are not going to be rendered in a realistic way…�that would defeat the whole purpose and wouldn't engage the target audience (children, not adults!) Kids are fascinated by the stuff, you can't deny that.

On Dec.05.2005 at 05:42 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

things that I find cute:


Crumpled Bins

Decoradar Murals

Licorice Piglets

iPod Mini Monsters

Basically anything that has an unexpected twist, something that makes me smile.

What is cute? cute is as subjective as love and taste are, something impossible to describe in a list of adjectives. Cute is or isn't based on personal experiences, color preferences, emotional state...life in general.

Cute. Spooky. Freaky. Weird. Whimsical. Strange. Creepy. Blah. In someway attractive, and somehow connecting with us.

On Dec.05.2005 at 05:47 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Keith, my best friend's kids love "The Old Mill" as much as "Bambi."

Bryony, I love the look of those licorice piglets. Cute to me too.

And ahh, the mini Monsters: iPod + fur + eyes!

On Dec.05.2005 at 06:20 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

I haven't seen "The Old Mill" and there was no links, so here are some for it:





Certainly there are many different styles that kids find intriguing, and as Bryony said whats's "cute" is very subjective, and relative to the viewer / consumer. Different strokes for different folks I guess, my point was it doesn't matter what adults think really when the target is children. I have seen lots of kids fascinated by discovery-channel type documentaries as well, nature shows, and more realistic animation styles.

I think the "big eyes" style has been copied over and over because its proved successful in a lot of instances, though it may be getting a bit tired and its certainly not the only way to grab a kid's attention.

On Dec.05.2005 at 06:38 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Just a quick note: Tan, Komatsu is an actual construction equipment manufacturer (and it has one of my all-time favourite logotypes). I never ever thought of the name as cute before. It always sounded big & tough to me. Just goes to show how important what you see is.

On Dec.05.2005 at 07:00 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

I don't know what's cuter, Owl Bear and 5-headed duck thing, or the fact that they're sitting in an Aeron chair. Talk about aesthetics + cute.

On Dec.05.2005 at 08:59 PM
Robyn’s comment is:

Have you read the essay Cuties In Japan? It's...well, about cute things in Japan. I only find a few of the "cute" things in this post actually cute, but I'm eerily drawn to cute Japanese things. I prefer the original Winnie-the-Pooh to the Disney one, at least (although many Japanese love the Disney one, I think).

Bratz doesn't seem very appealing...to me. I'm glad that wasn't around when I was a kid.

Another interesting thing about cuteness: Fifteen Theses on The Cute.

(I've colleted these links because I'm writing a paper about cute food in Japan, not because I have a habit of harvesting links about cute things...or do I?)

On Dec.05.2005 at 09:32 PM
Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

Excellent topic, Marian!

Ellen Lupton has a great article, called Gummy World, about graphical user interfaces, in which she talks about the brighter, shinier (cuter?) Mac OS X icons...

As for the Disney stuff, I have mixed feelings... I confess to having liked some of the movies when I was a kid, although they could also be pretty scary. As an adult, however, I find that aesthetic to be too much... Anyway, the discussion of cute goes beyond Disney...

Back in design school (true story!), I had a professor who famously said “Death to Sarah Kay!”, when he noticed that a lot of our classmates had little Sarah Kay and Hello Kitty stickers on their books and backpacks.

I’d be really interested to hear what’s considered cute in other countries.

There are some comic strip and cartoon characters in Argentina which I guess are considered cute... Don’t quote me on this, but I believe most of them date from the early 1960s: Patoruzito, Hijitus, and Anteojito are the ones I can remember. Some of those characters have big eyes (or adults-pretending-to-be-kids voices, when they’ve been on TV) — I guess they were considered cute. But they are modern age characters... they are less “cultural” than “pop cultural”.

(Also, I am no authority on Japanese culture, but I have a Japanese co-worker who’s told me all about Doraemon, who started out as a comic strip character and later had his own cartoon series...)

Last but not least, and slightly off-topic: Kim Deitch has a great series of comic strips, recently collected in book form, called The Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It’s about an animation studio in New York in the 1930s. There’s a sequence where they’re trying to compete with the bigger studios and they bring in someone from (ahem) one of those studios, who proceeds to “cutify” (or is it “disneyfy”?) Waldo the Cat, the studio’s biggest hit, who can be lovable but is also something of a scoundrel — much to the chagrin of the cat’s creator, who still works there.

On Dec.05.2005 at 10:40 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Robyn, I have not read "Cuties in Japan," but will get right on it. Thanks also for the link to the Cabinet article. I hadn't read that either, but it's an uncanny translation of my piece (or vice versa). If anyone finds my writing too simplistic, "Fifteen Theses on Cute" covers much the same ground from a more intellectual perspective.

Thanks also Ricardo for a bunch of great links. The OSX interface is something I've become used to but which struck me as horrifying when i first saw it. I still get a bit of a shock when I see it on a new computer and the —dare i say—near-fubsy icons are all set at a large size, displaying their baby fat for all to see.

Doraemon has a hint of Stimpy about him, as well as a bit of South Park. South Park interestingly, manages to take all the ingredients of the cute aesthetic and make them purely idiodic. By taking the big eyes and reducing the pupils to close-set pinpricks, and replacing smiling mouths with uncertain little lines, the characters effectively look vacant and troubled. This is, of course, subversive genius.

On Dec.05.2005 at 11:57 PM
dcasey’s comment is:

I don't mind cute... but, cute ruined Star Wars.

unrelated to conquering the galaxy: Kitsch = Cute?

On Dec.06.2005 at 04:01 AM
Dado Queiroz’s comment is:

A very good reason for the gigantic eyes is that most of a face's expression/emotion is shown through them. The bigger the eyes, the easier it is to successfully communicate a carachter's feelings, as they become less subtle — more suitable for the understanding of children and often exagerated enough to be funny or disgusting for adults.

On Dec.06.2005 at 07:01 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Jeff — I'm very familiar w/ Komatsu, and their logo is one of my favorites too. It's just that I've always thought that the sound of their name fit the cuteness of their products.

It's interesting to note that the US behemoth, CAT, which is short for Caterpillar, also has a cute-ish name. Hmm. I wonder if that's why they shortened it to CAT — so that it would sound more manly. Their equipment designs are far less whimsical than their Japanese counterparts though.

On Dec.06.2005 at 01:34 PM
margot ’s comment is:

As a child, I remember the first time that I actually registered that the Disney movie (Sleeping Beauty to be exact) I was watching was a drawn cartoon. As odd as this sounds, up to this point such aesthetics to me just "were". I didn't differentiate their stylings any differently than I did live-action movies or any of my books and toys. Cute just wasn't something I had a concept for. Sure the movies were appealling, but 6 yr-old me just wasn't paying that much attention to the googly eyes. Like Bryony, I am suggesting that cute is a learned aesthetic, naturally from society. Maybe Disney just has a monopoly on the "cute" market right now (bleah). If things had happened differently who's to say that Picasso's Guernica couldn't have been the definition of cute? After all there are googly eyes in this painting too...

On Dec.06.2005 at 02:26 PM
beto’s comment is:

Well, the case of Japan and cute ("kawaii" in Nihongo-speak) is very interesting for me. It's not that they happen to have a lot of cute stuff... They live in cute, from the crib to the grave. It permeates almost everything in Japan, from banks to electronics to even sex.

Some years ago, Wired published a great essay about this, which remains one of my favorite reads on the subject to this day. You may want to take a look.

And for the record, I'm a fool for all things cute but that's another story :)

On Dec.06.2005 at 03:01 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Tan, everyone else is been Googling Bambi eyes, and you've got me snapping back & forth between heavy equipment manufacturing sites. But you're right. Komatsu machines do have a certain cuteness when compared to Cat machines.

On Dec.06.2005 at 04:45 PM
omar’s comment is:

...to much time on the computer.. some things dont need to be talked about.

On Dec.06.2005 at 07:18 PM
piggy’s comment is:

“But is your cute really my cute? I don’t think so.”

I do agree with you. A female and a male, a girl and a women they had a different definition of “cute”. Everyone have different interpretation there is no right or wrong.

In dictionary it defines “cute”- sharp-witted, ingenious, cleverly made, attractive, quaint.

Do you think so?

I personally feel that cute is hard to describe and define. No one had a same interpretation how “cute” a things looks like. What do you think?

On Dec.06.2005 at 11:34 PM
Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

Today I found out that even electric guitars are getting cute...


The link comes from Wired’s Gear Factor blog.

On Dec.07.2005 at 01:42 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

I hadn’t heard of the term “fubsy” before. However, in Universal Principles of Design (Rockport Publishers), the authors cite a “baby-face bias,” which is related to this topic.

“People and things with round features, large eyes, small noses, high foreheads, short chins, and relatively lighter skin and hair are perceived as babylike and as a result, as having babylike personality attributes: naivete, helplessness, honesty, and innocence. The bias is found across all age ranges, cultures, and many mammalian species.” (The authors also cite the seminal work of Konrad Lorenz on this topic, dating back to 1950.)

That kind of sounds like a common definition of “cute” to me.

However, this priciple has another twist:

“Baby-faced adults are perceived as simple and naive, and have difficulty being taken seriously in situations where expertise or confrontation is required.”

So, depending on qualities you’re looking for in “cute”, some features may just not trigger the right responses.

Or, as my late grandmother used to say, “Tastes do differ, said the old woman as she kissed her cow.”

On Dec.07.2005 at 09:00 AM
Ryan ’s comment is:

I thought British candy was supposed to be much sweeter than American candy.

On Dec.07.2005 at 12:00 PM
Ryan ’s comment is:

I thought British candy was supposed to be much sweeter than American candy.

On Dec.07.2005 at 12:00 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I thought British candy was supposed to be much sweeter than American candy.

I don't think so.

It certainly involves a lot less peanut butter - what's that about?

On Dec.08.2005 at 07:38 AM
Nate Voss’s comment is:

I liked this article a lot better the first time I read it when it was called Happy Kitty, Bunny, Pony by Michael J. Nelson and CSA Design's Popink label.

I'm just assuming that someone will take that the wrong way, so, no, I didn't mean it like that.

On Dec.08.2005 at 09:11 AM
Mike’s comment is:


On Dec.09.2005 at 07:52 AM
Josh’s comment is:

Eyes + fangs + diaper = cute. No? Maybe the cape helps too.

Also, here's a blog devoted to cute baby animals, although there's not so many of the "maggoty" variety. And the commentary is quite amusing.

On Dec.09.2005 at 09:49 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

beto, great article on Wired. Thanks for that.

Mike .. i counter your supercute with a plea to christmas shoppers everywhere to indulge your childish urges with some handmade, creative cute (Owl Bear is handmade, bought at an artists' christmas sale). Lots of fangs for folks like Josh.

Support independent cute:

monster cute

3-eyes cute

mutant cute

fur + eye(s) = ...

cute bread

and um wtf?

Some available online, all available to those of you who live in Boston or LA at Bazaar Bizarre this Sunday, Dec. 11. (Thanks to JH over at DO.)

On Dec.09.2005 at 10:52 PM
James Moening’s comment is:

Disney has evolved from a team of creatives to a bureaucratically delegated profit machine. I remember watching Annette Funicello in black & white and nature videos narrated in a gruff voice. That was an okay world: romanticized but not far removed from actuality.

The large eyes and abnormal proportions, downy fur etc. work off of child image archetypes and the set of instincts which regards children as tender and in need of love.

Of course, some eat their young.


On Dec.09.2005 at 11:15 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

I couldn’t resist offering this link


On Dec.14.2005 at 03:49 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Thanks, Mark. Most notably because it has a link to something I've been looking for for months: plushy microbes. My brother told me about these a while back, but I had not been able to find them on the web.

x + fur + eyes = ...

On Dec.14.2005 at 11:37 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

I’m glad you liked it. Their approach to cuteness somehow seemed to have your sensibility. Thank del.icio.us.

On Dec.14.2005 at 12:33 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I get that I don't get cute and other people do. Okay. What confuses me is the proliferation of cute in what might seem to be odd juxtapositions. I do riffs on happy faces because I find them revolting and, at the same time, fascinating and somehow primal. When I place them in otherwise serious setting people can readily note that some sort of irony is at play. But what's up with people in punk regalia, fierce-looking piercings, tattoos, and teddy bears? Irony? Semi-ironic ambivalence? Low-grade surrealism?

On Dec.15.2005 at 09:23 PM
lauri’s comment is:

I'm a huge fan of cute. But I didn't think most of the things in Marian's article were cute. A lot of the stuff I like is japanese.

anyway, to me, this is cute:


this is pretty damn cute too:


On Dec.16.2005 at 11:32 PM
Mark’s comment is:

Everybody's definition of whats "cute" is different.

Hopefully the variety of cute will stay the same.

Me, I basically like realistic cute,semi-Disney cute,something with amount of realism.

However, characters that are based on animals that are innaccurate yet become something completely different of all their own is okay with me also.

I used to be a fan of Sonic and Tails way back in the 90's however I would put THAT under the "cool" category.

Love the Owl Bear and the five duck-headed shower thing.

I rarely go for the Japenese "cool-cute" thing, some of the designs I laugh at though :)

And some are really freaky!

BTW anyone remember a toy that was a reversable toy bear on one side it was cute and cuddly but when you turned it inside out it was all scary and nasty looking, I think it was a Goosebumps product,maybe it was a rat.

Clever design though.

On Dec.30.2005 at 04:15 PM
Armin’s comment is:

From the Science section of today's New York Times:

The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession.

The Cute Factor by Natalie Angier.

On Jan.03.2006 at 08:45 AM
Chris’s comment is:

We need cuteness to survive.

Imagine your baby would looks like the opposite of what it looks for now

On Jan.04.2006 at 03:25 AM
Christine’s comment is:

"Surrounded by My Little Ponies"...

Marian, seek out some My Little Pony collector forums, where people post pictures of rows upon rows of fantastic plastic...yes, some people have hundreds of them (not me though :-D).

On Jan.04.2006 at 10:41 AM
Ravenone’s comment is:


"New studies suggest that cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine"

Cute. A drug. That explains SO MUCH.

On Jan.10.2006 at 12:26 AM
Olivia’s comment is:

Baby Bratz are, in a word, nightmarish. The sexualization (lipstick, mascara, tummy showing, flirty clothing) of what are supposed to be babies is so, so dangerous. Girls are already wearing sexualizing clothing at age 10... should we really be encouraging young girls to play with sexualized baby dolls?? Yuck-o and Weird-o is what I have to say to that.

p.s. Bitch magazine has a great article on the fucked-up-ness of Baby Bratz.

On Apr.29.2006 at 10:10 PM
Cynthia ’s comment is:

I'm researching "cute" for my next children's book. Go to the link to see my most recent book. I want to make my animal characters, which will be cats and a mouse, cute but with edge. This artivle was very helpful. When I was a child back in the early seventies I saw The Ice Queen and The Little Mermaid in anime style and loved them. I have never liked Disney. I think that there is sickening cute and there is edgy cute. Look at Ugly dolls or Kid Robot dolls. More and more dolls are getting a bit of edge to balance the cute. Anyhow, excellent artcle.

On Mar.17.2007 at 11:07 AM
Max’s comment is:

Baby Bratz are just so ugly and they are basically training babies to become so "cute" like them. The little girls will be inspired to become preppy brats since they played with the little dolls since infancy. Ugh and double ugh. And the toilet paper pillows. Cute and in a way, weird. Who wipes their butt with pillows? If theyre gonna sleep on it, id bet my life that theyre insane. The furball: What is it, a dressed up dustbunny? The living cotton ball? It creeps me out. Some companies really dont know the difference between cute and absolutely deformed. Who could tell that was a bambi stuffed animal? Looked like a few pieces of fabric tied together. Last thing. Who is gonna wash with a duckie glove that has creepy little duck heads on them. Its just so creepy. Ugh. But some things can be so cute.

On Apr.14.2007 at 09:33 PM
katelyn’s comment is:

i love, cute... especially boys

On May.08.2007 at 06:41 PM
d’s comment is:

The problem I see with American cute is that it is so objectifying. I like the Milne characters because they are cute but still have some humanity. Some of this over-the-top cuteness (exaggerated eyes, pastel colors and anthropomorphic 'babyness') has a pornographic quality. I know people think this kind of stuff is harmless, but I think it is only part of our culture of narcissism and consumerism. We are not taught to respect these 'cute' creatures, which are really representations of parts of ourselves, instead we are taught to eat them like candy:0) (see, even these 'emoticons' are cute), sheesh.

On May.27.2007 at 02:19 PM
Vixie’s comment is:

I have a weird idea of cute
I like the really bizzare Japanese stuff
cyclops eye + tentacles +fangs =Cute

Care bears and disney swill are horrific and have the opposite affect on me

I think that demented is the new cute

On Jun.26.2007 at 12:54 AM
Megan S’s comment is:

I am a child myself, I am eleven years old, and I think Bratz (especially Baby Bratz) are DISGUSTING! They look awful.

That pig with the big sleepy eyes looked drugged, I thought that Bambi doll was a chibi Japanese cartoon for a second, and I thought those baby animals would band together as some sort of mutant giant thingy and kill me.

Things I've seen here that I have actually wanted : The piggy BELOW the one with the creepy eyes, the NORMAL coloured plushie dogs, that fluffy eye with eyes, 'owlbear'(you should've brought his brother! and then given it to me! ^^), and most of the things in Bryonys comment about what they think is cute(Go licorice pigs go! I should get some for my dad!)

I actually like Japanese stuff alot, I like the language, the drawing style. But some of their stuff is incredibly weird and creepy. Alessi is just scary.

Hehe, 'fubsy'...^^;

On Jul.09.2007 at 08:16 AM
Spindle’s comment is:

even as a small child the whole disney scene was something which i found supemely unattractive, the bug eyed high pitched flourescence only served to annoy and i found it didn't really stimulate my imagination in any way. i much prefered the quiet contemplation involved in reading a beautifully illutrated book such as the ORIGINAL winne the pooh or paddington bear tales. they were quintesentially english with a gently quirkiness and an underlying darker humour which made then far more adult and far far more engaging, even to me as a six year old. i still have a distaste for disney's bastardisation of books simply because some children will never know the beauty of the original. Take the Jungle Book for example. they will team it in with every other generic example of disney's work, which i think is a real shame. i think that in comparison, there is far more character to the illustrations and stories of the originals than to disneys take, because they all seem to be forced into the same old tired mold.

as you can probably tell, i'm english (we say english/scottish/welsh or irish over here, not british) but my opinion is based less on an american ruining something english but more on anyone taking something which was already truly lovely and changing the very nature of what it was in order to make many-a-dollar.

i would pick charming, over cute, any day,

On Oct.06.2007 at 11:45 AM
StarCheese’s comment is:

I thought this was interesting!

On Oct.15.2007 at 09:31 PM
Tom’s comment is:

I think perhaps a rottweiler puppy would win the 'Fubsy Top 50' list (go ahead, google image it. Tell me you don't want to take one home.) But forget about animals, that's an easy one.

Someone find a fubsy font, or a fubsy logo.

Can something as abstract as a letterform or some shapes and colors lacking a face still be cute? Maybe, but I think the face is crucial. Imagine the same clumsy puppy, looking away. Still cute, but it doesn't have that same effect. Put some eyes in a square, make them large, add some shine.

Boom. Cute.

And it's just a square with eyes.

On Oct.18.2007 at 12:25 AM
M. Bergeron’s comment is:

** Fight the pastels! We should call in a legion to fight the war against the colors of CHILDREN'S TOYS!***

For the love of Aphrodite, GROW UP! Get passionate about something that could improve another life as well as your own. What you are irritated with is simply a microcosm of what is ailing American society (and infecting the world). The ideas to create pastel colored stuffed animals with oversized eyes and heads, and adult themed baby dolls, stem from the elements that plague American society: sex, racism, money, and obsessions with youth(ageism) and societal ideals of “beauty”.

Then, you speak of this "dark side". Genuine "Dark Siders" don't bitch about children's toys and insult people for the purpose entertainment. You would not wish to encounter the "Dark Side". Also, if you had a quarter of a brain, you would have seen that Bambi has a profound message embedded in it that happens to present a "dark" element. Also, you would have noticed that the element of exaggeration of physical features is present in the art of many cultures including America (e.g.: exaggeration of women's body porportions).

Anyway, if you don't like pastel colors, then sprint as far away from them as you can! No one is forcing you to like them. People (especially females) that think they are "tough" or "rebellious" because they don't like the color pink or items that are categorized as "feminine" in attempt to prove a point, are idiots.

Yes, I understand that it is your opinion, but I can't help but be vexed by people like you. You are funny because you rant and rave about subjects such as this as if you are expounding riveting, life-altering information.

F.Y.I.: Your personal preferences are not indicative of your intelligence or strength.

Cum Gratis

On Oct.26.2007 at 06:38 AM
Christine W.’s comment is:

Yeah, good points, especially about Winnie-the-pooh. I liked the old version much better. The sweet, candy-coated U.S. version just doesn't have any wit. I think that what is considered cute is modeled off of babies. Large eyes, oversize heads, shortened proportions, small size, and soft lines or curves. I guess we innately think babies are cute. They don't have any other appealing qualities, so that stops them from never being born.

On Feb.26.2008 at 09:42 PM
Pauline Moore’s comment is:

Aaah cute (charming, pretty And clever, cunning) I have been reading this post and thought you might like to have a look at an essay that I wrote a few years ago. It is titled 'When velvet gloves meet iron fists: Cuteness in Japanese Animation' and was published in a book called 'The Illusion of Life II' edited by Alan Cholodenko. It addresses many of these issues (the use of cute in Japanese and American animation post WWII) and you may find it interesting. It is fairly academic i.e. it is a philosophical and historical approach to the subject; but clearly written, so do persevere and it may provide some insight... Unfortunately it has not been posted on the web and you may have to go to a library. This is a topic that is fascinating so happy reading...

On Jan.14.2009 at 12:09 AM
Mycol’s comment is:

Albert Hurter was the creative mind changing the animals into more...

On Feb.08.2009 at 12:09 PM