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Hello Kitty!

For a relatively emotionless, mouthless, oblong-headed cartoon cat, Hello Kitty's come a long way. Sure, she's insufferably cute. But so are a lot of other characters. So what is it about Hello Kitty that makes even grown women coo and swoon over things as simple as a coffeemaker or a ballpoint pen? I wish I knew. I'd be a whole lot richer.

I'm 22, and I can't even begin to calculate how big of a role the iconic kitty has played in my life for as long as I can remember—or how much money I (and my parents, friends and grandparents) have spent on goodies from the local Sanrio store. I grew up with her. I had a Hello Kitty bib. A blankie. A doll. (Or seven.)

The desktop screen on my Powerbook? Yeah: Giant head. Wide, vacant eyes. That same red bow, no mouth and a yellow oval nose.

Hello Kitty was created in Tokyo, Japan, in 1974 by the Sanrio Co. And with reasonably little marketing, she's become a highly recognizable figure even in America—though she's had help from celebrities such as Mariah Carey and Lisa Loeb. While Sanrio's original intent was to please the adolescent crowd, there's now Hello Kitty anything and everything: cars, rice cookers, sewing machines, even a vibrator.

But the character has naysayers, too. Many, particularly within feminist or Asian American activist circles, claim Hello Kitty perpetuates the intensely cutesy, childlike stereotype often attached to Asians, Asian Americans and women in general. So, it doesn't help that we still freak out over stuffed plushies even when we're well into our 30s, they say.

On top of that, Hello Kitty usually lacks a mouth, which means she can't protest, speak up or say anything: denied a voice, just like women, perhaps.

The sweet appearance of Hello Kitty (merchandise usually comes in hues of pink, purple and red) also adds significant weight to the disgusting super-kawaii ("cute" in Japanese) pigeonhole assigned to females of Asian descent. You know: schoolgirl uniforms; high-pitched, mouth-covering giggles; submissive demeanors; double peace signs; glittery anime eyes so ridiculously large they reflect light beams? (A stereotype that's also been perpetuated by "OC Girl" Gwen Stefani and her "Harajuku Girls," I might add. Thanks!)

According to Sanrio.com, Hello Kitty's height is about that of five shiny apples, her weight that of three shiny apples, and she reigns from London.

C'mon—that's freaking adorable.

And while the feminist and Asian American arguments do seriouslymake sense, I just can't tear myself away from a character so sentimental to my childhood, sippy cups and all.

Like all things—booze, sex, ice cream and red lipstick—just do things in moderation. No Hello Kitty apparel. No more than one or two car accessories and household appliances.

And please: no cellphone danglies. Hello Kitty or not.

Ever.

Vickie Chang

 
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