Sanrio hinted last year that Hello Kitty might be a girl rather than a cat
Sanrio hinted last year that Hello Kitty might be a girl rather than a cat

Hello Kitty is a globally-recognised character but her appeal is not universal

Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects no.85: The character is worth some $7bn to its owners, the Japanese company Sanrio – although according to Time magazine she is a “polarising cult figure”

Rhodri Marsden
Saturday 31 October 2015 01:59
Comments

This weekend marks the birthday of Hello Kitty, full name Kitty White, birthplace somewhere on the outskirts of London. At least, that's what the official biography says. This unassuming but globally recognised character is worth some $7bn to its owners, the Japanese company Sanrio – although according to Time magazine she is a “polarising cult figure”.

She was first sketched on 1 November 1974 by designer Yuko Shimizu, who was tasked with creating a decoration for a plastic purse. Over the years, however, Kitty's character has been fleshed out in great detail: she's five apples high, weighs three apples, is in the third grade at school and apparently has blood type A.

And, famously, she has no mouth. Sanrio says that this is empowering: “She can be anything you want her to be.” Feminist critics, however, claim that it sends “mixed messages about self-esteem”. When Unicef made Hello Kitty an envoy to Japan, an article in The Japan Times demanded an explanation as to how “a cat with no mouth can be a spokesperson for anything”.

But hang on there, Sanrio hinted last year that Hello Kitty might be a girl rather than a cat. The subsequent disquiet among her fans caused Sanrio to backpedal; a statement explained that “Hello Kitty was done in the motif of a cat. It's going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat.”

Over the years, the Hello Kitty motif has been used on debit cards, Stratocaster guitars, wine bottles and a fleet of Airbus A330 jet airliners. But her appeal is not universal. In 2007, it was reported that Bangkok police were to be punished for minor transgressions by being forced to wear a Hello Kitty armband. “This is to help build discipline,” said a spokesperson. “We should not let small offences go unnoticed.”

@rhodri

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in