Since her creation in 1974, Hello Kitty has featured in a lot of things: a Tom Sachs sculpture, Lady Gaga's stuffed toy dress, Nicola Formichetti's Nicopanda t-shirt line, theme parks, video games, even panty liners... But now it turns out she's not even a cat.
According to Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist who has spent years studying Hello Kitty's rise to global phenomenon, the Japanese pop culture icon is actually a little girl. When writing the text for an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum, Yano first described Hello Kitty as a cat – which Sanrio immediately vetoed.
"I was corrected – very firmly," she tells LA Weekly. "That's one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show. Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She's never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it's called Charmmy Kitty."
Sanrio has bestowed Hello Kitty with a whole backstory, including her astrological sign (Scorpio) and full name (Kitty White). She has a twin sister. She loves apple pie. She is in third grade. The only thing she isn't, apparently, is a cat. Just think of her as a vague human-shaped entity with feline-resembling ears and an entire family that look like cats.
Unsatisfied with this account of Hello Kitty, a journalist for RocketNews24 actually phoned up Sanrio to verify this information.
"My findings will bring your suffering heart some relief," Preston Phro writes. "The gentleman who picked up the phone at Sanrio was polite but entirely without nonsense. After explaining who I was... I launched into my questions: First up, I had to know if the LA Times article saying that Hello Kitty is a human girl was correct."
"His response: 'We never said she was a human.' The PR rep calmly explained that Hello Kitty is a 擬人化 (gijinka), a personification or anthropomorphization. Basically just like Micky Mouse, the Sanrio representative told me. No one would mistake the Disney character for a human – but at the same time he’s not quite a mouse. Just like Hello Kitty isn’t a human, she’s not quite a cat either."
So basically, she's not quite human; she's not quite a cat; Hello Kitty just self-identifies as a symbolic representation of a non-human, cat-shaped little girl. That makes so much more sense. Now if only somebody could explain why she doesn't have a mouth.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing