Sanrio wants it known that Hello Kitty is a girl, not a cat

Sanrio wants it known that Hello Kitty is a girl, not a cat

Take a while to let it sink in.

That's right. Hello Kitty, the icon everyone has always deemed a cat with no mouth, is really not a cat. She's a girl.

If you think Sanrio's revelation has caused you to feel like you've been lied to all these years, you're not alone.

According to a report in Los Angeles Times, anthropologist Christine R. Yano from the University of Hawaii had prepared her script for the upcoming exhibition "Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty" at the Japanese American National Museum, but found out she had made a grave mistake.

Ms Yano had described Hello Kitty as a cat. However, Sanrio firmly informed her to make the correction.

The company told her: "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."

Hello Kitty's original name is Kitty White, and was born and raised in London, England, according to her official profile on hello-kitty.sanriotown.com. Hello Kitty may not be a cat, but she does have a pet cat named Charmmy Kitty.

Though she first appeared in the 1970s, Kitty White is always a perpetual little girl in third grade, says Ms Yano.

Ms Yano, who authored "Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty's Trek Across the Pacific", says that Kitty's unreadable features -- as she seemingly has no mouth -- coupled with clever merchandising has successfully paved the way for the character's cult following.

"She doesn't have this insipid cuteness," explained Ms Yano, who is also serving as curator for the Japanese American National Museum's retrospective.

"It's something clever and creative which contributes to a certain cool factor. For example, take Precious Moments [giftware]. That's cute. But there's nothing cool about Precious Moments. Hello Kitty has the potential to be so many other things," added Ms Yano.

Hello Kitty turns 40 this November and yet her global power as an icon and brand has not deteriorated at all.

According to BBC Culture, if you were to search Hello Kitty on Google, you will find about 33 million results -- as opposed to Mickey Mouse's meager 23 million results.

The Sanrio character appears on more than 50,000 products that are sold in over 70 countries and is currently worth an estimated S$8.7 billion, according to BBC Culture.

"Hello Kitty represents the deep desire among all people, regardless of nationality or race, to feel joy and happiness, without having to qualify it at any deep intellectual level," Sanrio's public relations manager Kazuo Tohmatsu told BBC Culture.

There is also the undying question of why Hello Kitty doesn't have a mouth.

Mr Tohmatsu told BBC: "Hello Kitty doesn't judge. She lets you feel how you feel without forcing you to question why."

Hello Kitty was originally designed by Japanese illustrator Yuko Shimizu to appeal to kindergarten kids, said BBC. She eventually became a worldwide phenomenon that did not require much advertising but became famous through word-of-mouth.

As how social content website Buzzfeed puts it: "You know who Hello Kitty is because you're a person who lives on Earth."

ssandrea@sph.com.sg

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