I was walking around Dupont Circle this past weekend with a couple friends and one of them made an interesting comment as we were browsing through this Japanese gift shop called Ginza. If you know anything about the Japanese, you’ll know that they truly appreciate the cute and miniature. From porcelain Super Tiny Owls to portable mini chopsticks and a tea set with big, round cat eyes on the saucers, Japan is the ultimate producer of the world’s supply of cuteness. And Ginza is the epicenter of all things cute in Dupont.
While admiring a big fat cat with a wagging tail, my friend said, “You know, I never understood the idea of ‘cute.’ I understand what is beautiful and I understand what is ugly, but I just don’t get the idea of ’cute.’” At first, this blew me away. Not understand cute–how could that be possible??? This eternally happy fat cat with big round eyes was nothing but cute– its sole purpose is to be looked at and be cute.
I took a moment to not lash out at what I thought was a crazy, irrational statement. I looked around at all the delicate cute things around me and considered them in terms of the beautiful and the ugly. And it struck me that perhaps the world “cute” does capture a strange array of objects, many of which are, in fact, quite ugly but with a redeeming feature that somehow makes it aesthetically appealing.
I picked up a miniature figurine of a baby with a small patch of hair on its head, big moon face and squinted eyes. Objectively speaking, it’s not really that beautiful. It’s not what I want my baby to look like and it sure isn’t a realistic portrayal of a baby- more like a parody of one. Yet, at the same time, it just tickled my heart and I was overcome by its overwhelming cuteness. How can you describe that feeling?
I think it comes down to the abnormal: something out of the ordinary that doesn’t conform to traditional terms of beauty. Think of the allure of quirky girls, how the bashfulness of some guys can be so endearing. Or those little imperfections that you just fall in love with: dimples, a lisp, the weird way they hold their spoon when they eat, their forgetfulness. To me, this equals cute. When a baby juts out its bottom lip and starts crying, it can be so cute, but I would never say that it’s beautiful. Or when a teen nervously stammers in front of their crush – that is cute. I didn’t explain all of this to my friend at the time, but I’ve tried to seriously consider this concept since then.
We’ve had a few people comment on the OJBG videos on YouTube about how much they like Sarah, or Alex, or Chloe and they sometimes mention how cute they are. I take this as not a purely physical compliment, but in regards to their characters overall. So I don’t think Frida Khalo eyebrows are ever sexy, but they’re cute when they’re worn by two girls in the throes of flirtation. And when Alex describes her juicy dream to Sarah and is turned down, that desperate attempt to feel loved is sweet.
But cute things are not reserved exclusively for humans. Little animals, short pencils, t-shirts, even candies can be cute. I think a big allure of cupcakes is not only their sweet deliciousness, but also how visually cute they are. When you bite into a cupcake, you’re also digging in with your eyes. What do you think constitutes the nature of “cute”?
While you’re pondering that, and while we’re on the topic of cupcakes, take a look at our newest OJBG Secret Project feature on Curbside Cupcakes – yum!