I was in Chicago the other day, shopping with a longtime friend. She was excited to take me to luxury boutiques—La Perla, Louis Vuitton — but I was more interested in Sanrio, the home of Hello Kitty.
It was then that I came face-to-face with my generation's dilemma: Do our things define who we are?
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Just a few years ago my friend would have been eager to show me Sanrio. But now she's retreating — all because of a lunchbox.
She'd told her co-workers she was going to buy a Hello Kitty lunchbox, and they joked about it and said she was too old for the cute icon. Sadly, she believes it.
A friend who works in the corporate world understood why. She told me Hello Kitty lunchboxes and planners could be seen as unprofessional.
But what about sports fans who cover their cubicles with mascots or pop culture hounds and their Batman posters and Star Wars figurines? Since when does grown-up and professional equate to plain and boring?
My desk is covered with Hello Kitty notebooks, a paper clip holder, a bank and more. So I don't get my friend's fear. My things don't prevent me from doing my job.
In fact, on rough days, I look over my kitty stuff and that innocent cartoon face reminds me not to take myself so seriously. She conjures up my inner child, and I remember that it's all right to color outside the lines.
As we get older, certain behaviors are inappropriate: temper tantrums in aisle three, imaginary friends, not thinking for yourself. But buying Hello Kitty doesn't fall in that box, at least no more than standing in line for hours to get the new iPhone or scouring the city for a Nintendo Wii.
Ebony Copeland, a third-year medical student at University of Kansas Medical Center, says she doesn't see herself outgrowing Hello Kitty.
“She is so cute, she is the universal symbol for sweet cuteness,” says Ebony, 28. “I like that she can be applied to any style, from princess to punk, she pulls them all off. She is so basic and simple. Her likeness always cheers me up. You can never be too old for that.”
Van Sneed, graphic designer for Mad Toy Design in Stilwell, Kan., says our generation defines adulthood as something that goes beyond business wear and Blackberrys. We're the generation that wears sneakers with suits, push for four-day work weeks and swear by video games and instant messaging.
“Being a grown-up isn't about looking a certain way,” says Van, 24, who plays Rock Band and collects vinyl toys. “Paying my bills, taking care of friends and family, that is grown-up.”
And so is Hello Kitty. Sanrio celebrates her birthday every year, and in October she will turn 34. Considering Sanrio has made a billion dollar business out of Hello Kitty, I'd say she's a business woman.
The simply drawn icon serves as Japan's tourism ambassador. She graces inexpensive kiddy toys and couture alike. And yes, some career women are perfectly content to drop $600 on a Rebecca Minkoff Hello Kitty handbag or $1,000 on a jewel-encrusted Hello Kitty watch.
Van says, whether it's Hello Kitty or Spider-Man, the things you love remain part of you no matter how old you are.
“Those things that I liked as a child are kind of the essence of me,” says Van, who loved comic books and video games and still does.
“I'm being true to myself rather than trying to fake the funk for the sake of avoiding some jerk-face's narrow-minded view of what it is to be grown.”
To define one's self, despite maybe turning a few heads — isn't that what being an adult is about?
(To reach Jenee Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or e-mail josterheldtkcstar.com.)
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. AMX-2008-08-05T12:31:00-04:00