Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fear Not the Ugly: On Scrump and the Drive to Be Cute

"This is Scrump. I made her myself. But her head is too big, so I pretend that a bug laid eggs in her ear and she’s upset because she only has a few more days to live."
--Lilo, Lilo and Stitch

I love Lilo and Stitch, and I love Scrump. Lilo is essentially everything I was as a child and many of the things I still am. She's strange. She looks at the world differently and appreciates its strangeness as beauty. She isn't perfect, but she doesn't need to be. She's crazy and offbeat and, though she desperately wants to be accepted, does not change who she is to achieve acceptance.

And then there's Scrump. She’s not the most conventionally pretty thing in the world, but Lilo made her with her own two hands. She uses her imagination to explain why she looks like she does and loves her dearly despite her imperfections. Scrump is precious to her, and Lilo’s relationship with Scrump is beautiful. Scrump is, in a way, a representation of Lilo's best qualities.

But then, when I was searching online for Scrump plushies, I found this:


It's symmetrical. The bulbous head of the original has been transformed into a super-deformed trait of chibi cuteness. Everything that was off-kilter has been smoothed out. Every piece of uniqueness, save the mismatched eyes, is gone. Very little survives of the imperfect but thoroughly loved little doll except coloration and a few messy (but not too messy!) stitches across the mouth.

Apparently, it's sold only in Japan, and I'm both glad of that fact and thoroughly unsurprised. To me, this is essentially everything that I don't like about Kawaii culture rolled into a roly poly plushie with button eyes. It's something imperfect and all the more beautiful for it forced into an unnatural perfection.

Sometimes, I feel like that. We get pressured, so often, to be cute or attractive or generally pleasing to the eye. Especially if you're into Japanese fashion, like I am, the pressure to be cute is kind of insane. Even if you're not, we get hit from all sides with expectations for how we should look. Look attractive, but not too sexual. Look modest, but not prudish. Be cute. Be attractive. And do it in the way that society wants you to.

We really shouldn't have to do that.

The fact is, some days we won't be a polished image of perfection. For many of us, that'll be most days. Sometimes, we'll break out. We won't be as skinny as we would like, or as plump. Our hair will do hilariously strange things; mine grows something that looks like a tumbleweed out of the right side of my head. And that's okay.

I want to offer you a challenge: don't be afraid to be ugly. That's not to say "don't be cute." Be cute if you want to be cute, but don't be afraid to fail at that pursuit. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. Don't be afraid to be who you are, imperfections and all. Strive to be whatever you want to be, but don't be afraid to fail.

You are allowed to be less than an image of perfection. You are allowed to be unattractive. Nobody, and I mean nobody, should be allowed to judge you for that, because whether you are or are not attractive on any given day is none of their concern.

It's hard to do, I know. We get a lot of pressure from all sides to be one thing (or many things) and then you see one blog post from me. It's not going to stick right away. It's hard.

But fear not the ugly, dear readers. You can be charming. You can be loved. You can love yourself. You can be beautiful despite your imperfections. Some days, you'll look like a perfect porcelain doll, and that's wonderful. But other days, you might look in the mirror and see Scrump.

Don't be afraid. Scrump is wonderful, too.


  1. There's this tiny movement in Japan, especially among grade-schoolers that think that little ugly figures and stuff are cool.

    I think I saw in some video on Youtube about these little figures with mushroom heads and the woman talking about them thought they were horrible.

    And I'm like...."they're cute!" so maybe there is a backlash to the Kawaii culture. And I think that's great!

    1. If you remember where you saw the Youtube video, I'd love to see it.