We need to have a discussion about kitteh cats.
This Saturday, Animal Planet will crown the winner of America’s Next Cat Star. It’s supposed to be an innocent contest that allows voters to pick the cutest cat in the country. But that won’t stop us from being outraged by it. I am outraged! The quasi-innocous America’s Next Cat Star is promoting unfair beauty standards that are harmful to cats’ self-esteem, their sense of feline selfhood, and their inalieanble right to look into a mirror and think, “My fur is good enough.”
Just look at the finalists:
Three out of four of these cats are white (or at least partly white), and they’re mostly blue-eyed, thin, and young (none of the candidates are over the age of 35). A shorthair named Der, the only cat who has slightly off-white fur, is labeled “exotic.” Exotic? What year is it, 1965? Are we inside a pet store on the set of Mad Men? Where’s the diversity here?
Then there’s Albert, a Munchkin who goes by the condescending nickname “Baby Cat.” His owner says she picked him because she “knew he’d be a baby cat forever.” What a twisted, perverse desire. Do we really need to further infantalize a mammal whose brothers and sisters are often forced to ride around inside a baby carriage? Our society remains obsessed with youth. Shouldn’t Animal Planet spotlight a few more experienced cats, teaching young kittens to value their elders? Where are all the good roles in Hollywood for cats of a certain age?
It’s true that Brimley, a rescued Persian, is slightly more seasoned at two years old. But why does Animal Planet have to praise his “dog-like personality”? Brimley’s feline ancestors worked hard to break the glass ceiling in a slobbery, dog-dominated world. Why must a cat act like a dog in order to get ahead? And while we’re at it, why is Animal Planet pitting cats against cats in the first place, accusing them of “paw[ing] their way to the pinaccle of feline fame”? When dogs are ambitious, we call them “pack leaders.” We let them herd sheep and rescue skiers trapped by avalanches. When cats are ambitious, we accuse them of having catfights. Granted, this is a literal description of what cats do. But still!
As for Sauerkraut, a frowny-faced rescue cat, her profile insists that “there’s something about her face that’s hilarious.” Is it her (gasp!) asymmetrical whiskers? Or is it simply because she’s not smiling big enough for you, Animal Planet? Why do you always have to pressure girl cats to smile?
Those photos of Bagel, a.k.a. The Sunglass Cat, on the Cat Star Finalists page would never hold up in any “real beauty” campaign, even though Bagel was born without eyelids. One shot shows her twisting her body sideways, contorting herself so that she looks thinner. In another, she’s licking her mouth suggestively. The last one shows her totally unclothed, except for a flashy pair of bedazzled sunglasses. This cat is only two years old! Don’t you people remember what happened to Drew Barrymore? The next thing you know, Bagel’s gonna be getting high on catnip and sharing dirty videos on Meerkat. Thanks, Obama!
Okay, sure… maybe we’re overreacting a little. We’ll admit that we’re still reeling from that Photoshopping scandal at Cat Fancy. But the sad reality is that we treat celebrity cats like circus freaks. At the height of his commercial fame, Morris the Cat had starved himself down to only three pounds and was obsessed with an imaginary mouse. It’s time to stand up for all the little kittens who (by viture of their skeletal limitations) cannot stand up themselves. Let’s protest any contest that suggests cuteness is the apex of social value. Let’s raise our cats to be independent thinkers who don’t need to please people pleasers to thrive. Let’s…
Hold up. Is that a photo of Baby Cat tucked into a widdle tiny kitteh beddy-weddy?!?