All Hail Ugly-Cute! The Cutest Kind of Cute

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Why do we love cute things so much? Humans have been wondering this since twee little cave drawings were being scratched by Cray-Pas into the walls of teensy caves by precocious tots, and the thing is, scientifically or otherwise, we're predisposed to love that which we consider adorable. Adorable is usually little. Chubby. Sad-faced. Big-eyed. Sweet. Helpless. Mewing. Tinny of tenor. Short of limb. The opposite of vicious—is there anything more horrifying than an allegedly cute creature that turns mean? And deeply in need of love and also able to give it (or so we assume, because of all those other things).

Maybe this cute obsession we have is to ensure the future of the species (we love babies so we will fight to protect them!); maybe it's, as writers have posited, in our very DNA. Maybe it's also just because cute is so damn cute. But there's growing appreciation for a certain kind of cute that merits our attention. This is the anti-cute, cute primarily in how objectively ugly it is. The most recent example of such is the Brooklyn Aquarium's newly expected baby walrus. By God that thing is cute, in aggregate. Round and plump and sweet and helpless—an orphan, for goodness sake—so cute it may well travel with its wee bibsy-bobsy little head in his handler's lap to get to the aquarium Thursday, per Lisa Foderardo, covering all the cuteness for the New York Times.

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But a closer inspection reveals that this baby walrus, named Mitik, "Mit" for short, may not be that cute after all—at least not by the traditional standards. He's 234 pounds, and gaining a pound a day; he'll end up a thousand-plus-pound creature. Even in his smaller state, he has "multiple chins and doleful expression." He looks, frankly, a bit dumbfounded, possibly not the smartest tool in the shed. He is "plucky," which is another way for saying the kid's got some sass, maybe even something of a baditude: When another orphaned walrus, Pak, "comes anywhere near us," explained behavioral husbandry supervisor Martha Hiatt, "he pops up, yells at Pak and tries to head-butt him." Wait, is that cute? It's not cute like the old days, perfect-cute like Boo the dog, who, given what we now know about him, maybe isn't that cute, either. 

But anti-cute is arguably better than traditional cuteness. We like our heroes plucky with some verve and no-nonsense attitudes. We like head-butts, proverbial or not. We want our friends and enemies and the people we follow on Twitter to have "personality." Boring old stereotypical good-looks cute no longer cuts it. Let's call it the hipster of cutes. We want cute with a twist. Take the corgi: Not really, in fact, cute at all—but, in being kind of ugly, the weird troll of dogs, unquestionably adorable to so many. Take impossibly overweight animals that are not even healthy but, golly, they are fat and cah-ute (when not terrifying)! Or what about the sloth? 

Our not-dorable walrus Mitnik, it seems, is a poster child for contemporary cute: The anti-cute, the ugly cute. In a time of beautifully imperfect models and celebrities who might not even bathe all that often and quirky brunettes rather than perfect American-style blondes, we're celebrating not only the fuzzy kitteh or golden-hued baby-puppy but also, and most of all, the hairless heavyweight baby manimal that sort of looks like he'd be shoe-in to work afternoons in an artisanal mayo shop in Brooklyn, so long as he wasn't high all the time. And that's fine! Just know that this isn't your grandmother's form of adorable. All hail Mit, crown prince of ugly-cute. 

Insets via Alaska SeaLife Center; Shutterstock/Victoria Rak @ Tuff Photo.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.