Despite constantly changing trends, the chubby, rosy-cheeked, and wide-eyed Kewpie doll has claimed a space on tattoo flash sheets for many years, essentially shapeshifting to accommodate new tattoo styles and the individuality of each tattooer and client. The Kewpie is found across all trends, from traditional quintessential Kewpies to Kewpies disguised as comic book villains and everything in between. These baby-faced dolls are so deeply embedded in tattoo culture that nearly every fandom imaginable has been Kewpied. Artists like filmmaker John Waters and musician Lady Gaga, and films like Ghostbusters and Edward Scissorhands have all inspired Kewpie tattoos in their likenesses. Endearing, cute, and a little weird, Kewpies are a tattoo mainstay, and considering the crossovers with other unique fandoms, the Kewpie’s primary appeal is likely its eccentricity.
Much like John Waters and Lady Gaga, whose fans have dedicated Kewpie tattoos in their honor, the cartoon has gained a cult-like following. Some tattooers specialize in Kewpies. The dolls have even inspired songs and now represent a Japanese mayonnaise company of the same name. The Kewpie originated in a 1909 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. First conceived of as a comic, the cartoon eventually gave way to dolls, celluloids, clothing, and of course, countless tattoos. Even musicians like the legendary Nick Cave have referenced the iconic character in a song, and although Cave’s song “Kewpie Doll” is clearly a love song in which the eponymous doll actually represents an ex-lover, the lyrics likely provide an inkling as to why these dolls gained such a devoted following. Cave sings “Well I love that Kewpie Doll/ Yeah I bought her in a show/ I dressed her up in a cheap red cotton dress/ But everything was either fished-out or spat out.” The Kewpie doll is identifiable by a few specific characteristics: wide eyes, rosy cheeks, and a chubby body. Dress the Kewpie up in any outfit, and as long as these characteristics remain, the Kewpie will shine through.
Traditional Kewpie tattoos are adorned with devil costumes, skeleton bodysuits, or simply flanked with other American traditional elements like flowers and script, while character or celebrity Kewpie portraits take some of the features those icons are known for and pair them with the Kewpie baby face. John Waters’ pencil thin mustache and Alex Ovechkin’s gap toothed smile pair with chubby red cheeks and wide, excited eyes to create unique Kewpies representing these famous faces.
The doll’s signature look represents three traits people often associate with babies in general. The chubby cheeks, bright eyes, and round bodies allow it to wear any outfit or costume or character likeness and remain recognizable as the iconic Kewpie. This is due not only to the wide proliferation of the character itself, but also due to the universal nature of these characteristics. Though these tattoos are inked on skin, the cartoon still acts as a doll, able to dress up as anything while still holding onto its own unique yet flexible appearance.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.