Personifying Our Pets: A Consumer Culture Creation

As someone who feels awkward around her dog when she is “naked”, I can totally relate to this conversation about how we anthropomorphize our pets.

The  nature of pet ownership in America (and the developed world) has changed significantly as consumer culture has evolved.  It used to be we domesticated animals to serve a function:  helping  to herd sheep, hunt, deliver supplies,  pull sleds, keep us warm on cold nights, etc.  Then as we moved into an industrial age and grew our wealth accumulation, pets became status symbols and products for the privileged.  But as the pet population multiplied and ownership became a part of our American dream (white picket fence, two and a half kids and a dog), our furry friends became much more than another mouth to feed – they became family.   And we began treating them like any other member of our family – by dedicating supermarket aisles to their feeding and maintenance, establishing medical and grooming routines and even buying them clothes.

This woof-raising article from Sociology of Style talks about this fashionable phenomenon along with sharing some great, fun content, take a close look at these pet product reviews.
  For more from Sociology of style, including the tips at the end of the article for “nurturing the human-pet connection”, click    .     Otherwise, yappy reading!

The Modern Day Muppet Show:
Our Pet Personification Obsession


If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater. . . suggest that he wear a tail.

– Fran Lebowitz

 The recent “dogs in pantyhose” meme — while a bit odd and disturbing — is merely the latest example of our cultural affinity for anthropormorphizing pets.  We seem to view and treat pets as people — and often dress them accordingly.  It’s as if we’re living in a (less musically-inclined) real-life version of The Muppet Show, where the line between animals and humans is indistinguishable.

Since the early 2000s, when Paris Hilton became the queen of the purse dog, with her Chihuahua, pets have become an accessory to be carried (or pushed) around town. More significantly, they are envisioned as an extension of one’s personal identity. Is this human absurdity or is there more to it?  Some people look like their pets, and as a 2010 study shows, pets are prone to automatic imitation, which causes them to act increasingly like their owners over time.  Some have even taken to using their pets as their social media profile photos — a literal surrogate for their persona.

enhanced-buzz-22108-1366731082-18Cats and dogs are being used to represent human emotions and experiences, and their popularity is viral. Buzzfeed’s animal page features pet personifications that include “24 Cats That Are So Single Right Now,” and Jimmy Fallon’s “If Puppies Could Vote” segment features adorable puppies dressed in tuxedos and asked to “predict” outcomes, like the Oscars.

But our interest in pet personification is not limited to human events and identities — we’re also increasingly interested in the lives of pets. Kitten Cams (no, really, you should click on this) offer a 24/7 real-time view into the thrilling lives of cats. Tune in and…see which toy they play with, observe their eating habits, and watch them nap.  In other words, it’s “The Real World: Feline Edition.”   It should therefore be no surprise that some of these pets are elevated to celebrity status.  Grumpy Cat, of internet meme fame, appeared on Anderson Cooper’s talk show and was recently “interviewed” by Forbes about his personal “brand monetization” and internet meme trend forecasting.

yhst-86054107059876_2257_113953686The dressed up pet has become so ubiquitous that one no longer flinches at the sight of a schnauzer out for a stroll with sunglasses or a boxer with booties in the park. It can be rather cute, right?  But how much is too much? Pet Halloween costumes run rampant, with some owners including their animals in the slutty Halloween costume trend.  Think a “Born to Ride” Harley Davidson jacket or Juicy Crittoure terry tracksuits and ‘Pawfume’ must be a joke? Think again. Designer duds for pets are rampant, and pet couture is on the rise.  But is a dressed up pet a privilege or punishment? (Many believe it’s the latter.)


We know why we dress ourselves in a particular style — status, tribal marking, and mating rituals are just a few of the socio-cultural elements that guide our personal aesthetic manipulation.  But what about our pets? What’s the point of their adornment? Transforming our pets into conspicuous consumers does little for their social lives (though I’m sure more than a few people would argue otherwise), but it does say something about us: our dressed up pets are yet another outlet for us to express our personal aspirations and ethos, and as with any visual affectation, publicly communicate.  What does your pet’s image say about you?






Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Fashion, pets, sociology, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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