In recent news that a busy person like you has little time to indulge, the world’s most widely recognised fast-food franchise has released a promotional gift for grownups. This business, well known for enticing children with desirable bits of happy plastic, is now offering its adult customers an adult-size branded “onesie”. This Big Baby outfit, available only in the US, is presumably unleashed in the attempt to increase sales and, um, convince people like me to freely publicise the thing in respectable outlets.
Well, look. Forgive the distribution of this news, which I indulge to make a larger point. I am not recommending that you purchase, or do not purchase, this company’s products. This is a matter for discussion only between you and your stomach.
The discussion between us is the rise across the last decade of similar “kidult” items and practices.
This business, well known for enticing children with desirable bits of happy plastic, is now offering its adult customers an adult-size branded “onesie”.
If you are one of those grownups whose wardrobe resembles that of an outsize toddler or one of those grownups who can list every character in the Marvel universe alphabetically, you are not going to be diminished here by me. This would be hypocritical. After all, I am a person currently wearing trainers she put herself on a wait-list to buy. I have no intention of diminishing kidultism. And neither do my feet, which are dressed in the dreams of a thirteen-year-old.
There have been a few semi-serious books written on the topic of kidultism. One of the very first I saw was Rejuvenile by US journalist Christophe Noxon.
Of course, there are plenty of counter-arguments to the widely observed habit of Western kidultism. Grownups who dress in suits often have little patience with grownups who dress in polka dots and on any day of the week, you can see a new TV segment or read a new take on how “adults are just refusing to grow up”.
Trainer-habit notwithstanding, I must allow that I too have felt a little irritation at people in my age-range who play hide-and-seek, cosplay for Star Wars screenings or otherwise attempt to approach the world with a rather self-conscious childlike wonder. First, this is because I am not very nice. Second, this is because I am very hypocritical and tortured as a result. I often wonder if the adolescent shoes I like to buy are themselves made from the labour of children.
Grownups who dress in suits often have little patience with grownups who dress in polka dots and on any day of the week, you can see a new TV segment or read a new take on how “adults are just refusing to grow up”.
Who knows? It is generally impossible to trace the supply chain of any item available for purchase in the West. Even companies who make genuine attempts to be ethical may still be using base materials sourced from unethical labour. Nearly a quarter of a billion children in the Global South are engaged in work. Much of this work in dangerous. A good deal of it is done by persons aged under 10. All of this labour, whether performed by little ones or adults who will never get to ironically wear a onesie, is exploitative. The products of this labour are the things most of us buy. Only the shrinking number of wealthy people in the West can afford to make “ethical” choices—and here again, the ethics are impossible to trace. These are the things I try not to think about when I look at my kidult sneakers.
I suspect that these are the things that many of us think about when engaging in kidult behaviour. We might convince ourselves, often for long periods, that we need the fun break from the adult world. But, behind this apparent joy is the shared, usually unspoken knowledge that our relative wealth is predicated on great global poverty and exploitation.
To pretend that you are a kid—and I, having just bought a kids’ Hello Kitty wallet to contain my grownup wages, do this—is also to assume the right of a child to naivety. It is to say “I know nothing about the big world”, even when, at some level, you absolutely do. Alongside this wish not to know the horror of our global organisation is the real feeling of being something like a child. We know that we have no power. We know that we have an ultimate authority. In our case, this is not our parents. But it’s that cruel global market in which we have no choice but to participate.
To pretend that you are a kid—and I, having just bought a kids’ Hello Kitty wallet to contain my grownup wages do this—is also to assume the right of a child to naivety.
As kidults, we hope to avoid responsibility. As the wards of the global market, we know we have very limited hopes of taking responsibility. Such knowledge, I have thought as I looked at these shoes, is what drives us to act as children so often.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with wanting to be carefree, of engaging in mildly obsessive fandom. Of wanting space to be, occasionally, like a child and absorbed in one’s own pleasures.
But if we ever want to change the global market, we must be absorbed, like adults, in the idea of all the sacrifices made for this pleasure. This doesn’t mean we need to quit playing musical chairs for good. It does mean that only together, and not absorbed alone, we could, over time, build a world where we all have extra time to act like babies.