New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Adults need stuffed animals too

A stuffed animal may seem like a childish possession. Be it as it may, I never outgrew mine, and I’m all the better for it.
Alisia Houghtaling
(Alisia Houghtaling for WSN)

I have had the same teddy bear, Meme  — pronounced Mimi, but I was unaware of the correct spelling because I grew up in Moscow — since I was five. When I was packing to move into NYU, my parents placed a bet on whether or not he would come with me. Long story short, he did. Growing up, I noticed that my friends and I had a difference in our stuffed animal likings: I kept my stuffed animals from childhood, while they outgrew theirs. However, as I went to summer camps and ultimately college, I started to realize that this was not something exclusive to me — a lot of people still had their stuffed animals past their childhood expiration date.

If you’ve ever suffered through the “you’re too old for stuffed animals,” or “you’ve outgrown this bear, we have to donate it” like I have, you might have been unintentionally misled. For children, stuffed animals are said to strengthen social skills, provide comfort and security and spark imagination. Although some of the benefits of stuffed animals change as you age, they never go away.

I grew up as an only child, so playing with stuffed animals became a way to entertain myself when I lacked a sibling connection. I would constantly combine stuffed animals with my personal interests, and they were often artists, siblings or gymnasts. After work, my parents frequently had to sit through staged gymnastics meets or individually bid each of my stuffed animals a goodnight.

Typically, once children reach a certain age, they feel as though they no longer need a stuffed animal. However, children often do not outgrow a stuffed animal, which might come with a sense of shame from peers who have outgrown theirs and their parents. If you have not outgrown your stuffed animals like me, it is totally okay and normal — and even beneficial.

Buying stuffed animals became a way to boost my serotonin, and as I got older, I found friends who also shared my love of stuffed animals. We buy each other Jellycats and Squishmallows for special occasions like graduation and birthdays or just to say “I miss you.” Stuffed animals can be a good object of comfort during a period of transition. When my friends and I all dispersed to different colleges, we all bought each other some form of a stuffed animal to keep as a reminder of our friendship through all of the change.

“As we enter adulthood and leave home for the first time, it’s no surprise that [stuffed animals] re-enter our life, providing comfort while also helping us work through feelings of uncertainty as we transition into a new life stage,” said Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a New York Times-bestselling author and clinical psychologist, in Markets Insider.

Two stuffed animals, one yellow moose and a beige star, sitting on the ground with buildings in the background.
(Alisia Houghtaling for WSN)

In 2017, Build-A-Bear Workshop commissioned a study of 2,000 adults through Atomik Research and found that more than 50% of respondents have a stuffed animal, 40% still sleep with one and 56% have kept their favorite stuffed animal for over 20 years. If you are ever insecure about your stuffed animal possessions, know you are not alone in having them.

In 2023, I noticed an interest in stuffed animals on social media — particularly with brands like Squishmallow and Jellycat — which has normalized having stuffed animals at any age. Jellycat makes cute TikTok videos and Instagram posts. They are relatable through “which Jellycat are you?” content, motivational advice and lighthearted cartoons and videos of their products. For me, they currently play a role in normalizing having stuffed animals at any age, through having stuffed animals for adult celebrations like graduations and weddings. My friends and I constantly tag ourselves in Jellycat posts, telling each other which one we would want, which remind us of each other, or seeing if they post any of the ones that we have gifted each other.

My teddy bear has been with me for 14 years and counting and is without a doubt one of my prized possessions. I am not afraid to admit that he has become a conditioned part of my nighttime routine, and I sleep best when I am hugging something with his shape. Next time you really want the cute stuffed toy that has been staring at you through the store window, you should give it a home. It might make you feel more at home, too.

Contact Alisia Houghtaling at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Alisia Houghtaling
Alisia Houghtaling, Illustration Editor
Alisia Houghtaling is a first-year in Applied Psychology in Steinhardt and one of WSN's Illustration Editors. In her freetime, you can find Alisia drawing, painting, reading, eating pasta or autopilot walking around SOHO to window shop or stare into windows and say "I want to live there." You can find her on Instagram @_alisiart_ and send Italian restaurant recommendations or ridiculous real-estate listings in the city.

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  • A

    Abdul Von smithMay 10, 2024 at 11:02 am

    I totally agree, someone needed to say this! I used to bring my Flat Stanley everywhere I went but I stopped because my brother, Jahquen, told me that I was too old. Now, my vacations seem a little lacking as my friend Flat Stanley is in the local landfill.

  • D

    Dani BiondiMay 2, 2024 at 9:49 am

    This is so adorable and heartwarming! I agree, everyone needs a plush friend!

  • S

    Stevin Azo MichelsMay 2, 2024 at 9:35 am

    I travel with a small dinosaur. I pull him out on the airplanes and it always gets a friendly comment from the FAs and sometimes fellow travelers!
    Makes airplane travel 110% happier.
    His name is Martin, btw, Dino Martin.