Poop Happens: Why The Poo Emoji Is Everywhere

From throw pillows and bedsheets to paper plates and custom cakes, the poop emoji has become an unlikely star of the lifestyle sphere. True, you can also purchase poop emoji t-shirts, leggings, and keychains, but there’s something about making the decision to display a stuffed homage to an anthropomorphic pile of feces on your couch that seems like a bit more of a commitment. It’s not an interior design choice that’s for the faint of heart.
Nor are the poop-themed children’s birthday parties that have been seemingly everywhere these days, thanks to the myriad accoutrements (a-poo-trements?) currently on sale at popular retailers like Party City, Oriental Trading Company, and Etsy. It’s actually rather easy to understand why parents might throw their progeny a poop party — after all, the young heart wants what it wants, and usually, it wants it with a fervency matched by little else. Just ask anyone who, circa age six, demanded a “bug party” or an event where everyone had to pretend to be a dog. But why are the rest of us suddenly going all-in on you-know-what?
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The relative cuteness of the poop emoji, which was invented in Japan in the ‘90s and debuted, at first quietly, in America in 2007 as part of Google’s adoption of Unicode 6.0, is something of an unlikely conduit for the cultural acceptance of fecal matter. Described by Emojipedia as “a pile of poo that is shaped like a soft-serve ice cream. Brown in color with a friendly smile in most versions of this emoji,” the poop emoji actually used to be a lot less palatable. The version first available for use through Gmail, you may remember, lacked a face and instead had a cluster of animated flies buzzing around it. It’s hard to imagine anybody throwing a party for that. Google execs were reportedly even concerned it might offend people with its vulgarity.
The poop emoji we know today is loosely based off a Japanese cartoon character called Dr. Slump and rose to prominence in 2011, when Apple added an official emoji keyboard on its iOS operating system. Adding the smile and removing the flies turned out to be a wise branding decision. These days, if you didn’t know it was supposed to be a literal piece of shit, you’d think it was adorable. Heck, you probably do anyway.
"Why does it have a face? Why is it smiling? Would you be smiling if you were a poo? It just brings up all these silly thoughts, and from that it makes poop more mainstream and you can have an actual conversation about it,” Jason Ojalvo, CEO of Tushy, a startup that sells bidet attachments, tells Refinery29. Ojalvo believes that, in a roundabout way, the popularity of the poop emoji has allowed for more open-mindedness among consumers, creating a marketplace that’s more receptive to products like his.
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Tushy, which was founded by former Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal, and Poo-Pourri, a fellow bathroom-based startup selling bathroom smell-covering spray, are throwing a poo party of their own, only this one is for grown-ups. It’s taking place in a pop-up space on Bowery Street in New York from May 30 to June 3. The “poop-up”, as it were, will give guests a chance to try out products by Tushy and Poo-Pourri, snap pics in a “disco port-a-potty photo booth,” and hang out in a toilet-shaped ball pit filled with — what else? — poop emoji balls. Expect to see it on your Instagram feed.
“Bideting [can save] 15 million trees a year, but what first draws you in and makes it acceptable to even have that conversation is humor. I think the pile of poop emoji has kind of served that purpose,” Ojalvo says.
Conversations about poop — which Ojalvo posits are also increasing as millennials begin having children and thus regularly discussing their offspring’s bodily functions — are all well and good. Especially if they can lead to positive changes that benefit us from a health and environmental standpoint, and also allow people to be refreshingly open about something that we literally all do. But what kind of person displays the poop emoji — cute and boundary-breaking as it may be — inside their home? According to artist Matthew LaPenta, who sculpts various emojis from materials like gold-plated bronze and brass, it’s often people with that rare mix of cash to spare (his sculptures sell for between $8,500 and $10,000), an appreciation for fine art, and obviously, a killer sense of humor.
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“The poop isn’t my number one seller, but people definitely love it,” LaPenta tells Refinery29. “People that want a piece of poop in their home definitely have a certain sense of humor and a certain sensibility. The other thing, too, is when I make it gold or silver, it’s kinda funny. It shows you’ve made it — you’re successful enough to have a giant piece of poop sculpture in your house.”
Brooke Baron, owner of the New York-based bakery Brookie’s Cookies, expresses a similar sentiment. She’s been selling two types of poop emoji cookies, one topped with a swirl of chocolate fondant and one that’s a chocolate-covered Oreo, as well as custom cakes, for about four years. She says that while some do seem to be commissioned for children’s parties (“Not really in between, not like an eight-year-old or a ten-year-old, but maybe a five-year-old,” she tells Refinery29), most appear to be gag gifts for newly-minted 21-year-olds or those who are now considered over the hill.
“I actually made a batch today,” Baron says of her smiling poo emoji treats.
When our parents’ generation turned 40 — which for many of us happened in the ‘90s or thereabout — they got cakes with caskets and Grim Reapers on them. These days, 40 doesn’t seem quite as ancient. Hey, people regularly live to be 100! And they don’t have kids ‘till they’re 35! But it’s still an opportunity to troll our friends. So we give them poop cakes, because, I guess, why not? Or poop chocolates, poop soft-serve, or poo emoji shots in little poo emoji shot glasses. A quick Google search will reveal that the possibilities here are pretty much endless.
But unlike other, more obvious aesthetic and gourmet trends, the poop emoji feels like it’s on a mission of sorts. Its ubiquity allows us to finally have conversations that were previously completely taboo, much to the delight of companies like Tushy, who are hoping to make valuable innovations in the space. We’re living, after all, in the age of the overshare, and in many ways, poop is the final frontier. It’s also a democratizer — something we literally all do and experience. They say that if you’re intimidated by someone, you should try picturing them naked, but might it be better to picture them pooping? While the more tasteful among us might scoff at a poop statue, throw pillow, or cookie, perhaps having this little caricature around will imbue these rarified worlds with some always-welcome humbleness.
“Having a shitty day is something we all experience. There’s something we can laugh at about it. Everyone poops. Poop’s funny, “ LaPenta says. “I just think it’s a really weird thing that everyone can relate to, in an odd way.”
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