This week, cursed images of an enormous stuffed animal with legs seemingly made to strangle you in your sleep spread across the internet after a Twitter user shared some Amazon reviews of the 2m Joyfay Giant Teddy Bear. Some shoppers assumed they were ordering a larger version of a childhood teddy, but were disturbed to receive a furry creature with disproportionally long legs.
Posts about the Lovecraftian plushie soon followed from outlets such as Boing Boing and Teen Vogue, which described the bear as “nothing short of completely, utterly horrifying”. As one disappointed Amazon customer described the toy:
Hideous! The legs are like 4 feet long making the bear look like a creepy gumby thing. I got this for Valentine’s Day and would have rather had a cheaper more proportional bear… I mean this isn’t even cute.
Who could possibly be behind such a nightmare creature? As it turns out, four scientists – an electrochemist, a photo-chemist, a physicist and a laser spectroscopist. The co-founders of Joyfay, which sells the bear, were all working on their PhDs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland when then-photochemistry student Junwei Wang came up with the idea to sell things on Amazon.
“I was doing an XPS [X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy] experiment, and Junwei came to my lab and tells me that we can maybe start to sell things online and we could actually make more money than we would through this PhD program,” Joyfay co-founder and electrochemist Nikola Matic told Gizmodo. “And while he was working on samples for a photochemical generation of hydrogen, we had two hours to kill since the machine really takes some time so we opened up an Amazon account.”
They listed some items that sold immediately. Soon they began selling “anything and everything online, including these teddy bears,” Matic said. Their business, Joyfay, took off. And once they all graduated around 2014, they stuck with it, and didn’t bother pursuing jobs in the scientific community.
But they haven’t abandoned science altogether, according to Matic. “There’s definitely a science behind these giant teddy bears,” he said.
It comes down to two major factors, one logistical and one psychological. Logistically, if the torso of a giant stuffed animal was bigger, then the cost of shipping USPS would be much more expensive. If they ship a bigger-torsoed bear with FedEx ground, then it would have to be shipped as freight – which is too slow to be included in Amazon Prime. Losing Amazon Prime would hinder sales. But more importantly, Matic explains, they’re just providing the giant bear size that people really want.
“Let me try to convert this into meaningful sentences,” Matic said, attempting to translate his data-driven research into a layman explanation that even a journalist could understand. It begins with why we think teddy bears should have short legs:
Dig deep down and think, “Why is it that anybody buys teddy bears?” There are some answers and they’re quite profound. One of the reasons why people buy teddy bears is because the proportions of the arms and torso and legs are that of a baby. And it’s kind of innate to children to like those kind of proportions. And it’s kind of cute to us. It’s like an axiom: Everybody finds babies to be cute. So normal teddy bears, they maintain these kind of proportions… But in the real world, if you had babies that were that big, they could not walk and they couldn’t hold their head.
So if a giant teddy bear should not have the proportions of a giant baby, then what? Well, when Joyfay first began selling giant bears back in 2011, most of the sales were around Valentine’s Day. Matic shared a Google Trend search that showed that searches for “giant teddy bear” do spike annually around early February.
“When a boyfriend buys a girlfriend a large teddy bear, then this large teddy bear is kind of a replacement. We have lots of folks, they went to Iraq and they were deployed and they bought their wives or girlfriends a giant teddy bear,” Matic said, explaining that the girlfriend customer base seems to prefer the longer legs.
“You conclude that the legs are long,” Matic said referring to my initial email to him, in which I asked why the legs are so long. “Long compared to what? Is it long compared to what you would have in your mind what traditional small teddy bears should be like? People just assume that they’re right because it’s like that. But then again, it has a different function.”
Whatever that function may be, some reviewers did seem disappointed that the legs were longer than they expected when ordering. But Matic said some of the images posted by customers “kind of misrepresent how it actually looks” because of the unflattering angle. While most Joyfay’s promotional images of the giant teddy bear do show a head-on angle that make the legs appear shorter, Matic showed me one side-angle shot of the bear that he said looks more normal.
See, totally normal.