Sloths Are The New Unicorn & That's A Parenting Trend I Can Get Behind
In the past month or so I’ve been served an ad on Instagram for sloth slippers*, shown a photo of a real life sloth in the wild that my hairdresser snapped on a recent trip to Costa Rica, and invited to watch a sloth live-stream by a tax preparation company. I do not exaggerate when I say that this is only a fraction of encounters of a sloth kind I’d have in recent weeks. Lo! My fellow exhausted friends, take heart and rejoice! For, as I suspected earlier this year whilst traversing the halls of the New York Toy Fair, it is here at last and in glorious, peak force: the full fruition of the sloth trend that we so desperately deserve.
“Llamas and otters are very on trend right now,” said someone with frightening self-confidence near the Mattel booth at that Toy Fair. As I was just then reeling from the effects of taking a selfie with a giant unicorn sprinkler, and surrounded by rows upon rows of peppy, diverse Barbies standing pin straight on their endless legs, I found this reassuring. A unicorn, much like a Barbie, is a thing of fantasy: glittering, pretty, and — as anyone who has ever breathlessly slipped a tiny rubber shoe onto that contoured arch knows — exhausting on the upkeep. Llamas and otters, on the other hand, are playful. Relatable, even. But what spoke to me more than the unperturbed llamas and the unbearably cute otter pairs (holding hands!) I did indeed encounter as I ventured through t the convention center, traveling the equivalent of nearly eight miles over two days and wishing desperately for a nap pod, any nap pod, were the many long-toed creatures laying calmly 'round nearly every turn of the conference floor.
Whereas in previous years, the Toy Fair was dominated by armies of preternaturally talking, pooping baby dolls and unicorn everything, this year the sloth was waging a quiet and yes, slow assault on the reign of Type-A toy offerings. There, behind the robots that teach toddlers to code, behind the dazzling hatching eggs and the “unboxing” moments, were various incarnations of sloths, their long arms reaching out from every third booth toward their moment in the sun, which could come soon. Or not. They’re sloths. They’re not in a hurry.
New from Spin Master, the people who brought us not only the Hatchimal (this year’s version was a Toothless dragon), and the Pimple Popper Game, comes The Sloth Game, out this fall. Essentially, you win by being slow enough at various tasks which you must complete whilst babywearing said sloth. If you move too quickly, the sloth will ask you to slow down and buzz you out. Truly a game for the ages. A game that moves at my kind of speed. None of this frantically trying to dredge up the name of a pop culture reference you really should know from the addled recesses of your overworked mind, or figuring out how to spell at least a three-letter word with no vowels as your child and husband sigh and huff. Just do a task, slowly.
At the Toy Fair, I saw sloths that come in tiny cages (Feisty Pets Mini Misfits, now in sloth, coming this spring!), gorgeous stuffed sloths that would be a lovely addition to any nursery, and a huggable sloth pool float for the Instagram fiends among us. I even scored a sneak peek of an upcoming release from Zuru, makers of Boppi, 'The Booty Shaking' Llama, and while I’m banned from showing photos, I can tell you that you should prepare yourself for the existence of a flossing sloth. As in, a sloth who flosses. The dance, not her teeth.
Sadly, I missed seeing this guy in person: from IMC toys, a sloth who repeats your words back to you, but much slooowwwwweeerrrr.
Of course, sloths didn’t just appear in full force in 2019 out of the blue. A sloth could never be an overnight sensation. Back in November of 2017, Romper readers went bananas over the Sloth Fingerling. And earlier this year, Build a Bear included a gorgeous rainbow-colored sloth bearing a bouquet of flowers in their Valentine's offerings. I particularly appreciate the Burt Reynolds pose and would happily receive same next year, if anyone wants to page my husband.
Late last year, Etsy predicted the rise of what PBS had cheerfully dubbed "The Slowest Mammal On Earth" in their 2019 trend report (“Idealism is Out and Reality is In”). Along with “herbariums” and “burnt orange,” sloths made the list.
“Shoppers and Etsy sellers alike have gravitated to the laid-back demeanor of the sloth, a real-life representation of the carefree lifestyle many of us strive for every day,” quoth the report. “Frankly, we could all use a little more sloth-like hanging around.”
I think what’s appealing about sloths is that they’re able to achieve so much while appearing in a constant state of napping.
Agree, but, why now? Why… an animal that looks like it just pulled an all-nighter and needs coffee? As Bustle writer Lucia Peters noted in a December 2019 piece on the report, Etsy traces the rise of the sloth back to 2002, which brought us sloth “characters in popular animated movies,” including Ice Age. But Peters credits their “skyrocketing to fame” to “two incidents that occurred in 2012: Kristen Bell’s sloth meltdown and the arrival of Astronaut Sloth.”
Astronaut sloth or "space sloth," for those not in the know, is the kind of meme that one day will explain our current society to future civilizations. Kristen Bell’s sloth meltdown video, in turn, is what will explain to those same civilizations not only the rise of the sloth, but the rise of the Cult of Kristen Bell and, I can only assume, her eventual crowning as Supreme Ruler of Our Hearts/The United States. Her extreme (extreme) joy at the prospect of seeing a sloth in person, in the form of the world’s best birthday present ever, given by Husband of the Millennium Dax Shepard, is a sight to behold, but nothing that the 15,000 people who just last month voted on the name of a newborn baby sloth at the Zoo Atlanta could not understand.
Sloths, it seems, have calmly taken a deep, deep hold on our collective hearts.
I checked in with Etsy’s trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson recently to see how their prediction of the Rise of the Sloth has been panning out so far. “Unlike their slow movement, sloths are quickly gaining traction in popularity,” Johnson told me via email, noting that to date, there has been a 21 percent increase in searches related to “sloths” on Etsy, compared to the same time the previous year.
“I believe the world was ready to embrace an animal that represents a slower lifestyle,” Johnson added. “Unicorns undoubtedly offered a sense of magic and an escape from reality in 2018 but, today, we crave realness, mindfulness, and living life with intention.”
Clockwise from left to right: Sloth plant animal ($7.44, Another Studio/Etsy); Tiny Waffles the Sloth Door Friend decal ($14.71, MadeofSundays/Etsy); Sloth planter ($51.13, MinkyMooCeramics/Etsy); Sloth air plant holders ($50, FunUsualSuspects/Etsy); Sloth enamel pins ($9.47, ShopZoki/Etsy); Hand printed hugging sloth pillow ($6.50, Laura Frisk, Etsy)
My friend Corisa Walker would agree. Walker, whom I met when my daughter was in fourth grade, is the school librarian for our town’s four elementary schools (I still find myself having a difficult time not calling her Mrs. Walker), and the genius behind a local 35 and older women's indoor soccer league named, you guessed it, The Sloths.
Mrs. Walker, herself a mom of two young girls, put the group together last fall, after she posted on a local mom board that she was looking to play in an adult soccer league. “Sort of tongue in cheek I said that I would start a team and that we could call ourselves the Sloths and the only requirement would be that our team would be for slow people who wanted to just do less.”
A day later, The Sloths were registered in a league and had jerseys on the way. “That was the fastest we moved all season,” she says. “We have talked a lot about practicing but keeping in check with our motto, we haven't gotten around to it,” Walker explains. “We play one game a week and celebrate after every game.” Their motto? Just do less.
Could there possibly be a better, or more timely, rallying cry for the moms of the world? We’re constantly bombarded with messages that we’re doing too much (whether via helicopter or snow plow), that we’re doing it wrong, or that we probably shouldn’t be doing it at all. Balance is a myth, but burnout is real. Just. Do. Less.
I ask Walker if she’s noticed that her team name is very ~in vogue~ right now. “Sloths are everywhere!” she replies. “We love how on trend our team mascot is and we are always finding new sloth decor to hang on our bench.” The Sloths have stuffed sloths, a sloth garland, and an “actual sloth mascot” that they often bring to games. Meanwhile, Walker’s students know that she is “into Sloths” — this past holiday she received sloth books, calendars, socks, mugs, and shirts.
“I think it is only a matter of time before we see a trend in children's literature,” Walker adds. “Sloths are the new unicorn. One of my favorite children's books is Sparky by Jenny Offill about the cutest pet sloth that does nothing!”
Accompanying the rise of the sloth, we also have what at first feels like a very opposite phenomenon: the resurgence of our obsession with Marie Kondo’s exhausting reorganize-and-refold regime (remember, before the Netflix show there was the actual book, something I personally feel sloths are very into, as I am both a fan of sloths and fan of laying on the couch all day reading a novel).
But, perhaps on closer inspection, it’s not so contradictory, the thoughtful, considered magic of Kondo’s tidying-up method. It requires a lot of work, yes, but it’s not the frenzied, energetic cleaning up that happens before you have guests over (just me?). It’s the contemplative sorting, the stopping and allowing for a feeling in the heart, the gentle folding and general peacefulness-making in a space that was one chaotic with clutter. It’s not lazy at all. What it is, is slow.
We dangle our babies around our chests in the Ergo not because we are especially Type A and into multi-tasking, but because it’s easy and snuggly, and why else did we have a baby?
Are sloths lazy? To find out, I did what any self respecting sloth-lover would do. I Googled it.
“Sloths aren’t lazy — their slowness is a survival skill,” declares the first article that pops up, and that’s good enough for me. Writing for The Conversation, Becky Cliffe PhD, a researcher at Swansea University, argued thus: “The fact that slow sloths have been on this planet for almost 64 million years shows that they have a winning strategy.”
A line of reasoning that feels unassailable.
"Contrary to popular belief, sloths don’t actually spend inordinate amounts of time sleeping; they sleep for just eight to ten hours a day in the wild. They do move, but very slowly and always at the same, almost measured, pace.
"Moving slowly unequivocally requires less energy than moving fast, and it is this principal [sic] that underlies the sloths’ unusual ecology.
This makes so much sense! Slowness is a survival skill, a skill that is vastly under-appreciated today, and you don’t need me to dive much deeper than that. You know what I mean.
“It’s not that sloths are lazy — they’re actually quite productive — but I think what’s appealing about sloths is that they’re able to achieve so much while appearing in a constant state of napping,” adds Johnson, and I have to say, if I encountered a mom-fluencer like this on Instagram I would follow her instantly.
Sloths are misunderstood.
Johnson feels that moms who gravitate towards the sloth trend are “all about conserving energy,” which, as I look back on my 16 years of motherhood, explains a lot of my choices, from buying a co-sleeper (soooo much easier than getting up and going into another room to feed the baby, to giving in and letting my 12-year-old get that damn iPhone. (You can judge me, it’s fine, I’d judge myself if I wasn’t too busy figuring out what battles I can forgo now that I have a sophomore.) In the newborn days, I tried giving my daughter a pacifier but she didn’t like it. Lucky break? Who knows. What I’m saying is, we dangle our babies around our chests in the Ergo not because we are especially Type A and into multi-tasking, but because it’s easy and snuggly, and why else did we have a baby?
I ask you this: is there any greater high than choosing to forego bathing your toddler on a given night?
The Mommy Wars of late supposedly saw the SAHMs and the Working Moms (not to forget the WFHMs!) mounting their shiny My Little Ponies and riding into battle … but were they, really, ever in battle? It feels like more recently we’ve collectively agreed the whole Mommy Wars nonsense was really a bunch of ado about something no actual mom really cared about. The real concern is finding our own place of comfort with the choices we make, and finding peace with our own feelings of ambivalence, or laziness. Or just really, really embracing the truth that sometimes (often) we’d rather look at our phones than watch our kids go down the slide backwards a hundred times in a row, even though yes one day we will think back wistfully and miss those days at the playground (I guess?).
Sloths, with their bowl haircuts and their gnarly manicures, have a message for us. We are our own biggest critics, and taking things easier — and slower — is the critical path to life-saving self acceptance.
“Sloths are misunderstood,” says Walker. She prefers to think about sloths in terms of being “exceptional at mindfulness and meditation,” rather than being lazy. “Sloths are able to find joy in just being.”
When I first messaged Mrs. Walker about the Sloths for this article, their current record was 17-0-1. “But we consider any non-loss a win and celebrated that tie to the fullest,” she told me.
In parenting, you rarely win. We'll always love Barbies and unicorns, but sloths are here to remind us that we can — and absolutely should —celebrate the ties to the fullest.
*Sadly, yet appropriately, I moved too ~slowly~ and can't find the slippers listed on ModCloth.com. I might buy the "Let's Hang and Read" sloth tee instead. Then again...