Have you noticed more Chihuahuas in your social media feeds? I have. And if that means anything, it’s that Chihuahuas are having a moment. And thus: We need to talk about Chihuahuas.
As a Chihuahua enthusiast and caretaker of Coco, a nine-year-old Chihuahua mix, I must clarify that I am biased. I am also implicated in this latest Chihuahua craze, as I have composed and recirculated countless Chihuahua memes; I spent the entire month of September only posting pictures of Chihuahuas to Instagram, and will I retweet any Chihuahua content with glee.
The Chihuahua breed derives its name from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, and at present, the dogs are the second-most common breed found in shelters (yet somehow, Paris Hilton once paid $8,000 for one). Somehow both delicate and ferocious, the Chihuahua is at once your gentle friend and bloodthirsty protector. There is a fiction of Chihuahuas as snarling rat-dogs, an impression aided and abetted by the fact that most of them bond heavily with a single caretaker and then growl at the rest of humanity. But then there is the Chihuahua that walks the streets every day like you and me. Chihuahuas are not a monolith; they imprint themselves upon us as we create the platonic ideal of Chihuahua in our shared hivemind.
The Chihuahua of pop culture perhaps finds its roots in the conniving, short-tempered, and even cruel Stimpy of the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1991 to 1996, making it both a vehicle for Millennial nostalgia and Chihuahua awareness. Then, there was the iconic (and probably racist) Taco Bell Chihuahua of 1997 played by a dog named Gidget. From there, Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods toted Bruiser Woods — “both Gemini vegetarians — around Harvard Law in 2001. (Bruiser was played by a dog named Moonie, who actually lived with Gidget/Taco Bell dog; the pair were friends and attended each others’ premieres.) Following this, swaths of celebrities carried purse Chihuahuas, most famously Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Hilary Duff.
We are now in the midst of another Chihuahua renaissance, perhaps because of recent nostalgia surge causing us to become again obsessed with everything we fetishized 20 years ago (but I am willing to admit my own Chihuahua-adoring confirmation bias might color my analysis here). In August, Ariana Grande appeared with her Chihuahua-Beagle mix on the cover of Vogue; earlier this month, she got its name, Toulouse, tattooed on her hand. Just last week Aidy Bryant serenaded a 12-pound Chihuahua (and Harry Styles) in a Saturday Night Live sketch. And Hustlers, a movie I still haven’t seen because it’s not yet streaming, spotlights a Chihuahua named Manhattan, who stole the show while being cradled in Jennifer Lopez’s arms, and further aligned Chihuahuas with an ultra-feminine presenting caretaker. Apropos of nothing, here is the Hustlers Chihuahua’s family of seven, with whom she lives:
This is his family pic.twitter.com/cIdXmL8wwW— Gabriella Paiella (@GMPaiella) September 12, 2019
I saw this big tittie (post pregnancy) Chihuahua just lying there belly up basking in the sun she looked so serene and was staring at me almost longingly but when I got too close suddenly she started yapping savagely. I related to her a lot. I often feel I am the big tittie Chihuahua.
Part of this renaissance is the memeification of the Chihuahua. The dogs, with a defined brow and expressive eyes, are human-like in relatable way without being creepy. Their head tilts are similar enough to evoke an emotional, maternal response yet so distinctively un-human that they avoid the uncanny valley. As Rabbit White put it, “They have this wonder at discovering the world and a sort of wisdom. They look hapless but at the same time they’ve got a confidence that makes you believe they got your back when you’ll need them.” In summation, please consult the below meme:
The connection between a Chihuahua and caretaker is strong, but Chihuahuas will not save you from a well, and they will not run into a burning building to drag you out. I mean, they would probably yap and growl and try to get attention if you were in danger, because they love just as much, if not more, than any other dog. But the human connection to Chihuahuas is one of superfluous pleasure or invisible emotional support. We tend to spoil Chihuahuas and other similarly tiny dogs, pampering bodies that are physically incapable of manual labor. But we’re also spoiling ourselves because of how much benefit from their status as tiny companions.
Chihuahuas did not ask to be bred to be little and cute; they’re just living life on life’s terms. They embrace “fully automated luxury gay space communism”. They’re post-work, post-gender, disaffected futurists ready to be pampered, equipt with a communal and protective spirit.
To wit — Elle Woods, the Legally Blonde protagonist who personified unapologetic, ultrafeminine ambition of the 2000s, treated Bruiser Woods as an equal. They shared a life together, and were similarly received. As NPR News’ Alison Bryce put it, “Neither one of them [got] respect walking the halls of Harvard Law School.” The feminine and the Chihuahua are often one and the same.
Chihuahuas, like all of us, define what they are by what they are not, and they do it better. Their ferocity defies their delicacy, and then reinforces it by showing exactly how harmless they actually are. We should all be more like Chihuahuas.
There is an old bit of wisdom that a dog will never leave you like a human will. As with everything, we mostly see only what we want to see, and create our narratives out of that. The Chihuahua is independent, singular, and undefinable, even though I have been trying to define it for the last 700 words of this essay. All I can do is reflect upon what I see, their tiny paws and vibrating body, shaking to cope with fraught nerves.
My own Chihuahua obsession began a few years ago. After years of yearning for any sort of dog, I dog-sat a Chihuahua mix for two weeks. In retrospect, I remember very little of that time beyond difficult goodbye I had with the little angel. I was heartbroken, and went into Chihuahua-adoption overdrive.
I met Coco on a September morning. She was shy and particular, unlike the overly friendly and excitable dogs I was used to meeting. I was expecting a smaller than pint-size, low-maintenance, and portable dog, but she ended up being twice as large as I anticipated (given that she weighs 15 pounds, the folks from whom I adopted her suspect she is part Beagle).
Coco makes everyone earn their interactions with her, waiting for them to prove themselves as safe to play with. Her ears are enormous, her nipple size suggests she has gone through at least one pregnancy, and she refuses to walk on loud avenues. She insists on attention when she wants it, and doesn’t understand that hands function as anything more than devices for petting her. She headbutts and holds protests to rally for her causes: going out again, having dinner early, eating more peanut butter. She is particular and communicative and refuses to go on a walk when it’s raining. She is perfect, no matter what she does, because all she ever has to be is herself.