I saw this in a Heritage 1981 store a little while ago, and my first instinct was to give the t-shirt a hug.
The shirt is tragic, really. This poor hippo has hopes, aspirations, a tutu. But no one can see past her rough exterior to recognize the potential within. There is no coach who will turn that raw ambition into skill; there will be no third act where the mean dancer hurts her ankle and the hippo must take her place in the performance. No, this poor hippo is left standing on the fringe, the water boy of her ballet class.
But where else can she go? Fantasia was a rarity, a token appearance, the dance equivalent of when a magazine does their “Real Bodies!” issue. This poor hippo has few options.
And so, this vision of shattered dreams is captured forever on this t-shirt, immortalized, the image of a sad hippo seeking comfort in an old friend: the cupcake.
But it’s not just about the cupcake, or the dance class, or even the hippo, is it? It’s about the things we can never do, the failures we’ve had to accept. The chances we didn’t take, or the chances we took but didn’t succeed. This hippo is not just experiencing her own struggle. She is your struggles, too.
If you wear this shirt and I walk up and hug you, it’s not you I’m hugging. It’s the sad hippo in all of us.