Stuffed Animals: A Complete Guide

Find out everything you ever wanted to know about plushies!

What are stuffed animals?

A stuffed animal is a soft toy made out fabrics such as plush or cloth, which is filled with synthetic fiber, cotton, straw or wood wool. In some cases, the stuffed animals are filled with more coarse materials such as plastic pellets or beans. Stuffed animals distinguish themselves from other toys by their cuddly nature; they are often soft and have exaggerated features such as large eyes and short limbs to make them look more appealing.

Stuffed animals are most often shaped like animals, and they find their origin in late 19th-centrury Germany. Nowadays, both children and adults often own multiple plushies.

A Large Pile of Stuffed Animals
Stuffed animals come in all shaped and sizes (Credit: PPJR Productions).

What sort of stuffed animals are there?

The most common stuffed animal is the bear: known as “teddy bears”, these plushie bears come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from brown bears and panda bears to koala bears and gummy bears. Other common stuffed animals are dogs and cats, or easily recognizable animals such as the inhabitants of the African savannah: the giraffe, the lion, or the elephant.

Though the term “stuffed animal” indicates all plushies resemble animals, this is untrue. While most of them do resemble real animals, many of them are shaped in different ways. Common plushie variations are ones that are shaped like spirits or mythological creatures, or fictional characters from books, films, and pop culture franchises. In addition, there are plushies that resemble real individuals, such as Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Rosie O’Donnell, and there are plushies shaped like foods, plants, body parts, landmarks, and inanimate objects, ranging from croissants and sushi rolls to vehicles and mobile phones.

Toast the Avocado Plushie climbing in a Plant
Plushies don’t always have to resemble animals (Credit: Toast the Avocado, @toasttheavocado).

What other terms for “stuffed animal” are there?

Stuffed animals go by many names around the world. The most popular term aside from “stuffed animal” is “plushie”. The soft nature of the word “plushie” is considered to relate well to the gentle, cuddly nature of the toys and was adapted by the plushie community on Instagram as their main handle. The word “plush” comes from the French word “peluché”, meaning “fluff” or “plush”..

Other common terms are “stuffed toy”, “plush toy”, “stuffy” or “teddy bear”. In the United Kingdom and Australia they are often called “soft toys” or “cuddly toys”.

Do adult sleep with stuffed animals as well, or are they just for kids?

Traditionally, stuffed animals are widely known as objects of comfort for children, as well as toys to be played with. However, research regarding the use of stuffed animals by Fairuz Gaibie, a clinical psychologist from Cape Town, has shown that when people cuddle soft and comforting objects, such as a stuffed animal, oxytocin is released; and this goes for both children and adults. Whether we keep our stuffed animals due to sentimental attachment, as an object of emotional comfort or to help us sleep, approximately 44% of all adults still own plushies. This number was prompted by a research conducted in the United Kingdom by Hotpoint, and though it is not possible to extrapolate this number worldwide, it does give a clear indication that many adults still value their stuffed friends.

Aside from the traditional use of stuffed animals, they are also sold as souvenirs, they are gifted as a sign.

Who is the most famous stuffed animal in the world?

The most famous stuffed animal in the world is Winnie-the-Pooh. Popularized by the books of A. A. Milne as well as the films by Walt Disney, Pooh was the favorite toy of Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh was named after Winnie, a Canadian black bear living at London Zoo, who in turn was named after the city of Winnipeg, the hometown of the Canadian Lieutenant who purchased  Winnie from a hunter.

The rich imagination of Christopher Robin and his father led to the creation of a collection of short stories about the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Tigger and Christopher Robin – who was based on the real Christopher. The other supporting characters in Milne’s novel Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) were also based on stuffed toys owned by Milne’s son. The original toys owned have been on display in The New York Public Library since 1987.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends at the New York Public Library
Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends at the New York Public Library (Credit: NYPL).