Sending you hugs 🫂💕

Of course the same year we get a proper hug emoji The World Health Organization tells us no hugging allowed 🫂🙅

What are you most looking forward to once Stay-in-Place is lifted?

Maybe it’s a vacation which requires traveling 🏝️. Or, finally getting a haircut from someone who knows what they are doing 💇. There’s even some of us who really just want to go back to school or work 🧑‍🏫. But for most at the top of the list is seeing, hugging, and just being around people again 💕.


Well, this is for you, my friend 🫂🫂🫂🫂

It’s terribly ironic that two people hugging emoji becomes widely available the same year that chief medical officers say, “Don’t hug or kiss your elderly relatives during this year’s holiday season if you want them to survive to be hugged again.” (Kindly lower your elbow, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) says no elbow bumps either. Remember elbow bumps?? Lolol me neither.) WHO also acknowledges that it’s terrible that they have to tell people, ‘Don’t hug each other.’ 

Excuse me!!! That’s a lot easier said than done!!!!! Hugs are a primal form of non-verbal communication that has been observed throughout the animal kingdom. Many species of primates have developed some sort of greeting mechanism for announcing the recognition of one another. I mean look at these super sweet elephants 🐘🫂🐘:

And these monks 🐵🫂🐵

OMG OMG OMG look at this dog and goat 🐕🫂🐐👀👀👀👀👀👀

EXCUSE ME 🐰🫂🐰…..

… BUNNNNNNNNIES 🥺

If you’re looking for a super dose of dopamine try googling, “animals hugging”. After all, hugs release oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of devotion and trust. Something we could use a lot more of now. 😞 Matt Hertenstein, psychologist as DePauw University, told NPR in 2010, the release of oxytocin “really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.” Not only do people release tension as a result of feeling safe in the arms of someone they trust, but the action also reduces the amount of the stress hormone in our bodies. The absence of friendly touch from a friend or even a waitress has an effect. Great, another reason why I feel like an empty husk of a person.

Empathy in Digital Spaces

While hugs are a universally understood form of endearment there are variations depending on who is doing the hugging or who is getting hugged. Take kaomoji hugs. The infinite flexibility of emoticons means we have as many hugs in punctuation-form as there are reasons to hug. (ex. Swapping in T’s for eyes can make an emoticon appear more weepy or adding arms in the form of forward slashes can imply a playfulness).

  • (/・ω・(-ω-) - The comfort hug — to offer condolences

  • (・ω・)つ⊂(・ω・) A hug for a buddy - to say “hello” or “goodbye”

  • ( T_T)\(^-^ ) Warm, emotional hugs

  • (o´・_・)っ⊂(・﹏・⊂) The tight squeeze hug 

  • \(・◡・)/ A playful cuddly hug. 

U+1FAC2 is not the first digital hug. Prior to the Unicode Consortium’s adoption of emoji Google had eighty proto-emoji, one of which was this insanely adorable hug). Years before, MSN Messenger had a couple hug doodads too. Despite using it in my youth I had completely forgotten about these friends until they were brought to my attention thanks to this very excellent post from Emojipedia.

I love this idea. It allows for a left hug and a right hug to be sent as separate emoticons. It’s flexible and composable with other emoji. Sure you could pair the left hug with the right hug to complete the embrace ….. orrrrrrr you could place it alongside other emoticons. Good morning! (Coffee hug). Pay day! (Coin hug). Misery loves company. (Rain cloud hug).

And yet ………….. Somehow, despite there being all these highly visible super fantastic infinitely flexible digital hugs people were swapping online none of them made their way into the Unicode Standard. Instead, we got a HUGGING FACE 🤗 (Not to be confused with FACE HUGGER).

What the…… Look at those fingers. Those dangly phalanges. At its best we have a cute jazz hands emoji 🤗✨. At its worst, a cool new grope emoji™🤗🙅. (Both are perfectly reasonable ways to use “🤗” btw, don't let anyone tell you otherwise). But, what if you want to offer some support, comfort, consolation, or sympathy when words are insufficient? 

Take for example:
I’m so sorry for your loss 🤗
vs
I’m so sorry for your loss 🫂

I rest my case.

Designing Emoji

The key to designing an effective “hug” emoji is crafting one that is as abstract as possible to represent the wide variety of types of hugs so none are excluded (ex. A friendly bear hug for close relationships is a different kind of hug than a flirty hug for when there’s mutual attraction 🥵🥵). Then, you can use it alongside words or other emoji to get more specific (ex. “I’m so proud of you 🐻🫂✨” or “Wish you were here 💕🫂💕”). As with any emoji proposal, new additions have to prove they are not open ended and overly specific. Meaning, the inclusion of this emoji won’t result in a demand for more similar types. 

The design is similar to other ambiguous figures like 👥👤🗣️. No hair, no eyes, no ears, no fingers. They are ageless, sexless, genderless. They are just two souls hugging. Removing all those markers of identity means that the people sending the hug emoji and receiving it can focus on the concept of hugging and hugging alone. 

Hugging Face emoji 🤗 exists in a world where nothing is bad and no one messages you sad news. Sometimes its nice to escape to that place where everything is good and not on fire. For those other times, when bad things happen to good people, hugging emoji brings us comfort in a different yet way. When you can’t literally reach out and touch someone, you can still touch someone. 🫂