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Most people want to stand out from the crowd, and car accessories are a fun and funky way to set your car apart. But sometimes, what starts as a small trend can explode into a viral sensation. Such is the case with those family stick-figure car window decals plastered on family vehicles everywhere for the past decade.

So, where and how did this craze originate. And why does it evoke such a visceral reaction from so many people?

The origins of family car window decals

The little stick figure families are perhaps one of the most iconic car accessories to come out of the mid-2000s. According to Drive, this trend popped up in Australia thanks to two people: chiropractor Phil Barham and graphic artist Monica Liebenow.

Barham got the idea for these decals back in 2005 when he spotted a cartoon family car sticker during a work trip in California. After heading back to his home on Australia’s Gold Coast, he met Liebenow. She began creating the designs that would eventually take the world by storm.

However, the stickers weren’t an overnight sensation. In fact, Liebenow and Barham spent several years selling the decals at local markets. They also handed them out to friends and relatives in the hopes the word would spread.

And spread it did. The stickers went national in 2010, and their sales numbers had climbed to over 2 million by 2012. They eventually spread to other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, and Argentina. 

These car window decals are available in a range of designs to suit various personalities and family structures. Options include “shopping mom,” “tennis-playing teen,” and “barbecue dad,” as well as a range of pets.

However, their cheerful ubiquity has also drawn backlash.

Criticism surrounding the craze

As with everything that gains sudden immense popularity, the family car window decals soon began to draw criticism from people who were sick of seeing the stick figures.

According to Drive, some folks have called the stickers “smug and mindless.” Others have said they become filled with rage upon spotting the decals, asking, “Why, oh why, does anyone think we care?!”

Many think these accessories are unpleasant to look at and project a falsely cheery image that isn’t representative of the challenges of family life. Drive also quotes the author of the blog Gen X Journey, who points out the lack of options for overweight mothers or “emo devil-possessed” teenagers.

Liebenow counters that “people are just genuinely proud” of their families. She notes that the stickers are a cheap and fun creative outlet and that she’s seen families of all different shapes and sizes use them.

Rumors surrounding the stick-figure car window decals

Amid the standard criticism, some rumors about these accessories have circulated throughout the years. The most recent gossip went viral on TikTok, Yahoo News reported. The TikTok user, a father of twins, stated that human traffickers would write “1F” — meaning “one female” — on the car of someone they plan to abduct. He added that family decals could be dangerous because they advertise the size and makeup of people’s families and make them easier targets for predators.

Fortunately, this rumor isn’t true. Both Snopes and the Eureka Police Department have debunked it, Yahoo News reported. Versions of this story have been around for some time, but they don’t have a clear source, and there’s no evidence of their veracity.

For such a simple car accessory, these stick-figure window decals have created quite a kerfuffle. Whether you love them or hate them, though, they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.