Reborning; this ever growing art form can provide you with a life-size vinyl baby, looking as realistic as possible and customised specifically to the customers’ demands. Veins, birthmarks, breathing chests and real human hair can all be achieved to make the illusion as authentic as imaginable. The baby dolls are brought to life with careful hard work and attention to detail. A well sought after Reborner artist opens the door (if only ajar) into the secret community of Reborn Doll creations and exclusively lets me in on the mystery of her talent in bringing dolls to life. She explains the taboo, the realism and the belief that goes into a Reborn Doll, long after she has finished creating it. As I step into her beautiful home surrounded by knee-high children running around, I am greeted by her kind-eyed husband; there is certainly no emotional hole in this lady’s life. With all these eerie heads and limbs displayed around the office watching me, I can’t help but notice that this is a little disturbing. The woman I am interviewing is just lovely but her surroundings remain ever so slightly morbid, with the tiny premature baby heads making me particularly uncomfortable.
“I took one class and I just fell in love with the process and decided to start up my own business. I made my website following a DIY book and suddenly it just frenzied. I could not believe the amount of people out there dying for a Reborn Doll. People were taking out loans just to get one, even falling out with their family members and husbands over it. I am almost a councillor as well as a Reborner when creating custom dolls. Back then it was a taboo, a huge secret (it still hasn’t changed much) and people felt ashamed because they were stamped as ‘sick’. Dolls are supposedly for children, and anything to do with babies has to be carefully handled because people are so sensitive about it as a general subject. But I love bringing happiness to people that are so desperate; that is why I Reborn.
I don’t let customers see the process of creation. The journey for them is sending me some photographs for reference with instructions of what they want. A month later a beautiful box arrives at their door with a carefully wrapped, exquisitely made baby doll practically in the flesh. It’s the modern day white stork! I only let them see the end result because the magic would be ruined – it would take away the belief of the baby’s realism to them. How could they love something so purely if they knew that a month ago it was dismembered, sitting in my office in a plastic bag? Of course they already know this, but seeing it physically is different and would remain forever in their mind’s eye every time they looked at the doll. You have to remember that Reborn Dolls are real to those who love it enough.”
Reborns that are created with their eyes closed can be passed off as actual sleeping babies and even paraded around in public in equally gorgeous prams. The question is: is this… normal? I can’t help but imagine the awkward moment when a passing granny leans into the pram to greet a cooing baby to find it isn’t actually cooing at all, or breathing.
“Society can be a very judgemental place. Are my Reborn customers doing any harm by showing off their Reborns and treating them as if they had come to life? No. Just because the doll is not breathing, does that mean the doll cannot be real through imagination, longing and love? The doll is as real as the owner wishes it to be.”
What is the general reaction of people who don’t understand Reborn Dolls?
“I still get online messages of abuse quite often. People think I am disgusting for preying on people who have lost children and taking advantage of them. I make money on people’s misery, apparently, but it could not be further from the truth. I bring a glimmer of happiness to people who have sadness and emptiness in their lives, for whatever reason. Every single strand of hair is glued in and rooted into the doll’s head with a tiny felt needle, one hair at a time. The hair alone takes me two weeks. The amount of detail that goes into creating the most realistic looking doll is extraordinary. I am meticulous. Do people really think I would spend such an excruciatingly long amount of my time on a doll if my heart wasn’t truly in it? It’s insulting! You only have to look at the realism of a Reborn to know how many hours go into creating such an art. But it isn’t all bad, I still get over two thousand hits a day on my website.”
Why do you think people long for Reborn Dolls so much?
“I meet people from all walks of life. I have heard all the poignant reasons you could possibly imagine for people wanting Reborn Dolls. If you knew what I knew, and met the customers I meet every week, you would never judge a person for wanting a Reborn. They are yearning to fill a gap in their lives, and sometimes a real life baby just isn’t possible. Perhaps they have tried, perhaps they are too old or their partners won’t let them. I have had customers tell me they love their Reborns more than their husbands. Perhaps they have had a baby die and they cannot bear to risk such a loss again. I provide the perfect solution! Could you imagine wanting something to love so badly that you don’t care what people think of you?”
What is the general reaction of customers once they receive their doll?
“People are really grateful! I get a lot of flowers and thank-you cards with really sweet messages. I really feel appreciated, but at times it does get borderline obsessive. I once got an envelope with some of the doll’s hair cut off so that I could keep it forever – did she not realise how many hours it took to root that hair?! People bring the dolls that I have made back to see me, as if I were its second Mummy or something. At the end of the day I am the creator of the doll, I made it. But it is the owner who really brings it to life, naming him or her, dressing them, really loving them as if they were a real child.”
Do the dolls get any negative reactions?
“There was a documentary shown about the collectors and owners of Reborn Dolls, and it showed our community in a really negative light. It was heartbreaking speaking to the women who had been on the show after it aired. They let these journalists into their lives, their homes, told them their heartbreaking stories and really opened up, inviting them to the most important moments in their lives of receiving their Reborns for the first time, all just to be mocked. It opened our community to judgement from the outside world. The documentary labelled the dolls as ‘fake’, and in turn the owners were labelled ‘crazy’. That word is so cruel. Yes, I received a few more serious customers from the programme as it obviously educated a few people, but that is nothing compared to the shame and damage it caused for some of my old customers, who became far too embarrassed to take their dolls out of the house anymore. That fantasy of their Reborn was instantly shattered, and the doll became all too ‘fake’.”
Whether they be a form of modern day art, an avant-garde decorative piece, a collectable, an addiction or just a comfort to fill an emotional hole, Reborns are becoming increasingly popular. The craft is an excruciatingly long one but the results are undeniable. However poignant, unnerving or magnificent, one thing remains; Reborns look like real babies, and to some people, they truly are.
Words and Photography by Loo Loo Rose
Originally published in ‘Zero Magazine’