I never really had dolls growing up—I was way more into stuffed animals and real live lizards. As a result, I don't know much about dolls. So when a friend sent me a link to an online store that sells "reborn" dolls—they're dolls that look surprisingly (and to me, disturbingly) like real babies—I was intrigued. Turns out there are lots of folks online making and selling these dolls, and it's quite a thriving doll subculture. The Guardian recently wrote an interesting piece about the dolls and the people who collect them, explaining:
"A little crazy" is the same way [doll collector Kellie] Eldred describes the vast network of doll buyers, sellers, creators and collectors she belongs to. From Sydney to Manchester, Tokyo to San Jose, its members spend upwards of $20,000 for one doll to add to their nurseries. Some of these collectors, like Eldred, have children of their own; many don't. Most are women. They meet in web forums and on Facebook, through YouTube channels and, of course, in the niche online marketplaces of Etsy and eBay.
The Guardian provides more detail about the dolls themselves:
The proliferation of these lifelike dolls has led to innovations in the dolls' creation. Many of the latest dolls are custom-shaped from proprietary silicone blends and poured into molds that, in some instances, have been sculpted in the likeness of real newborns.
Many of the women who own the dolls view them as therapeutic. The Guardian asked researcher Emilie St Hilaire, a humanities PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, her take on the issue:
St Hilaire points out that, of the dozens of reborn collectors that she's surveyed worldwide, none think of their dolls as "real" babies. (And, contrary to what many assume about collectors, she estimates that half of them already have children of their own.) Instead, St Hilaire has observed that the dolls tend to satisfy an imaginative itch in collectors, whether they're making reborns from kits and online tutorials or merely choosing how to dress them. In her view, the dolls aren't child substitutes so much as companionate props in something like a large-scale roleplaying game.
To learn more about this fascinating world of reborn dolls, watch the 9-minute video that accompanies the article, entitled, "Reborn babies: the women who care for lifelike dolls."