Although it’s been around since the early 1990s, I’ve just learned about the “Reborn” doll subculture of collectors who buy up pricey baby dolls, strip the paint off their faces and sometimes remove their stuffing in order to give them second, far more realistic-looking, lives. An editor of Doll Crafter magazine told The New York Times in 2005 that “reborning” came out of a confluence of doll collecting, DIY, and the popularity of eBay where many reborn babies are bought and sold.
Now, The New York Times photo blog has published a series from Rebecca Martinez who documented the reborn doll trend for five years. She explains that while the women heavily involved with the niche craft may treat the dolls like real infants, taking them in public as mothers would, the playthings aren’t just substitutes for human babies:
“Many of them have a very, very strong genetic makeup to nurture and they love babies,” Ms. Martinez said. “And many are mothers. A lot of people think these are people who can’t have children. Some are, but many of them have children and love the baby stage of nurturing. They can love a baby, they can nurture it in a permanent way.”
A recent segment on the Today Show also reveals one area within the Reborn trend that isn’t quite so cuddly cute. Apparently, the vampire/zombie craze that has permeated pop culture also has reached doll culture with Monster Babies. Think incredibly lifelike baby doll, only with fangs poking out of its cherubic smile, or projecting vacant, pupil-less gaze. In an interview with Today, Monster Baby artist Bean Shanine said,
“I never in a million years thought I would be making reborns, and especially monster reborns. I don’t even LIKE monster things!” says Bean, who is surprisingly bubbly for someone who spends her day recreating undead babies. “After I made my friend her doll, I decided to make another with zombie eyes, just for fun. I listed it on eBay for $125 and it sold within 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe it.”
I can’t believe it either, Bean.
The high prices these dolls fetch, which isn’t uncommon among reborn babies, especially boggles the mind. One doll (not a Monster Baby) has reportedly sold for $22,000, although it also came with a “bonus baby,” so at least it was a two-for-one deal. Monster reborns aren’t just popular in the United States, either; Shanine told Today she was working on custom orders for clients around the world.
And what’s the rationale for paying a few hundred bucks for an undead baby doll? One Monster Baby collector described them to Today as “a perfect balance between creepy and cute.” To each, his or her own doll, I suppose.