A blog about Reborn Babies where I share my research and invite questions and comments.
My name is Emilie. I’m an artist and researcher and this blog Baby Talk is all about Reborn babies. I first encountered Reborn babies in January 2016 when a documentary about the hyper-realistic dolls appeared as a suggested video on YouTube. I wrote a paper describing everything I could learn about Reborns for my course that term. I also made my first reborn and I became very curious to know more about Reborn baby culture. I understand reborn babies to be a playful hobby for most enthusiasts and I welcome comments or questions, thoughts or requests.
I’m excited to finally launch a questionnaire online which will gather responses from reborn baby enthusiasts. This questionnaire is intended to offer a wide range of reborn owners the opportunity to share their stories in short form. The responses will inform my dissertation. I will also be asking 5 to 8 respondents if they are willing to be interviewed later. Those interviews will allow me to have more in-depth conversations with reborn enthusiasts.
I will be posting this link in two Facebook groups: Reborn Baby Addicts, and Canadians Reborn Families. Because I’m based in Canada, I’m hoping to hear from some Canadians specifically. Fingers crossed that many people respond!
I attended the Rose Doll Expo in Layton, Utah on July 13th and 14th, 2018. I had an exhibitor table and I distributed a paper survey to attendees. I had hoped to obtain enough responses to help shape my approach to researching reborns and reborn enthusiasts. I met so many kind people and I received a total of 67 survey responses. I would like to thank everyone who participated. People were so open to speaking with me. I felt honoured to be welcomed into this unique community and to hear so many touching stories.
Here are some of the results. This information will help guide my research on reborn babies. I welcome your thoughts or questions. Please feel free to comment or contact me.
1. Age : # of respondents
Age 18 – 24: 21 Age 25 – 34: 9 Age 35 – 44: 12 Age 45 – 54: 10 Age 55 – 64: 8 Age 65 – 74: 7 Age 75+: 0
75% of respondents have fewer than 10 dolls.
13% have between 10 and 30 dolls.
8% have over 30 dolls.
3% have over 100 dolls.
6. In what year did you get your first reborn? Range: 1985 – 2018 Mode (occurs most often): 2016 Median: 2015 Mean (average): 2013
Interestingly, 37% of respondents got their first reborn in 2016 or later.
7. What activities do you enjoy doing with your reborn(s)? The top activities were:
Dressing (changing clothes)
Shopping for accessories
Socializing with other enthusiasts
Other (less popular) activities offered as options were: shopping for doll kits, selling reborns, role-play, arranging in a scene, going out in public, make-believe baby care, trading reborns.
Any other activities you enjoy doing with your reborns? (responses)
“Sharing them with people who don’t know about them”
“Teaching others about them”
“Making them clean, comfy, & cute”
“Attending doll shows”
“Showing our friends who don’t like them!”
“Holding them. They help my anxiety & depression”
“Taking out in public pretending there are real”
“Going on outings with them”
“Learning new techniques”
“My daughters like to play pretend”
“Putting to bed”
“Carrying around the house, sleeping next to them”
“Making character dolls, cuddle therapy – making portrait babies”
“Taking them out in public”
“Shopping, going on adventures with him”
“Mostly just holding them”
“I donate my babies to alzeimer patients & people that need comfort”
8. If you use online platforms (web sites or groups) to interact with a reborn community, which ones do you like and why?
No (don’t use): 6
(many use more than one)
9. What is the primary benefit of reborns for you personally?
All respondents (artists and collectors)
Collectors only (those who don’t make reborns)
10. Should reborns become more mainstream and popular?
No: 10% I don’t know: 33%
11. If you had to describe one feeling that reborn babies give you, which would you choose?
Comfort and joy were the most commonly chosen, followed by love and nostalgia. Other feelings also described were security, freedom and (a sense of) identity.
12. Do you regularly take your reborn(s) out into public spaces?
I asked why (or why not) take your reborns out in public and received so many interesting answers, particularly about why not to take them out. I will make a separate blog post about this question.
I haven’t shared all of the survey data here, because I’m still working on ways of interpreting and presenting the results. But, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of reborns according to Rose Doll Expo attendees!
I’m excited to be heading back to the ROSE doll expo July 13th & 14th in Layton, Utah. Last year I had a full pass and took part in all the reborn-related festivities (an awards banquet, a baby shower, and an ice cream party!). This year I have an exhibitor’s table and will distribute a survey to attendees. I hope people are willing to answer a few questions about their reborn collections and general enjoyment of the dolls.
Here are a few of the questions from my survey:
How many reborns do you have?
In what year did you get your first reborn?
Do you collect dolls other than reborns?
What activities do you enjoy doing with your reborn(s)?
If you use online platforms (web sites or groups) to interact with a reborn community, which ones do you like and why?
Do you regularly take your reborn(s) out into public spaces? Why or why not?
I’ve been following posts on Facebook from folks who are headed to ROSE and the excitement is building! I’m sure it will be another lovely event, this year’s theme is “Garden of Enchantment.” I’ve brought supplies to decorate my table so it doesn’t look too boring next to everyone else’s beautiful displays.
The following is a list of research questions I’ve developed to begin my exploration into the world of reborn babies.
What is the history of reborn babies?
In addition to what is available online and in published resources I will conduct interviews to learn about the emergence and growth of reborn babies. I will initially focus on a North American context due to my current location.
Who is interested in this hobby?
One of the first questions I hear from people after describing my research is about who buys reborn dolls. I see so many different people engaged in the reborn community, I’m sure there are many different, and personal, answers to this question.
What is the range of practices among reborn enthusiasts?
Some people are more interested in collecting while others enjoy role-playing. Many reborn mothers upload their videos to YouTube. Reborn baby community groups on Facebook have hundreds or even thousands of members. I’d like to find out more about the variety of motivations and experiences of reborners.
In what regions of the world are reborns popular? While reborns appear to have originated in the US, Australia, and the UK, the hobby is growing quickly. There are related hobbies such as doll collecting and doll shows which can be found in many regions and likely overlap with reborns, contributing to the growth of the hobby.
Who is involved in the chain of reborn doll production? e.g. Doll consumer, reborn artists, doll parts (kits) and tools suppliers (such as Dollssoreal, and Bountiful Baby), doll kit sculptors. By mapping these people, their practices, and the economics of their work, a full picture of the reborn economy will emerge. Reborns are unique in that they cannot be mass produced in any way that achieves the level of detail and realism expected by consumers. Tracing the work of doll sculptors and suppliers should offer the best estimate of the size of the reborn market.
What is on the horizon for reborns in the future?
Unique reborns occasionally go ‘viral’ online such as the Avatar silicone babies (by the Spanish Babyclon company) which were trending in 2016. Will unique dolls continue to draw attention and grow the reborn market? Will artists such as Jamie Diamond, Desirée Holman, and Rachel Lee Hovnanian continue to take up this unique sub-culture in their work?
What new insights or reflections does this practice prompt in a variety of academic disciplines? From performance studies to anthropology, from fine arts to psycho-analysis, reborn dolls exist at the intersection of many fields. I hope to examine reborns from a variety of perspectives and prompt discussions across disciplines and in conversation with community members as well.
Is this hobby like any other? If yes, which ones? If no, why is that?
As I embark on this research journey I find it difficult to find solid footing within any single discipline or comparable topic. I will return to this question as I explore this topic.
An introduction to Reborns based on information I’ve found online, or read in academic articles.
Here are some Reborn Baby basics.
Many Reborn enthusiasts enjoy treating the dolls like babies and hundreds of reborn mothers regularly post videos on YouTube chronicling their lives as the proud mothers of reborn babies. Although criticized or insulted by psychologists, television talkshow hosts, and internet trolls, reborn mothers are supportive of one another and vocal in their defence of the hobby.
It is my contention that understanding reborn enthusiasm should deepen and expand cultural perceptions and potentialities, not apply reductive labels and limitations to a hobby rooted in creative practices of care and play.
Reborn dolls have risen in popularity since the late 1990s with an international community emerging through online forums and with eBay as a sales platform. Realistic dolls such as the Spanish-made Berenguer dolls have been common in toy stores since the 1980s, Reborn dolls however which were originally made from dolls such as Berenguers, have more realistic skin tones and hand rooted hair. By stripping away the factory painted features and carefully applying several layers of thinly applied paint, the dolls are considered “re-born” and that term has stuck even though most artists now work from blank vinyl available for purchase from a handful of companies such as Bountiful Baby, or a few artists cast silicone based on their own sculptural work. The name reborn can also refer to the mothers of the dolls who could be considered “reborn” as mothers upon adopting a reborn baby.
3D (photometric) scanning technology is used by the Bountiful Baby company to create Realborn® molds which scan a real baby and then cast it in vinyl.
Reborns regularly make headlines for being rescued from vehicles by police. Human trafficking authorities have also investigated people reportedly selling babies. Reborns are frequently presented as the fetishized playthings of adults, such as reality TV celebrity Courtney Stoddon’s recent foray in the spotlight after getting a reborn to deal with the devastation of a miscarriage. Although many of these articles are neutral or supportive in reporting on her Instagram posts with her reborn baby, comments on such articles are, not surprisingly, harsh. There is simultaneously increasing media attention on the therapeutic benefits of reborns for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Some reborn nurseries offer memorial reborns to commemorate a lost child.
A notable television program to examine reborn mothers was the 2008 Channel 4 documentary My Fake Baby which Louise Fitzgerald refers to as a “shock-doc” (25) in her analysis of the film. This was the documentary I first saw about reborns and I agree with Fitzgerald’s assessment that the program sensationalized the stories of the reborn mothers to the detriment of the hobby’s more positive associations. My Fake Baby has reached a wide audience online — the program was re-played shortly after it first aired due to its popularity, and the primary YouTube version which seems to have been uploaded in May of 2015 has over 3 milion views. The producers of My Fake Baby highlight the reborn mothers’ preferences for the cleanliness of reborns over real children, and a sense of loss or loneliness is emphasized over other motivations such as collecting reborns as a financial investment into artistic collectibles. A narrator guides the viewer through the women’s stories, dramatizing as needed. Fitzgerald contextualizes the portrayal and perceptions of the women in relation to play as follows: “while ‘play’ seems to have moved from a childhood prerogative towards an increasingly adult one, ‘play’ for adult women is still regarded as inappropriate and symptomatic of female pathology.”
Another popular reborn baby documentary available online, this one produced by Vice in 2013, takes a different approach to sharing the story of a German couple who have several reborns and even a full nursery in their home. There is no narrator although the filmmaker’s presence is sensed through scene constructions, and the couple address the camera directly as they discuss the role of reborns in their life and go through the “adoption” process with a new doll which was custom made by a local artist.
Negative perceptions of reborns are evident through the pre-emptively defensive behaviour of reborn mothers. Many YouTubers who post videos online about their dolls include a disclaimer stating that they are fully aware that the babies are not real and they are just having fun. Many videos have enabled the comments section and a majority of the feedback is positive, with people commenting on how cute or realistic the dolls are. It is also possible however thats the owners of the videos moderate their page and delete negative or insulting comments. Many reborn enthusiasts feel the need to defend their activities and this is no surprise given the number of articles that describe the dolls as “creepy” and the owners as “freaks.”
One American scholar, Michele White from Tulane University, has studied the online communities and marketplaces where reborns are sold, adopted, and discussed. The language used by sellers on eBay shifts seamlessly between referring to a reborn as simultaneously an artistic commodity as well as a new born baby. To quote one example, White’s chapter on reborns in the book Producing Women, a seller on eBay declared (in all caps) this “IS NOT A TOY” she was proud to introduce “THIS BEAUTIFUL BABY BOY” (74). This statement positions potential buyers as adults, and seeks to incite maternal desires. In another book chapter entitled “Babies That Touch You” White focused on this explicit production of affect on the part of reborn artists selling dolls on eBay. Artists’ listings cater to maternal desires and promise to fulfill a buyers desire for the “baby of their dreams” (68). The babies are always positioned as beautiful, fragile, in need of love and care, and even as injured or ill.
The Spanish company Babyclon makes animatronic babies which sell for over 4,000 euros. Although less popular than the conventional babies, animal reborns are a niche within the realm of reborns that frequently pop up in searches through reborns on eBay as well as on the sites of doll supply wholesalers. I’ve found vampire babies, little zombies, avatars, primates, piglets, pups, and even a baby chewie.
More soon, please feel free to leave feedback or questions in the comments.