Culture

Mothers Doin' It for Themselves!

What's behind the fake baby craze?

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Behind placid suburban facades, in seemingly normal neighborhoods, restless housewives are dismembering and enucleating babies, baking them in ovens in pursuit of that gently throttled look, then selling them to strangers. And, no, it's not Satan who's making them do it—it's eBay.

Thanks to a recent British documentary, My Fake Baby, the world at large now knows about the "reborning" community, a mostly female subculture of artisans and collectors organized around vinyl infants who begin life as inexpensive, plain-looking dolls and, through the meticulous craft of maternal Dr. Frankensteins, metamorphize into super-realistic creatures that look and feel just like genuine lifeless babies. The rarest specimens fuel high-stakes eBay bidding wars that can reach upwards of $5000.

Naturally, the reporters behind My Fake Baby present the phenomenon as a disturbing trend. Grown women fussing and fawning over trompe-l'œil zombie tots who stay cute, silent, and unsoiled forever, an infinite repository for uncomplicated maternal cuddling? Cue the sad keyboards and all the dsytopian foreboding they can conjure! Punch up the narrator's voice-over with a touch of sterile sci-fi detachment!

But why the need for judicious alarm every time some new species of low-tech android manifests itself? Have the men who love women crafted exclusively from stain-resistant silicone taught us nothing about the future of interpersonal relationships? Ten years into the RealDoll phenomenon, you'd think we'd be comfortable with the fact that Canis lupus familiaris's days as man's best friend are numbered: Clearly, the future belongs to more convenient, customizable, obligation-free companions.

As with sex doll sculptors, the goal of reborn artisans is verisimilitude, the production of artifacts that "feel incredibly real and will flop in your arms just like a real newborn baby." The hair that decorates a reborn's skull and brows often comes from genuine humans, or at the very least, well-bred goats. After multiple layers of paint, a reborn's tiny face and hands bear all the subtleties and imperfections of authentically blotchy and translucent baby flesh. Glass beads, polyfill, silicone, and on occasion, kitty litter, give them the heft and consistency of real babies. Some of the most ambitious iterations have begun to wiggle and cry; you can even obtain a "beating heart" for your parthenogenic bundle of joy.

For many women, reborns are just dolls, a new collectible to peddle or pursue, this decade's Beanie Babies. For others, the attachments go deeper, a fact that's reflected in the craft's unique lexicon. Reborns aren't created in workshops and sold via online storefronts, for example; the women who make reborns refer to their businesses as "nurseries." One practitioner doesn't just merely sell her products to customers; in her description, she "adopt[s] out babies all over the world."

But is any of this blurring of reality and fantasy reall so strange or threatening? Granted, it is a bit macabre that so many reborn producers give their businesses names like "Babies From Heaven's Garden"—there's certainly great potential for a pro-life horror flick wherein the souls of aborted fetuses inhabit the bodies of reborn dolls and wreak havoc upon the activist judges who've made Roe v. Wade the law of the land. Ultimately, however, it seems no less natural to invest great emotion in a relationship with an inanimate but extremely realistic baby than it is to do the same with, say, an iguana or a hamster, and when was the last time you saw a hand-wringing documentary over the alarming trend of pet ownership?

Because reborns don't perfectly simulate living babies yet, an aura of delusion attaches itself to the subculture: Conventional wisdom suggests that if you interact with non-human entities as if they are in fact human, you must be a little bit crazy. But, really, if what you're mainly looking for in a baby is a fleshy no-hassle security blanket, then it certainly seems saner—not to mention more humane—to choose a plastic infant over a real one, doesn't it?

Traditionally, only the very rich have been able to fine-tune relationships to the exact degree of obligation and reciprocity they prefer; fake babies, like fake adults, democratize that ability. If you want to adopt a dozen babies but you're not Angelina Jolie, all those diapers and nannies are going to add up. If you want to assemble a harem of servile blonde hotties, you'd better have a house with at least as many bedrooms and bathrooms as Hef's Playboy Mansion. Or you could buy yourself a half-dozen reborns or high-end sex dolls.

At the moment, human surrogates appeal only to those whose imaginations are vivid enough to see past their technological limitations. Eventually that will change and they'll be harder to resist. It's not as if we have very far to go either. Sci-fi movies tend to present androids and replicants as near-facsimiles of actual humans, but of course the real appeal of artifical babes and babies is their lack of human complexity, not their uncanny simulation of it. Equip a reborn with a few convincing facial expressions and a limited vocabulary of charming goo-goos and Ma-Ma's, and that will be enough: The rueful documentaries will be quickly replaced by fervent infomercials.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato writes from San Francisco.

NEXT: They Ain't Gonna Pee-Pee in No Cup

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  1. Cabbage Patch Kids…back from the dead.

  2. thanks for robbing me of sleep forever, guys.

  3. wtf? just have a real baby, it’s easier, more fun, and much less creepy!

  4. I can’t wait until some of these artists enter their abstractionist phase.

  5. This is really creepy. Dangerous? No. Something to worry about? NO. But it is still really creepy.

  6. Goylz and their toyz.

  7. My thoughts on this matter immediately went to the gutter. Why is that? Snarky comments about pedophiles and blow up dolls fill my head. Is there something wrong?

  8. Mr. Beato writes:

    Clearly, the future belongs to more convenient, customizable, obligation-free companions.

    At least that’s what Eliot Spitzer thought.

  9. Just wait until some one tries to sell a child-like real-doll variant to pedophiles.

    Now that would spark an interesting debate!

  10. Wow. I want one. Leave it visible in your locked-up car on hot days. Take it for walks in the stroller, occasionally picking it up to violently shake it when people are around. Go out to eat with it, take it into the bathroom and leave it on the changing table. What fun I could have!

  11. Paraphrasing Robert Heinlien here.

    I once knew a man who collected small pieces of paper that were used for postage. He would lock himself into his stateroom to examine them for hours.

    I knew another who did the same thing with women’s undergarments.

    Was one crazy? Both? Neither?

  12. 11 comments without linking this to illegal immigrants?

    You guys are really slacking today.

  13. Bring it to strip clubs, casinos. Make out with it at libraries.

  14. Use it to pick up chicks at Starbucks or at The Wal*Mart!

  15. Put it in a blender…

  16. Just wait until some one tries to sell a child-like real-doll variant to pedophiles.

    Clearly, just like in the case of child porno laws being interpreted to apply to cases where no real children were ever involved, there will have to be new federal laws to protect against trafficking in faux children and, at the state and local level, new faux-child protective services.

    It takes a phony village to protect a faux child.

  17. Well, at least it’s more interesting, if somewhat more expensive, than your average Lee Middleton Doll.

  18. There is a story in Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk about a woman that works at a social services office and replaces the old “where did he touch you doll” with a real kid doll from Russia without knowing what it was. The staff begin checking it out every night. It’s a great story.

  19. Better yet (than linking to illegal immigrants), how long until the Feministas link the dolls to the abuse of womyn by men?

  20. highnumber, don’t forget dangling it outside hotel windows.

  21. Tease alligators with them?

  22. This makes me sad.

    People are becoming increasingly self-centered and seeking of one-sided, fake relationships. I see a disturbing connection between these people, and the people who want to rent a housepet.

  23. Tonio,

    Self centered, one sided relationshaps can be quite satisfying. Never thought of renting a housepet, but recent events have gotten me thinking about renting a girlfriend.


  24. Self centered, one sided relationshaps can be quite satisfying. Never thought of renting a housepet, but recent events have gotten me thinking about renting a girlfriend.”

    Be careful about that….

  25. Take it to the range, while other people are there, and shoot it.

    Put it behind your car, and when your neighbors are watching, back up.

    Let your dog play with it.

    Jackass did riding bike with baby and crashing, and flipping the baby out of the stroller.

  26. GM,

    Girlfriend, or “girlfriend?”

    If girlfriend, then disturbing. If pay-per-service “girlfriend” then not disturbing.

    Prostituion would be so much less degrading if legal. Suspect that many guys would develop relationships (definitely small “r”) with their service providers, in the same way we do with our favorite haircutters, waitresses and other providers of personal services.

  27. ES,

    Yea, I need to take trips to Nevada instead of having girlfriends delivered to me on the east coast.

  28. Leave it on top of your car and drive around.

  29. Tonio,

    You seem quite easily disturbed by the freedoms and desires of total strangers. But, your over sensitivity is your business, not mine. Far be it from me to tell you that you can’t get your guts in a knot over things so far removed.

  30. Be practical people. Put it in a childseat and use it to drive in the HOV lane.

    CB

  31. CB,

    Brilliant!

    Then leave it on the roof when you get in town.

  32. Cue the Congressional hearing in 9…8…7…

  33. Fake babies, what gives?
    The next thing you know they will
    Require health care

  34. sage,

    Perhaps that family leave act can apply, combined with those unemployment insurance surpluses, to pay for fake-family leave?

    You know, since the feds only use fiat money and all . . .

  35. From the article:

    The rarest specimens fuel high-stakes eBay bidding wars that can reach upwards of $5000.

    HA! A fake girlfriend is such a bargain compared to these things!

  36. Demonstrate waterboarding with it, in front of a bunch of raging, war protesting, hippie pacifists.

    Note: make sure they have run out of rocks when they are done trashing the retail areas on their march against hate.

  37. Those pictures are of a real baby. I ain’t buying it.

  38. On second look, I think I see some webbed feet. YIKES.

  39. GM,

    You seem quite easily disturbed by the freedoms and desires of total strangers. But, your over sensitivity is your business, not mine. Far be it from me to tell you that you can’t get your guts in a knot over things so far removed.

    Well, by publicly commenting on it, you have indeed made it your business, despite your strenuous but ineffective claims to the contrary.

    The whole purpose of H&R is to stress over things far removed from most of the readers.

  40. I just love how the Google ad is for a baby Einstein CD. Well conceived irony.

  41. Listen to ACT III – hilarious

    This American Life

  42. People can be such freaks. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  43. Tonio,

    So, how long until you organize a call for federal intervention?

  44. dear reason:

    New post please.

    That is all.

  45. Here’s one for you, boston.

    BREAKING NEWS!!11!! from Libertarian Republican blogspot:

    President George W. Bush has appointed more libertarians in his administration than any other previous US President in modern history. He has also taken principled libertarian stances on issues ranging from social security privatization, to tax cuts, to fierce opposition to any proposals for a return to the military draft.

    Jigga wha….?

    But wait! It gets better! From the comments section:

    Eric Dondero said…

    Bullshit Jeff. BULLSHIT!

    There is just as much libertarianism in the Patriot Act, as parts that are cause for concern.

    I DON’T WANT SOME GODDAMNED Radical Islamic student who has overstayed their Visa, and is here in this country illegally, having the ability to go to MY LOCAL LIBRARY THAT I (!!!) PAY FOR WITH MY TAX DOLLARS, to look up plans for building a dirty bomb.

    The Patriot Act goes after such illegal activity. And protecting life, liberty and property of AMERICANS from foreign invaders is ABOUT AS LIBERTARIAN AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY GET!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Of course, leftists like you who have come into our libertarian movement through infiltration tacticst fully funded by the likes of George Soros to turn out movement into a far leftists Anti-American front group, wouldn’t see it that way.

    I’ve got just a few words for you Stefan:

    You and your fellow infiltrators will destroy my beloved libertarian movement with your anti-Americanism OVER MY DEAD BODY!

    Bwahahahahahaha! All hail UCG!

    To sum up:

    “GWB is a Mainstream Libertarian Republican!!11!!”

    “The Patriot Act is about as libertarian as you can possibly get!!11!!”

    “Stop-loss is not a de-facto draft!!11!!”

    “MY BELOVED LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT IS MINE, ALL MINE!!!11!!!”

    And don’t you forget it!

    OnT? Those dolls creep me out. They should make a Dondero model with a little mustache, a screaming red face, a clipboard, and a pot belly.

  46. If you want to assemble a harem of servile blonde hotties, you’d better have a house with at least as many bedrooms and bathrooms as Hef’s Playboy Mansion. Or you could buy yourself a half-dozen reborns or high-end sex dolls.

    Gross. What are you suggesting, here, Greg?

  47. I’d buy one but only if it had a realistic soft spot at the top of the head that you could accidentally push your finger through while on a trans-Atlantic flight, causing mayhem amongst the passengers as you pulled your fake-bloody finger out of the fake brain and proceeded to suck on it. That would be awesome. There’s probably a rule against it though.

  48. ES,

    Looks like I can just go to Rhode Island instead of Nevada, for now.

  49. GM,

    So, how long until you organize a call for federal intervention?

    Was wondering if you’d sink that low. Thanks for not disappointing.

    The answer is: Never. Also, not for state or local intervention in this. I think that this sort of issue is best dealt with by disapproval, such as I expressed above.

  50. Let your dog play with it.

    Wouldn’t want to teach an old dog new tricks.

    Seriously, this could get your pet shot. By me, if I couldn’t immediately tell the difference. Like if the kid was wrapped in a blanket.

    Yeah, and 😉

  51. Yeah, I thought of the dog trick and decided not to run with that one, because of the dog being likely to think it was cleared to play like that with real babies.

  52. we moved haiku day
    should be the Friday before
    each St Patrick’s Day

  53. Highnumber, good point
    I will schedule it next time
    An annual thing

  54. creepy fake babies
    I make them in my kitchen
    you pay big money

  55. Granted, it is a bit macabre that so many reborn producers give their businesses names like “Babies From Heaven’s Garden”-there’s certainly great potential for a pro-life horror flick wherein the souls of aborted fetuses inhabit the bodies of reborn dolls and wreak havoc upon the activist judges who’ve made Roe v. Wade the law of the land.

    A pitch worthy of the A.W.E.S.O.M.-O 4000. Let’s see a treatment!


  56. Then leave it on the roof when you get in town.

    Skip a step, put it in the child seat on the roof and merrily head off down the HOV lane…

  57. These are the adult version (nsfw)

    http://www.realdoll.com

  58. Hmmm….women can get the emotional effects of a baby without the property tax hiking effects of real babies? How can I encourage this trend?

  59. But why the need for judicious alarm every time some new species of low-tech android manifests itself?

    Because reporters, documentary makers and mainly all in the Big Business Media are anti-market zealots? Because they are really anti-tech, anti-freedom Luddites?

  60. Let it float around unattended at a water park or public pool.

  61. I need one, too.

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