That silky hair, those delicate veins … at first glance, these infants could pass for the real thing. But they’re not. Tour the fascinating world of “reborn babies.”
That silky hair … those delicate veins … at first glance, these sweetly sleeping, bonnet-and-bib clad infants could pass for the real thing. Called "reborn babies," the disconcertingly lifelike dolls are crafted in vinyl or made from a silicone material and have become popular acquisitions for doll collectors. The babies are also coveted by those who seek to fill a more emotional need: nostalgic grandparents, grieving parents, childless women.
Reborners say that the hobby began in the early 1990s in the U.S., although it has now spread around the world. Artists would take old dolls apart, strip the paint off, and then repaint. Nowadays, people use doll kits to create one-of-a-kind dolls that run in the $400 to $600 range, but can cost up to $4,000. Here, Fountainhall, Scotland-based reborn artist Deborah King carefully paints the nails of one of her creations.
Reborn dolls are painted several times to approximate the mottled appearance of newborn skin. The process starts with "veining," or painting the veins in before adding the flesh layers. After each coat of paint is applied, the doll has to be baked to make the color permanent. You might say the process gives new meaning to the phrase "one in the oven"…
To approximate the fine texture of infant tresses, artists use mohair for the dolls' hair and eyelashes, attaching every strand individually with a special needle. The body is made from soft cloth and is weighted to make it feel as heavy as a human baby.
Reborn dolls are so lifelike that they are even used sometimes as body doubles on television programs. But the advantages to using the fake dolls are obvious: These tiny guest stars don't cry, soil their pants, or fuss when it comes time to get "dolled" up in the makeup room.
Buy, buy baby
Some dolls' bodies can be fitted with electronic devices that mimic breathing and a heartbeat. Others are made with warming pouches so they feel warm when held. But the dolls remain a niche product, sold over the Internet rather than mass-produced for retail stores.
Reborn dolls are made and collected by an online community of enthusiasts. Here, Phoenix-based realtor, doll collector and reborn artist Lynn Katsaris poses with one of her creations. She has been making the dolls for the past nine years, and she says the hobby has evolved into a side business.
Doll collector Monica Walsh, 41, shown here with her doll Hayden, toldAOSFU98AQEWTASKFDNA0ADGAG2#@$A, "Buying these dolls is like buying a Michelangelo original painting. They are worth a lot because they are the customized, and there’s only one like it." Walsh says of her fellow doll collectors, "We never really grew up, and never stopped playing with dolls."
'My Fake Baby'
Reborn dolls are the subject of a BBC documentary, "My Fake Baby," which profiles people (like the couple here) who have incorporated the dolls into their lives. Reactions to this behavior are mixed: While some people consider them to be works of art, or believe in their ability to provide "cuddle therapy" or to fill an emotional void, others find them creepy, unnatural or even morbid.
Sue, another woman profiled in the BBC documentary, is shown here watching over her reborn baby.
She looks real, but Lauren is a "reborn" baby doll, as are all of the "babies" you'll see on the following nine slides. All were crafted by artist Deborah King in her home near Edinburgh, Scotland. King sells the dolls on eBay and maintains a gallery of her creations on her Web site, reborn-baby.com.