First, an update on this hospital stay: I’m still here. I’m still tired of being here. I’m now tired of writing about being here.
And that, my friends, is all the justification I need to shift gears and blog about dolls.
This isn’t going to be a controversial post about whether or not parents should give their sons and/or daughters ersatz humans to nurture, love, and pretend to raise. I didn’t even bother doing a quick Google search to confirm my suspicion that an abundance of super-strong opinions on this matter dwell in most reaches of the internet, from Reddit to parenting sites to Twitter.
I require no sources because this post is about my childhood obsession with dolls, not about the issue in general.
I should probably mention that the intensity with which I gravitated toward creepy little imitation infants designed to shape girls into future caregivers almost definitely annoyed my feminist mother, who did her best to make sure that my brothers and I understood that all toys are gender-neutral. Sure they are. I, however, was a lover of dolls of many—but not all—varieties and a rejecter, with few exceptions, of toy cars and trains and most other toys typically stereotyped as being for boys.
Once it was clear that I wouldn’t let the doll thing go, my parents decided that if I were going to tote a fake baby around with me, it’d at least be an anatomically correct one. The first doll I remember truly bonding with was thus designed to resemble a newborn baby, complete with fresh-from-the-womb alien-face and genitalia. I bought outfits for her from Value Village and tried to remember to keep her swathed in real-baby diapers.
As I grew older, my rubberized little family grew bigger. Whether because my preference was influenced by the first doll-child I bonded with or because—a more likely explanation (but one I find less savoury)—because they were my true and natural preference, the majority of the dolls I played with (except for Barbies, which I’ll discuss separately, and not counting porcelain dolls, which I coveted and occasionally purchased but tried not to touch) belonged to this synthetic real-baby category. For the most part, I rejected the cartoony dolls that many of my peers embraced. No Baby Tumbles Surprise. No Betty Spaghetty. No Baby All Gone. I wanted dolls that would make people turn their head twice on the street, wondering why an eight-year-old had been given responsibility for the infant cradled in her arms.
I also wanted dolls that were true tools, that might assist me in gaining the skills I would require should I decide to have flesh-and-blood kids one day.
Enter Zapf’s Baby Born.
I don’t recall how I learned that Baby Born existed. It probably wasn’t through commercials since my family didn’t own a TV with cable; more likely was that I found her/it in a Victoria toy store, locked eyes, and knew that she had to be mine. Eventually she was.
The small amount of research I conducted for this post revealed to me that Baby Born is so significant to the history of toys that she’s part of the collection of the V&A Museum of Childhood. As that museum’s website reports, “Baby Born was given seven human functions, which include eating, drinking, crying and weeing. It was also given lifelike features of baby fat, a raised belly button and realistic fingers and toes.” My favourite feature of the model I owned was that it cried and demanded care. I distinctly remember it robotically squawking “feel my forehead Mommy, make me feel better” until I applied enough pressure to its forehead to make it stop, though I’ll admit that it could’ve been another creepily lifelike doll that taught me that if your child has a raging fever, all it takes to nurse it back to health is denting the area above his/her eyes. Memory is imperfect.
I had a pretty impressive Barbie collection, too, which likely horrified my Our Bodies, Ourselves-owning mom. Most were bought at yard sales so were already at the you-should-really-shower-and-wash-your-hair,-Barbie stage.
I loved Barbie. It didn’t occur to me that her body was in any way meant to represent a human woman, but it did occur to me that she could represent the female experience in a more abstract sense. My friends and I played games with our Barbie dolls that we sometimes had to suspend at the end of one day and pick up at the beginning of the next. The scenarios were endless and ranged from domestic bliss to survival during wartime.
Kids are weird. (I was, in any case.)
But (some) adults are (also) weird. My dad, for example, chanced upon a vintage porcelain baby doll with a head that rotates to express several emotions. Her angry face happens to have a crack right down its centre. As would any person with good sense, he snatched her right up. For years, he had her propped outside his cubicle and would turn her head every few days in order to terrorize his workplace.
Dolls—so versatile and practical.