According to recent news reports, elaborate fake babies—called “reborn dolls”—are becoming popular with adult women.
The dolls, which can cost more than $12,000 (but often sell for several hundred or a few thousand dollars)—have extremely realistic hair and incredibly lifelike facial features and skin tone, thanks to many hours spent by artists who paint them, complete with one-of-a-kind birthmarks—and painstakingly apply their locks and lashes. Some of the dolls are made to look exactly like premature babies and delivered with an incubator and even with IVs.
Some younger women claim the dolls satisfy their maternal needs. Some middle-aged women claim the dolls comfort them as their children leave for college. Indeed, companies will supply custom-made dolls that closely resemble a woman’s own baby—born twenty years before.
It would be one thing if women were buying “reborn dolls” out of morbid curiosity or a passion to collect them (like Hummel figurines). But women are taking their dolls out in strollers (no kidding) and strapping them into car seats for trips to the mall. Fortunately, they don’t actually believe their “babies” are real. That would be a true psychotic delusion. But they are able to suspend disbelief and play with them as though they are real—kind of like believing in a movie while you are watching it..
While this may seem like a harmless fad, when taken with other evidence that we prefer fantasy to fact, I see this as the latest symptom that our species is losing its grip on reality, in a wholesale fashion. Increasingly, we are loath to accept our own life stories, and work through the inevitable painful chapters, in order to achieve real personal growth. People who are dissatisfied with who they are can now pretend they are entirely different people on secondlife.com. Children who might otherwise have to establish real relationships with pets, can adopt animated ones on clubpenguin.com.
Teenagers who haven’t seen the world at all can wear tee-shirts from trendy retailers emblazoned with logos of hotels and restaurants in exotic, far-off locales (hotels and restaurants which, by the way, may not even exist). Many millions of people can sterilize their life stories into Facebook profiles and each effortlessly gather hundreds or thousands of “friends” (not one of whom need necessarily be a genuine friend, at all). Politicians who choose not to address real threats to our economy can print money and prop up failed or fledgling industries. And, now, women who might have integrated the end of their childbearing years (or their inability to ever have children) into their self concepts and found new ways of truly expressing themselves, can dodge that journey by ordering fake babies and “nurturing” them.
“Reborn dolls,” seen this way, are closer to drugs than they are to collectibles. Like street drugs, they reduce anxiety by substituting an illusion. But, like every anesthetic, they only delay the inevitable reckoning with anxieties everyone must face. A woman who uses a fake baby to treat questions she has about her value as a human being after her childbearing years is actually dodging those questions. And, like every artificial way of avoiding discomfort, nurturing a fake baby will only increase that discomfort, in the longer run.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.