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A reborn doll is a manufactured vinyl doll that has been transformed to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible. The process of creating a reborn doll is referred to as reborning and the doll artists are referred to as reborners. Reborn dolls are also known as living dolls or unliving dolls.
The hobby of creating reborn baby dolls began around 1990 when doll enthusiasts wanted more realistic dolls. Since then, an industry surrounding reborn dolls has emerged. Reborn dolls are primarily purchased on the internet but are available at fairs. Depending on craftsmanship, they range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
The International Reborn Doll Artists (IRDA) group was created to educate artists in the art form of reborn doll making. Any artist can join the association, however certain ethical guidelines must be upheld by members.
Reborning involves numerous time consuming steps. The most basic form of the process involves taking a vinyl doll, adding multiple layers of paint, and adding other physical features to the doll. Artists can pick different brands to best suit what doll they wish to create. Consumers can also buy reborn doll kits that include the doll parts and supplies for creating their own reborn. Making a doll from a kit is called newborning and allows artists to omit some steps in the fabrication process. Many supplies are needed for both external and internal modifications of reborns to make the doll seem more realistic.
Some consumers of reborn dolls use them to replace a child they once lost, or a child that has grown up. Others collect reborns as they would regular dolls. These dolls are usually taken seriously and are cared for like an infant. Critics debate whether reborn dolls are harmful, or whether these dolls can help in the grieving process. Because of their realistic appearance, reborn dolls have occasionally been "rescued" from parked cars after being reported to the police by passers-by.
The craft of making reborn dolls began in the United States in the early 1990s. Reborning follows a long tradition of collectors, artists, and manufacturers restoring and enhancing dolls in order to portray more realism. The internet has allowed doll artists and collectors to create an online society focused on reborn dolls. In 2002, the first reborn was offered on eBay. This has expanded the reborn market allowing artists to open online stores which function figuratively as nurseries. The niche market for the dolls began with doll collectors who admired the superior lifelike accuracy of the doll. The market quickly reached those who wanted to use the doll as an emotional response, either to mother or for therapeutic purposes. Mass media coverage has helped to develop the phenomenon in other countries. Primarily reborning has grown in the Britain and Australia, but has also reached Canada, the rest of Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Doll manufacturers have also taken advantage of the trend and sell supplies, tools, and accessories catering to reborn followers. This has allowed reborners to invent new techniques causing the dolls to become increasingly realistic over time. Magazines, books, organizations, and conventions dedicated to reborn dolls have also appeared since these events.
The creation of a reborn doll takes time and effort. To begin this process one must have a manufactured play vinyl doll or vinyl doll kit and the necessary tools and supplies, all of which can be purchased separately. The appearance of the doll depends on the creator; however, certain reborn artists allow customers to customize their doll, usually using a photograph to replicate a particular infant.
Any type of vinyl doll can be used for reborning. Dolls vary by size, shape, and materials, making some more desirable or popular than others. According to Doll Reader Magazine, Berenguer Babies, Zapf, Lee Middleton, Ashton-Drake Galleries, Apple Valley, and Secrist Dolls are doll companies that make dolls which are easy to transform into reborns. Kathryn Peck of Doll Reader Magazine explains that with JC Toys Berenguer Babies, it is because the dolls already resemble human babies in their expressions, body shapes, surface materials, and other lifelike attributes. Ashton Drake uses a trademark vinyl for their outer skin. Almost all the Ashton-Drake dolls are created using a theme based marketing line. "Preemies" are smaller dolls molded after premature infants. Between "preemie" and regular dolls, sizes can range from 4 inches to Child size.
If a reborn is created from a kit as opposed to whole manufactured doll, it may be called newborning. Manufacturers have reacted to the growing trend of artists transforming dolls by hiring reborn artists to become doll sculptors and design doll molds and kits. When newborning from a kit, the first several steps of the process are completed by reborn doll artists and doll manufacturers. The kits come with an already disassembled baby and select supplies. Other supplies not provided in the kit can be purchased separately. The Secrist doll company started making Reborn Doll Kits in 2005. In 2009, they began producing supplies, tools, and tutorial videos specifically for reborning or newborning. JC Toys began selling kits in December 2007 Other suppliers offer product lines that give reborners a choice of body parts and skin tones to make a customized doll.
Starter kits are equipped with basic reborning necessities such as limbs, faces, heads, paint brushes, eyelashes, weighting pellets, genesis 'heat set' paints, cloth bodies, cable ties, nose drill bits, fake tears, thinning shears, cosmetic foam wedges, cotton dipped applicators, and glue  These supplies may be purchased separately from a variety of retailers. genesis 'heat set' paints are an odorless, non-toxic paint that dries when the artist chooses by applying heat. The nose drill bits are used for creating and perfecting the nostrils of the doll. Acetone or a paint thinner medium is needed for removing the factory paint from the doll. Hair is an optional choice to add to a doll. Fine mohair, human hair, or wigs are usually used, but it is found in a variety of types. Rooting tools are utilized for this process and are available in numerous sizes 20,36,38, 40, and 42. The smaller the number the thicker the needle which will grab more hair and leave a bigger hole in the head of the doll. Eyes for a reborn doll are offered in a variety of brands and sizes.
The technique of reborning a play doll typically involves a number of steps. To begin the doll is taken apart and factory paint is removed. Then a blue color wash may be applied to the inside of each vinyl part to give the appearance of realistic baby skin undertones. For dolls with an awake appearance eyes must be replaced. The outer layer of the vinyl doll is given its skin tone by adding dozens of layers of flesh colored paint. If heat set paints are used, the doll parts must be heat set by baking them inside an oven or by using a heatgun after each layer of paint is applied. Lighter skin tone dolls can take 15 to 30 layers. The effects of the blue color wash combined with the outside layers of paint creates the appearance of veins, and gives the doll its newborn mottled look. Manicured nails and opening of the nose holes are other details that are added during this process. The next step is to apply hair. The hair can either be done in one of two ways; wigging or microrooting. When microrooting, hair is added strand by strand. This can take up to 30 or more hours per head. Once the hair is finished, the original vinyl body is weighted with a soft stuffed body filled with pellets. The weight corresponds with its age to achieve a real effect. Various additions also can be added to give the doll an even more life like appearance. Reborns heads are often weighted, so that owners have to support the head like one would a real newborn. Purchasers can have magnets attached inside the mouth or head for attaching a pacifier or hair bows. Electronic devices that mimic a heart beat, or make the chest rise and fall to simulate breathing are common. Reborns can come with an umbilical cord, baby fat, heat packs to make the reborn warm to the touch, or voice boxes that mimic infant sounds. For preemie dolls, they may come in incubators with a breathing apparatus attached to their nose.
Institutions have developed to aid reborn hobbyists with collecting by providing information, products, and social networking. These institutions include magazines, and associations and organizations which sponsor conferences and conventions. Collectors and artists have described their reasons for purchasing and/or creating reborn dolls as varying from a love of dolls to a passion for art.
Reborn dolls are usually found online and can be purchased through eBay, artists' online stores (often termed nurseries), and conventions/fairs. Incomplete crafting "kits" to create your own reborns can also be purchased from various online stores. There is a large price range depending on the quality of the doll, but they can sell anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. There are many factors to look for when purchasing a reborn. If the complexion is too dark this is called a blue baby, and indicates it was dyed excessively or uses colored sand for weight that could have seeped into the vinyl. The type of material used to weight the reborn should be considered because some materials do not react well with vinyl and will cause it to deteriorate. The doll should not be shiny. This indicates the doll was washed with acetone before painting, which prevents the color from correctly sticking to the doll's surface. It may also be caused by the type of paint used to color the doll. This is corrected with a heat set matte varnish. The parts used are important, as original parts may be replaced. The replacement parts must be appropriately proportioned with the doll and made of quality material. At times having the original body retains the doll's value either because it was made to fit that specific doll, or the artist left a signature mark. Eye brand, size, fitting, and alignment should be closely examined. Another feature to observe is the type of paint used for coloring and whether the doll is realistic in its details such as veins and newborn imperfections. The material and technique used in applying the hair may determine the quality. The nose should be open with the holes correctly shaped, and the nails should be properly manicured.
The International Reborn Doll Artists (IRDA) originated at the first conference for reborn doll artists on January 21, 2005. The IRDA group was assembled in order to offer education on how to improve ones skills in the art of reborn doll creation. They offer skill building tutorials and instruction so reborners can remain up to date on the newest techniques and meet others who share a common interest in reborn doll fabrication. A reborn artist can join the organization at any skill level, but members are asked to uphold a list of standards that were created by the IRDA's executive board. This ethical code stipulates the guidelines members are to follow in advertising, listing, and describing their dolls in order to divide credit fairly between manufacturers, sculptors, and artists.
The First Annual International Reborn Doll Artists Conference was held in Orlando, Florida on January 21–23, 2005 in conjunction with IDEX The Annual Debut of the World's Finest Collectibles. In January 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Doll Reader Magazine sponsored the IDEX Reborn Competition at the First International IDEX Reborn Convention. Doll Reader Magazine started publishing over twenty-five years ago. It is now published nine times a year, keeps collectors informed on trends of modern day doll collecting, and continues to sponsor the IDEX trade shows that feature reborn competitions and conventions. In the summer of 2008, ABC News followed a reborn convention in Illinois. ABC News was also in St. Louis, Missouri to attend the first annual Tiny Treasures Show held in 2008. The show features exhibitors, collectors, retailers, manufacturers, workshops, and contests for reborners. Reborn dolls can be found at doll fairs as well.
Almost all reborn customers are women, particularly older women. The process of buying a reborn can be done to simulate an adoption process, rather than a prosaic sale of a product. As part of this, the dolls often come with fake birth certificates or adoption certificates. Many women collect reborns as they would a non-reborn doll, whilst others purchase them to fill a void of a lost child and may treat reborns as living babies. Media features and public receptions use adjectives such as "creepy" to describe the reborns. This can be explained by the uncanny valley hypothesis. This states that as objects become more lifelike they gain an increasing empathetic response, until a certain point in which the response changes to repulsion. Department stores have refused to stock the dolls because of this reaction, claiming they are too lifelike.
Many reborn owners are simply doll collectors, while others have gone through miscarriages, have no means for adoption, or suffer from empty nest syndrome. They may utilize the dolls as substitute children, or forever babies who will never grow. Some women dress the dolls, wash their hair, and may even take them for walks in strollers and take them shopping. Reborn hobbyists refer to the emotional response to holding their dolls as cuddle therapy. Studies suggest cuddling a baby causes a release of hormones which produce a sense of emotional well-being, and some psychologists believe that this may happen with realistic dolls as well. Consultant psychiatrist, Professor Raj Persuad explains mothering a real newborn baby releases the hormone oxytocin in the mother, and hypothesizes that this may explain why "reborn mothers" become emotionally attached to the reborn doll.
For grieving parents who form emotional bonds with reborn dolls, some child bereavement counselors advise against parents substituting their deceased child with the dolls. Reborn mothers contend that they are not replacing children but remembering them. Psychiatrist Sue Varma, teacher at the NYU school of medicine, says mothering reborn dolls rather than just collecting them can become a problem when it is used as prop and becomes the person's only form of socializing. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz with New York Presbyterian Hospital supports the use of reborns for people who do not want to make the commitment of having a real child, and also to comfort bereaved parents. She offers that in this case the reborn may symbolize a step in the grieving process. Concern should only come if someone who lost a baby grows too attached to their reborn because it could indicate their grief is not getting resolved. In this case, the likeness of the doll to the deceased child risks being harmful as a permanent replacement for the grieving parents. Ian James, a doctor at the Centre for the Health of the Elderly at Newcastle General Hospital in the U.K., said that holding the dolls helps calm elderly residents, helping them feel peaceful and quiet.
Reborn dolls look so real they have been mistaken for real babies. In July 2008, police in Queensland, Australia smashed a car window to rescue what seemed like an unconscious baby only to find it was a reborn doll. The police stated that the doll was "incredibly lifelike" and that bystanders who thought a baby was dying were frightened by the incident. A similar incident was reported in the United States, in which police broke the window of a Hummer to save a baby that turned out to be a reborn doll.
In 2009 reborners uncovered a blogging hoax in which a woman–who ABC News described as an "anti-abortion blogger"–claimed she was pregnant with a terminally ill child. She opened a P.O. box in order to receive gifts, money, and prayers. The hoax was uncovered when reborners reading the blog realized that the pictures of the baby posted on the blog were actually a reborn doll that they recognized through the familiar reborn sculpt.
Reborn dolls have been featured in a number of television shows. A December 10, 2008 episode of Dr. Phil entitled "Obsessions" discussed the topic of reborning. In January 2008, a Channel 4 series, My Fake Baby, explored the lives of women who collect the lifelike baby dolls. Featuring this documentary the British television magazine show on Channel 4, Richard & Judy, held an interview with the reborn artist in the documentary, Jaime Eaton, collector Mary Flint and psychiatrist Raj Persuad. On January 2, 2009, an ABC News article described both the manufacturing and the emotional interaction of reborn dolls, while a January 2 20/20 episode talked about the mothering process and attachment to reborns. On January 31, 2008, Inside Edition aired a segment showing artist Eve Newsom and her reborn dolls.
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