I have been spending the last few weeks doing some research into the various Living Doll subcultures. What I have discovered has surprised me, as there are many subcultures that makes use of the term “Living Doll”.
If you type Living Doll into a search engine you will be presented with a wide array of results ranging from a song made popular by Cliff Richard, an Australian clothing brand, and episode from The Twilight Zone which first aired November 1, 1963.
It needed a lot of surfing, reading and filtering to get to the information I was actually interested in. What was immediately apparent though was the fact that there appears to be no single, clear cut definition of what a “Living Doll” is. So to cover all of the bases that I have found, below you will find a short introduction to each of the subcultures I encountered.
This is not an official name for this subculture. I am not even sure if it qualifies as a subculture as there are very few who would be able to successfully pull this appearance off. It is the name I will be using to describe a group of girls and women who have attained internet fame for their looks and are quite often compared to the popular doll Barbie by Mattel. It is probably the first thing most people would think of if you bring up the term Living Doll.
This trend of Living Barbie Dolls appears to have its roots in the Ukraine, with the most famous names including Nastya Shpagina, Alina Kovalevskaya and Valeria Lukyanova. These ladies sport seemingly impossible figures with very tiny waists and large busts giving them a resemblance to Barbie. They have also been described as having very anime like features. This is because in most Japanese anime, the characters have very exaggerated physical features which a person would not normally see in the real world.
Barbie Dolls in Mainstream Media
Valeria, Nastya and Alina have gained quite a bit of fame for their appearance, but a lot of it has been negative. The mainstream media tends to do media pieces on these ladies as “creepy”, like for example this ABC Newscast available on YouTube:
(what tickles me pink about them finding Valeria creepy, is they have no problem giving their children a Barbie to play with, but that is another topic)
There are all manner of rumours flying around on the internet as to whether these ladies have had cosmetic surgery or if their photos have been photoshopped and so on. I am not going to delve into the mud flinging contest and try and find the truth, especially as each girl’s story will be unique. A simple Internet search on any of their names will bring up several articles and videos if you wish to know more about them. What I can say is they show some serious dedication in achieving their appearance and are expert makeup artists! From this subculture, this is what impresses me most. With some makeup artistry, they can change their entire appearance to something almost otherworldly. They inspire me to spend some more time in front of the mirror experimenting.
My thoughts on Barbie Dolls
While I admire the dedication of the Living Barbie Dolls, I cannot help but question the long-term health effects of what they are allegedly putting their bodies through. Personally, I think being healthy is a large part of what makes a person beautiful. If they are not straining their health in favour of appearance, then I see no wrong with the situation though.
As for my own body, I don’t even think my bare skeleton will have that waistline. Aspiring to such an appearance would be an unrealistic goal for me. I don’t like the idea of someone slicing me open and fidgeting with my insides either. So even if I could afford cosmetic surgery, I probably wouldn’t consider it. I really dislike hospitals and avoid them as far as possible. People who have cosmetic surgery done have a level of bravery I cannot muster.
This subculture is a name I am putting to a group of ladies who call themselves living dolls. The word ‘kawaii’ comes from the Japanese language and is an adjective meaning ” pretty; cute; lovely; charming; dear; darling”. It has however evolved beyond being a word into representing an entire culture of cuteness. This culture extends into everything from handwriting, various merchandise, clothing and fashion and interestingly mannerisms.
The Lolita Fashion subculture is closely associated with and often overlaps with Kawaii Living Dolls. Lolita is a fashion subculture originating in Japan that is based on Victorian and Edwardian clothing and has many subcategories within itself such as Gothic Lolita and Sweet Lolita. It has no connection to Vladimir Nabokov’s book Lolita. It is important to remember though that not all Lolita think of themselves as dolls and not all dolls dress in Lolita fashion. But there are girls who call themselves living dolls that also have an interest in Lolita fashion and combine the two. I will discuss the various fashion subcultures in a separate post though.
Examples of Living Dolls that I would say are Kawaii Dolls are the young ladies such as Venus Isabelle Palermo, better known as Venus Angelic; Dakota Ostrenga better known as Dakota Rose or Kotakoti. I am sure that there are many Asian Kawaii Dolls that I am not aware of. It is not surprising to find that like the Living Barbie Dolls, the Kawaii Dolls too have plenty of controversy surrounding them. Accusations of photoshopping photos being the main point. In addition, there are several unflattering articles, some with alleged evidence attached that expose a ‘not-so-pretty’ side, personality wise, of these Living Dolls. As before, I refrain from digging through the mud. It is up to each reader to decide to investigate further and make up their own minds.
Kawaii Just in Appearance?
Kawaii Dolls often wear clothing with ribbons and bows. They favour makeup that makes them look childlike and innocent, with large eyes and tiny mouths. The rule of thumb for these dolls as far as appearance goes is, the cuter the better.
While I am sure that many of us wish we naturally had the cute flawless appearance these young ladies present to the world, I have come to realise while researching them that inner beauty is just as important. You can photoshop as much as you want, but if your inner self isn’t pretty, it will show through eventually. Please note I am not saying that the accusations are true or false. I am just saying that outer appearance isn’t everything.
Kawaii Dolls also appear to have excellent makeup skills, something which I need to develop. They are also not afraid to embrace cuteness which I admire as I am hesitant in that regard. I feel as though my age would make it seem very silly for me to wear oversized hair bows and very frilly clothing.
Masking seems to be a subculture subsisting largely if not entirely of males who dress as females. Not something I was expecting to find when researching the term Living Doll. On the surface Masking may appear like the “Drag Queen” subculture there are some very definite differences.
Drag queens dress and act with exaggerated femininity, using dramatic over the top makeup, eyelashes and hair. They do this for comic, dramatic, or even satirical effect. The drag queen culture is very much associated with gay men and gay culture, though I am sure there are exceptions. They are sometimes called transvestites, but this is a term that most drag queens do not favour. Drag queens usually cross-dress for purposes of entertainment and self-expression which does not accurately describe those who cross-dress for the fulfilment of transvestic fetishes.
On the other hand, female maskers appear to be mostly heterosexual men some of whom are married. Again, as with everything, I am sure there are exceptions and I make no claims at being an expert. Instead of making use of makeup Maskers wear latex or silicone masks, torsos or a full body suit to make themselves look like a woman. Frozen in a single expression the mask gives the impression of a doll or mannequin. Therefore, the terms living doll or even rubber doll are used to describe them.
Maskers in the Public Eye
At masking conventions,these men don their masks (and other accessories) and participate in activities in a group, such as going out to a club. But most of them only practice masking in the comfort of their own home for fear of how society may judge or react to them should they go out in public.
A documentary called “Secrets of the Living Dolls” is one of the first to bring the Masking subculture into the spotlight. It is this documentary that most of the popular articles you will find on the Internet on Masking are based off.
While I do not fall into the demographic of those who practice Masking, I do find the idea of a mask and even a body suit appealing. Perhaps this is because the mask will allow a drastic non-permanent, non-surgical change in features. Or perhaps it is because of the anonymity the mask will provide. However, there does not appear to be such items made specifically for women wanting to mask. Besides the availability problem these masks and ‘skins’ are rather pricey, well out of reach for me.
Animegao kigurumi appears to be a specific branch of kigurumi. “Kigurumi” comes from a combination of two Japanese words: kiru (“to wear”) and nuigurumi (“stuffed toy”) and is a term used to describe costumed performers, specifically mascots. The word animegao translates as meaning “anime face” and animegao kigurumi is used to describe a form of mascot-style cosplay that emulates Japanese anime characters.
While it seems like this subculture was initially born in the commercial circles in Japan, as part of promoting popular anime series, like the way cartoon character mascots are used in the western world. It was then embraced by cosplayers, who are also sometimes called dollers. These cosplayers began dressing as their favourite characters or sometimes even characters of their own creation. Wikipedia states that “the characters are usually female, and commonly human, although kigurumi characters of other races and genders do exist”.
Animegao Kigurumi Cosplay
Animegao kigurumi cosplay has two important distinctions from the cosplay variety that most of us are familiar with. The person will be wearing on oversized mask with anime features, to help achieve the correct proportions of the animated character. The other major feature is a peach or flesh coloured zentai or bodysuit. The zentai suit covers the person completely head to toe, leaving nothing of the person exposed. This is also to help more closely emulate the anime character, giving them an even “coloured in” skin complexion.
What was rather interesting for me to read was about the male and female ratio involved in animegao kigurumi. In Japan, per the Tumblr Animegao, there are far more male animegao cosplayers or performers than female, but in the professional circles, where companies hire cosplayers or performers specifically for promotions, there are far more females than males. The fact that one finds so many males “dolling up” as female characters immediately made me think of the Masking subculture. They also share a similarity in wearing a mask and body suit, even if the materials used are different.
My discovery of animegao kigurumi was purely by chance, but it is by far one of the doll subcultures that I find most intriguing. I feel myself drawn to the idea of not leaving any part of the person dressing as a doll exposed. This seems like it will create a more complete immersion experience for both the doll and outside viewers. The anime masks by default have very exaggerated features that make them a step removed from normal humans and in this way perhaps more doll like. Maybe for a while it would be possible for a time to see only a doll instead of human in a costume.
Kigurumi’s Other Meanings
I should also mention that kigurumi may also refer to animal style onesies that are too adorable for words. They are most often sold as pyjamas, but from what I read are sometimes worn as costumes to costume parties or even just for fun. Of course, kigurumi can also be used to describe fursuits often crafted and worn by those who identify as “furries”. Hence the term animego kigurumi is used to distinguish those dressing as anime characters from the rest.
This subculture falls squarely into the fetish or kink scene and while it shares overlapping ideas with other Living Doll subcultures it has a definite underlying sexual nature. The forum site Dollification.com defines dollification as the process of evolving, mentally and physically into a “living doll”.
Like a Master/slave or Dom/sub relationship where the doll will have an “Owner” or a desire to be owned. However, there is no intention to degrade or diminish the value of the doll. Often such relationships appear to have extremely complex natures that are not easily explained. I have no personal experience in this subculture and I will make no attempt to expand on the intricacies of such a relationship. I can only present what information I have encountered and be open to correction.
Living Doll Physical Characteristics
The listed mental characteristics of a “living doll” include the enjoyment of objectification, natural subservience. An underlying desire to be transformed whether by their own hand or outside forces into a living doll is also a characteristic.
The physical characteristics cover a broad spectrum and are not limited by a specific pre-defined ‘ideal’. The ideal physical aspect is often set forth by the doll itself, an Owner or a combination. Some of the physical extras include but are not limited to corsets, stiletto heels, stockings, dresses, skirts and of course make up. Rubber, vinyl and plastic suits are also as potential parts of dollification. Body modification such as piercings, tattoos, surgery are not beyond the realm of possibility.
As for the gender participation, there appears to be both men and woman involved in dollification. Women being made more doll like, men being made to look like female dolls, and men being made to look like male dolls.
I like the concept of there not being a predefined perfect physical ideal and that each doll has one specifically set up for them. This means that a realistic attainable goal can be set and worked towards rather than striving towards something that is impossible to reach.
Corsets have always been something that I have honestly been drawn towards. I enjoy the feeling I get when wearing them as I don’t get to wear them as often as I would like. As for stiletto heels and stockings I don’t own either of these items. I admitted before my wardrobe is not very feminine, with hardly a dress or skirt in sight. The idea of a body suit or second skin appears in this subculture as well, something which overlaps with some of the other subcultures.
Living Doll Mental Characteristics
The mental characteristics that have been listed have given me a lot of pause for thought. Objectification as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows: to treat someone as an object rather than as a person. Part of me is very curious and would like to experience an objectification situation to see if it something I could find enjoyment from. As for the desire to be transformed, well, I think this blog is proof that this probably does exist within me.
“While not all who possess these innate qualities will embrace them, it will not change that it is part of who they are by nature.” – dollification.com
This sentence struck quite a chord with me. It both terrifies and encourages me to continue this journey of discovery.
The term Living Doll means different things to different people. There is no clear-cut definition or blanket doll archetype that covers all the subcultures. While I have covered some of the Living Doll subcultures I do not claim that this list is complete. I invite readers to please give feedback on any other subcultures they know of, as well as to correct any misinformation in this post.
I would also like to thank everyone who has put up with my ramblings thus far. Knowing that there are people out there reading my blog encourages me to continue.