Welcome to the world of Reborn
They meet for baby conventions, talking about their babies and trading tips about equipment. They organize baby showers, celebrating the arrival of a new baby with cake and quizzes. But the babies aren’t real: they’re life-like dolls.
“Women love to nurture”, says Rebecca Martinez, a photographer who has documents the women and their dolls for several years. “These women have a lot of love to give. When they get together, they sit around with their babies on their laps and strollers by their chairs and talk about their babies.”
Welcome to the world of Reborn, as the dolls are called. “It’s a booming trend”, says Petra Seiffert, a German artist who makes Reborn dolls. “When I started 10 years ago the trend had just begun. I kept thinking, now the market has reached its limit. But it keeps growing and growing.”
Though there are now enough “Reborn mothers” to warrant Reborn magazines and conventions, many of the women are reluctant to talk to journalists. “Many people think Reborn babies are somehow strange”, says Seiffert. “But men have hobbies that they spend a lot of time and money on, for example cars, and nobody questions that. Reborns are just a hobby.”
But for other women, the dolls are like a real baby. “Most of the women with Reborns have families”, explains Martinez. “Some have grown children; others have many children. Many women have Reborns simply because they love having babies but can’t keep growing their families.”
Cher Simnitt, a doll-making mother of two and former midwife, runs the company Adopt A Reborn. “Most of my customers are collectors, but sometimes it’s women who have lost babies or had miscarriages”, she says. “Right now I’m working on a custom order for a woman who has only had sons. She said, ‘make a girl who looks like me’.”
Simnitt calls the dolls are an art form, not a creepy hobby. “It’s just an outlet for care and affection”, says Martinez. “I met a woman who had had so much adversity in life, but her Reborns give her joy. Who can criticize that?”
Are Reborns creepy or harmless?
For the people involved, they’re harmless. Reborns are part of a very long tradition of totems. Having a Reborn is no weirder than making statues of the dead or paintings of ancestors.
How has the audience reacted to your play?
Some people find the dolls strange and grotesque. But when I first found out about the dolls, the more I looked at them, the more fascinating I found them, and many audience members have reacted in the same way. The play makes them think about the Reborn phenomenon and they conclude it’s not so strange after all.
As a man, you’re an outsider in the Reborn world…
Yes. And the male character in the play, who is essentially me, is an outsider. But I liked to play with my daughters when they were small. Now my older daughter is seven and plays with dolls herself. I think playing with dolls is just a human instinct that we adults have lost.
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