From Child's Toy to Sexual Release

A Bunraku puppet

Humans have made dolls for thousands of years. From clay figures created by the ancient Egyptians to the Barbie dolls of today, children have treated their dolls with love. But sometimes, dolls become so lifelike that they enter the uncanny valley.

Mori believed Bunraku puppets had passed the valley of negative response

Uncanny dolls have been featured on shows like the Twilight Zone and in movies such as the Chucky series. These dolls come to life, often bringing catastrophe to their unwitting owners. The focus of this section is not dolls that come to life, it is dolls that look so lifelike it is difficult to tell them from humans.

Bunraku puppets are used in Japan in a highly complex form of theater. Dr. Masahiro Mori used these dolls in his original formulation of the Uncanny Valley, believing that they were extremely close to humans and had passed the valley of negative response. Although on close inspection these dolls don't look human, when in a theater the viewer is watching from a distance, and the movements of the dolls are very lifelike.

Charlie, an Ashton-Drake baby doll.
C harlie, the first anatomically correct collectible vinyl doll, is created by Ashton-Drake. He is sold for only $149.99. The websites where he is sold tout his many lifelike features, such as his "hand-applied hair, delicate eyelashes, and carefully applied finger and toenails" (Collectibles Today). This doll is popular among collectors, and has been nominated for numerous awards. Many people find this doll as irresistible as a real baby, though it lays perfectly still and bears no resemblance to a living child outside of its appearance. Why do some of us value this tiny synthetic thing so highly? Perhaps it offers a convincing enough vessel for us to fill with our own projected desires for a an obedient, quiet child.

Mai, a Realdoll
There is, it seems, a doll for every desire: the Realdoll is a very realistic sex doll that sells for over $6000. One model of the doll is called Mai; she is a 70 lb female with a 22 inch waist and bust size of 34D. The buyer can customize almost every aspect of this doll, including hairstyle, eye color, and skin tone. There are 9 other body sizes, the largest of which has a 26 inch waist.

Their eyes stare blankly forward, and their faces are incapable of any emotion.

The Realdoll is made by Abyss Creations, a name that seems particularly uncanny. The dolls can be moved into different positions, but have no motors or independent movement. Their eyes stare blankly forward, and their faces are incapable of any emotion.

Who buys these unusual female dolls? Someone interested enough to invest several thousand dollars, certainly. A male version of the doll is also available, giving heterosexual women and homosexual men a chance to explore this phenomenon too. HBO's RealSEX recently did an episode about the Realdoll, which shows some happy owners of the dolls. One purchaser was a young woman who bought the doll for her boyfriend, with the intention of using it for group sex.

A Realdoll lounging at home
W Is the Realdoll phenomenon indicative of a decreasing interest in person-to-person connection? Some may even fear a distortion of natural female beauty, if Realdolls become commonplace: no human could compete with a silcione mold. According to Dr. Timothy Taylor, however (in an interview for Salon.com), "No normal person will ever confuse a Realdoll with a real partner." This seems obvious, but some women are worried about the unrealistic expectations these dolls bring about: "Women are constantly being told (by the pervasiveness of plasticized bodies as beautiful) that what is natural is not good enough, is not beautiful enough". ( Smile and Act Nice).

Are Realdolls disturbing because they look human or because they break taboos that some of us don't want broken?

The lifelike collectible dolls discussed earlier may be uncanny to some, but others find them compelling. The majority of people are exhibit repulsion towards Realdolls in particular because of the purpose they are used for. Yet Real Sex 22 was the rated third most watched show during sweeps week of the year it first aired: clearly, more of us are interested than we're willing to admit. Are Realdolls disturbing simply because they look human or because they break taboos that some of us don't want broken?

Doll collecting is a well-documented phenomenon, and a prospering industry. Some women, like collector Anne R, claim that their dolls are "magical dolls that appear alive." Others say "it's obsessional. These women have a mental problem." Where would you put these dolls in the Uncanny Valley ? Are they human enough that they disgust you? Or do you collect them yourself? These are questions each of us must ask ourselves when confronted with overly lifelike dolls.

According to the Realdoll website, owners of the dolls "include futurists, artists, art collectors, film-makers, scientists, health professionals, housewives -- you name it." They want customers to feel like it is normal to spend thousands of dollars for their product. If you own one, however, you probably shouldn't leave it out for the neighbors to see: there is clearly still a stigma attached to owning an uncannily lifelike doll for purely sexual puposes.