Valley of the dolls: the world of reborns in Mandurah

Mandurah woman Melissa Linfoot has been a doll collector all her life.

She used to collect Cabbage Patch Kids, especially the miniatures, and has been part of her mother’s doll collecting group, WA Doll Collectors Society, since she was small, but after a friend introduced her to reborn baby dolls in 2012, they have become her main focus.

To many, the hyper-realistic reborn dolls can be a bit of a shock: “We’ve been called creepy, strange, weird,” Ms Linfoot said.

But for Ms Linfoot and many other collectors, the dolls are both a comfort and a convenient alternative to real-life babies.

“I don’t want my own kids, so these are the closest thing to it,” Ms Linfoot said.

“I still have a little bit of a maternal instinct, I think it’s just the crying and everything that goes with it that I don’t want... I like the quiet.”

She currently has two reborn dolls, one named Amanda Jade, who is modelled off a three-month-old girl, and one named Shelby Paula, a “newborn” named after one of Ms Linfoot’s friends, and the artist who created the reborn baby.

“Every second night I change their clothes, and then they take turns on each night, who I hold the most,” she said.

Ms Linfoot runs an Instagram and a Youtube account, to share her reborn dolls and her routines (washing them, clothing them, etc.) with the large online community of collectors.

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She said they don’t really have meet-ups in Perth, but in other states it is a big part of being a collector.

“I do hang out with one other person... and she brings her reborn all the time, so when I go out with her I take my reborns out with me,” Ms Linfoot said.

“I think the best part is that if you’re down, or you’re not feeling well, you’ve got something you can cuddle.

“It’s just good if you want to go for a walk, you’re not walking on your own, you’ve got something to take with you.”

However, often reborn hobbyists have a tough time in the public sphere, with many people mistaking their dolls for real children.

Ms Linfoot warned against doll owners leaving their “babies” uncovered in the car.

“A lady in the last week got her car broken into, they had six police cars come out, an ambulance and everything… Everyone thought it was a real baby, so they broke her car window.”

However, for many reborn owners, the therapeutic qualities their doll gives them outweigh the risks.

Ms Linfoot said her reborns are a comfort to her, and have helped with her autism a lot.

“If I just want to be by myself… I just take them with me,” she said.

She has donated some of her reborn dolls to hospitals and nursing homes for people with dementia, and has heard they have helped many of her friends with their anxiety.

Ex-reborn artist Bev Graham was based in Mandurah, and often created reborn dolls for women who either lost their children or couldn’t have their own, according to an interview with Sydney Morning Herald in 2008.

The dolls are incredibly lifelike, so much so that to hold them brings on instincts like supporting the head and patting them.

Most have cloth bodies, weighted with glass beads to make them feel real, with limbs and heads made of vinyl.

These go for about $800.

The even more life-like silicone dolls, with a full body, can be anywhere from $1000 to $30,000, according to Ms Linfoot.

True reborn dolls are custom-made to order, but some factory versions are available.

Accessories including heartbeat and breathing mechanisms can also be added, and many collectors keep a whole range of clothing, prams, car seats and more for their “babies”.

“Some people are a bit surprised that you collect dolls,” Elaine Linfoot (Melissa’s mother) said.

“But because we’ve been doing it for so long, you kind of forget what people think.”