The living doll phenomenon, girls and sometimes guys who aspire to look like ball jointed dolls or Barbies, has been popularized this past year through YouTube and news media around the world. Sometimes intertwined with anime or alternative Japanese fashions like gyaru or lolita, living dolls have captured media interest. On January 1st, 2014, TLC’s My Strange Addiction interviewed three self-claimed living dolls, of which two girls involved with lolita fashion took part.
Emily talks about her obsession with pale skin, eating only very little, weighing herself several times a day, and corseting to the point of having a pushed-in rib. She also mentions that she has an alter ego and different name, Luna, when she wears her dolly style, which again is not made distinct from lolita fashion. (Luna, incidentally, is the alter ego name for a lolita-dressed character from the popular anime Tsukuyomi, English title Moon Phase.)
In another segment, she dresses in her doll makeup and wig along with bloomers and pink thigh highs and lolita shoes to go job hunting. I’ll be the first to say I thought her outfit and face up was very cute, but not something I would wear to walk around on the street, let alone apply for work in. As I mentioned in another reality-TV-lolita episode, Jessica Simpson’s the Price of Beauty, bloomers, petticoat, stockings and thigh highs are considered to be underwear by lolita fashion standards and are not to be worn as visible clothing except perhaps for clubbing or fancy dress parties.
In this outfit Emily applies to work at a Chinese takeout shop and an auto repair shop, most likely places chosen by the film crew for their obvious controversial aspects. Both refuse her on sight, saying that her look is too off putting and will never land her a job. As I stated on Twitter, this assumption alone that lolitas or other alternative fashion enthusiasts are too weird-looking to get real work rubbed me the wrong way. I know lolitas who are animators, film editors, accountants, stock analysts, physicists, librarians and businesswomen. In fact, the best lolitas often have high-powered jobs – how else do they afford all of their brand and designer clothing and beauty products? Still others may be grad students or in doctoral programs. The classic trope of “weirdos don’t get jobs” was enforced strongly here.
Further on in the segment, Emily attends an informal “dolly” meetup, mostly her personal friends dressed in some lolita brand, some more costumed style including antlers, and an outfit bordering more on himekaji. They sit on the ground in a public Japanese park and drink tea out of a real tea set, and have brought cupcakes decorated with meringue puppies for the occasion. Again, from my experience, this also looked heavily scripted. I’ve filmed in similar TV appearances where the crew and director want a “tea party”, but bears little resemblance to the tea parties I’ve attended. For example, the location and snacks were rather impractical. In my real lolita life, usually tea parties are held at tea salons or restaurants. (I’ve even had TV shows give me inedible cupcakes or fake tea sets to achieve the look they wanted for this classic stereotype scene.) These girls, called her “dolly friends” did not to my mind seem to consider themselves to be living dolls and found the conversation of “how far would you go to be a doll” rather uncomfortable. Here the line blurred even further about what is alternative fashion and what is the living doll lifestyle. Many of the girls did seem as though they were being interviewed about lolita and cute fashion, not dolly life.