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Modern Asian Ball-Joint Dolls: Fad, Freak Show

Plastic Pandering
You wear black clothes, say you're poetic
The sad truth is you're just pathetic
-"Instant Club Hit", Dead Milkmen, 1987
Something as innocently conceived as a children's toy can be subverted and twisted into a
subculture phenomenon, and not necessarily a psychically healthy one, either.
One current "cosplay" ("costume play") trend revolving around modern Asian ball-joint dolls (highend collectibles not meant for children) has spawned many sexually mature young women and
adolescent girls bent on looking, dressing, and acting like prepubescent, living versions of the
archetypical "baby doll".
That's Not a Toy!
Historically, dolls get rid of fetish figured heavily in religious iconography and rituals. Very common
are the pre-historic "Venus" figures (small, clay or carved-bone effigies of pregnant women with
outsized hips and buttocks, and enormously swollen breasts). The so-called "Venus of Willendorf", a
terra-cotta figure with outsized hips and breasts, is probably the best known of these; she would
have been made as a totemic fetish for insuring good crop yields or in successful procreation.
Roughly 3,000 years ago, the Egyptians made the first representational dolls, flattened clay figures
of friends and servants to go with the dead into the Netherworld. Later, religious figurines, after
serving their sacred purposes, were given to children as playthings.
The Greeks created the first known articulated dolls, with moveable limbs at the joints. These were
normally constructed of fired clay and assembled with leather thongs or rough-spun thread. Dolls
became more sophisticated as the centuries progressed. They mirrored the societies in which they
were crafted: they wore the fashions of the day, the hairstyles, and the popular facial colorings.
Ars Gratia Artis
The word "doll", however, did not come into vogue until fairly recently - its earliest known usage
dates to the year 1700. The modern doll as a toy achieved its mass appeal once manufacturing
allowed them to be made inexpensively and in quantities. Before then, dolls were made by hand,
and the craftsmanship, especially for the finer porcelain dolls was exquisite. These were miniature
works of statuary, not merely playthings, but of museum quality.
The split into two tiers of doll-making, finely hand-crafted figures and mass-produced toys, also
created a schismatic collectors' market. Rare dolls are some of the highest valued items at any
antiques' auction and can routinely fetch price tags near the $10,000 and higher range.
In the 20th century, many dolls were the typical "baby doll", grooming little mothers-to-be in the

finer arts of child care: tending, feeding, and diapering their "baby". Barbie changed all that in the
1950s. Although many celebrities had dolls made in their likenesses (for cross-promotional
purposes) Barbie became an icon of a whole different type. She was not a "baby doll". Barbie was a
"fashion" doll, and this changed the industry.
Today, there are innumerable dolls of varying body types and targeted demographics. One of the
most disturbing trends, though, is a fairly recent one from about 1999 or so in which dolls of
exquisite tooling, proportion, and artistry were created not for a children's market for play but for
adult collectors. And the dolls, known generically as "ball-joint dolls", are the center of a disquieting
sub-culture that apparently glories in the idea of the pre-pubescent, but sexualized, young girl.
Young Stuff
Forbidden attractions for young, tender females have been one of Hollywood's mainstays almost
from the start. Classic films explore the theme of the nymphet either innocently or wantonly
drawing a weaker male toward a path of destruction.
Two standout films probably best captured the titillating older man-teen girl romantic dilemma
better than any other before or since. The first is Elia Kazan's brilliant dark drama, Baby Doll, from
1956. In this film, a very mature man played by Karl Malden marries a teen girl, 17-year-old "Baby
Doll". As part of an agreement with her dying father, Malden must wait until she is 20 years old
before consummating their marriage.
When the movie picks up, Baby Doll is 19, close to her 20th birthday. During the two years she has
lived with Malden, she sleeps in an undersized child's daybed, wears short little-girl dresses, and
behaves very child-like. Malden can barely contain himself, and Baby Doll, innocently or otherwise,
torments him.
The 19-year-old nymph of this movie is played by a very curvaceous 25-year-old blond named Carroll
Baker. Her woman's curves are clearly visible beneath the flimsy, ill-fitting dresses she wears, she is
normally shoeless and barelegged, and has a wide-eyed sensuality. It's a very mixed message - this
girl, neither victim nor vamp, isn't bright enough to understand her power over this man, but she
does somehow seem aware she has it.
The true pinnacle in both literature, and on-screen, of the May-December relationship is Lolita.
Nabokov wrote the book about a 12-year-old girl who is pursued and sexually conquered by a man
old enough to be her father. In the book, the narrator (written before the word "pedophile" came
into common use) calls himself by the pseudonym "Humbert Humbert". Humbert, through a series
of carefully contrived moves, marries Lolita's mother just to get close to the girl. After the mother
dies in a hit-and-run accident, Humbert lies to Lolita and takes her off cross-country on a seemingly
never-ending road trip to ruin.
After he first has sex with Lolita (whose given name is Dolores), she complains the next day of being
in pain "down there". When Humbert presses her on the issue, Lolita tells him straightaway the
truth: she is sore "from when you raped me".
The movie, of course, is not so blunt, having been mainstreamed in 1962. Also, to soothe other
censorship concerns, Lolita's age in the film was raised to 14 (still uncomfortable for America, but
not nearly as uncomfortable as statutorily raping a 12-year-old as in Nabokov's book). She was
played by an age-appropriate 14-year-old Sue Lyon whose iconic look has gone down in cinematic

The Lolita movie image combined with school-girl gear helped make up much of the 1960's mod look
for teens and young women. These fashion moves made the women look young, but they did not
make them look like children. They were still sexually mature women beneath their mini-dresses,
their barrettes, hair parted on the side, and their bright red lipsticked mouths.
Both Baby Doll and Lolita spawned many imitators. The theme was explored in I Walk the Line,
starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld in 1970. It was later revisited by Drew Barrymore in the
title role of 1992's Poison Ivy, and by a 17-year-old Alicia Silverstone as the 14-year-old nymphet in
the suspense film, The Crush (1993).
Danger in a Doll
The Germans and French produced the first modern ball-joint dolls in the late 19th Century. Some
of these were playthings; others were so finely crafted and expensive their intent was to go straight
into a viewing case without ever being touched by a child.
It was the higher aesthetic of the collector that spawned the modern Asian ball-joint doll. Anim, the
stylized Japanese cartoon art that specifically "Westernizes" its characters while retaining some
Oriental flavor, was the inspiration for their "look".
Like anim drawings these dolls almost universally have slightly disproportionately larger heads
than life would dictate.
Similarly, their eyes are much wider, and expose more iris than would be found in a human female.
The mouths are usually small, angling toward bee-stung, they are anatomically correct (with breast
buds molded into the skin, and in at least one known instance, a small indication of a vaginal slit).
The doll's internal structure sometimes carries a plastic skeletal frame over which polyurethane
synthetic resins are cast. The elements are banded together with thick elastic straps allowing for
free movement of the joints while keeping them naturally tight. These dolls are built for
customization by painting or for changing the eyes and hair. In fact many of them are sold
"naked" (without base face paint or permanent make-up) for the new owner to embellish the face as
he or she sees fit. This putting on of the face in the parlance of the trade is called a "face-up".
These dolls were first made under the brand name "Dollfie" ("doll figure") in 1999 by a Japanese
company, Volks. The original line of anim- and manga-inspired dolls was expanded to include a
larger model, the Super Dollfie. Many times, all ball-joint dolls are generically (and erroneously)
called "Dollfies" or "Super Dollfies" - these specific terms are trademarked model names.
In size these dolls range from the smallest (about 4" tall), up to the more common 16" and 24" dolls.
Many specialty types in the Super Dollfie line can be 36" tall or more. Some have been made "lifesized" for the age-appropriate life stage of the doll (up to 4' tall or more). All of the dolls have larger
feet proportionately than Barbie; thus, they can stand upright without support.
The lack of true ethnic diversity in these collectibles is disconcerting and inexplicable. Despite most
of these dolls' manufacture in Japan, South Korea, and China, almost none have classically Asian
features. They display variants of
Westernized eye shapes and longer, narrower noses. Hair colors are mostly blond to honey blond
(as preferred), and the skin is pale or pinkish. Even the few "Oriental" dolls carry paler, less olive-

toned skin with widened eyes.

A search of images failed to produce any of these dolls with clearly Africanized features, hairstyles,
or any skin tones that could be considered African. The Westernized BJDs ("ball-joint dolls") are
clearly geared to the Caucasian market, preferred even among the Japanese who collect them.
Danger in Dcolletage
These dolls are expensive, starting at several hundred dollars and easily exceeding $1000 in price
often. Limited editions can run as much as $5000.
They are also almost all built along more womanly lines than an average child's doll, with clearly
defined hips, waists, and chests. [Barbie, for instance is absurdly and grotesquely
proportioned compared to these dolls.]
Within the general category of BJDs there are sub-genres as well: Goth, vampire, elvish, fairy, and
others. The aficionados of these dolls are global, and there is a huge international community, both
on-line and in person.
The sub-culture can be fairly creepy - many people take pictures of these dolls as if they are living
beings, they talk of them in similar tones, the owners hold "fashion" photo shoots, and upload videos
of their doll collections. Worse, there is a fashion cult that has sprung up around them.
Certainly, not everyone who collects these dolls is perverse. But, impressionable children are
vulnerable to marketing and fads more than any other demographic, and the fashion cult that
attends the rabid fans of these dolls is shocking. Tween girls are perhaps the most easily influenced
group of people on the planet - it is why the world has vapid teen "talent" (such as the Justin Biebers
of the world) when many other truly gifted musicians and vocalists can't get heard. Evidence of this
inanity can be found in the realm of the modern Asian ball-joint doll cult. Sexually mature adult
women are adopting the "Lolita fashion" look (which actually has absolutely no connection to Lolita
as played by Sue Lyon, it's just a name copted for particularly excessive youthful couture, and is
derived from a Portuguese word); tween/teen girls are, as well.
Seeing a mature young woman engage in cosplay photography is get rid of fetish one thing. She is
certainly making, and is capable of making, an informed decision to dress up in baby doll clothes as
she sees fit and be photographed or featured in an on-line video or go to cosplay parties dressed as a
baby doll. Younger girls, however, cannot make such mature decisions, and are left to peer pressure
and up-to-the-moment trends for inspiration and guidance.
It is in this secondary market of fashion wannabes that the BJD cult can be destructive. Most teen
girls usually try to appear older and more sophisticated in their dress and makeup, wanting to be
perceived as more mature
and womanly. The Lolita fashion trend, otherwise known as "living doll" fashion, reverses that
mindset. These are women and teen girls who revert to a prepubescent "look" despite the fact that
many may have been or are sexually active, or certainly have started menstruating.
Perhaps one of the most controversial of these "living dolls" is a British girl named Venus Palermo.
With not only her mother's assistance, coaching, and support, this 15-year-old girl dresses up in

baby doll clothing, with a specialized makeup technique that makes her look as if she is about seven
years old. She is a child molester's dream - the little girl in look who is technically not a little girl at
all (although at 15, Venus Palermo is still legally underage for consensual sexual contact).
This girl has a series of (currently) 81 videos on YouTube, under the nom de guerre, "Venus
Angelic". She claims the family lived in Japan for a time, and that she started dressing as a doll
about two years ago when she was 13. Her mother encourages the behavior.
The "finished" product is frightening - Venus Palermo looks like a pedophile's plastic dream date
when she has finessed her transformation into Venus Angelic.
She describes in great detail how her makeup is applied, to the number of layers of foundation and
powder and other things it takes to "face-up". She wears false eyelashes occasionally, but more
damaging is the use of contact lenses with opaque, oversized irises tinted on them. The cornea and
iris part of the human eye is avascular - it needs to "breathe" in order to obtain oxygen. These
lenses give the doe-eyed look of the stunned doll, but they can certainly lead to eye problems.
Another disturbing feature about the lenses: they emulate the condition of a woman's eye when she
is sexually aroused or on the brink of having an orgasm. The dilated pupils and the bright-eyed look
of arousal is subtly, if not consciously, perceived by the trolling male, viewer.
Venus Palermo also adopts the mannerisms of a child-like persona. She speaks in a baby girl voice,
saccharine sweet and cloying, and peppered with obfuscations and sickeningly cutie-pie phrases
such as "wonderful summer-sky blue sugary fairy crystal bonbons".
Proof of the danger to this girl was learned recently when she and her mother hosted a Webcam
Q&A. A predatory male engaged in the conversation quickly enough - the mother put a stop to that,
but did not stop the Webinar. The girl claims she will do this dressing up for the rest of her life. The
psychic damage by enabling her fantasy life is immeasurable right now and will only tell in later
years. One can only imagine what sort of man might ultimately find her attractive - such a
relationship could probably only be co-dependent and destructive.
Danica McKellar (the actress who portrayed the adorable girl-next-door, Winnie Cooper, in the
1990's television series, The Wonder Years) grew up to be a theoretical mathematician (co-creator of
a new theorem that bears her name). As a young adult, she remarked in an interview about the fan
mail she received as a child actress. Most of it, she said, carried elements of nostalgia ("You remind
me of my first girlfriend", or things of that nature). Occasionally, however, she received
requests for photos of her in bikinis or even nude, or requests to meet a stranger somewhere. She
refused to objectify herself, although she easily could have.
Similarly, many women have worked very hard to be taken seriously in the work place and in life.
And while it is certainly arguable about the "seriousness" of any woman's posing for nude
photographs or appearing in a pornographic film, such women are of the age of consent and
make decisions without pop culture influence or media frenzy or peer pressure.
Unfortunately, the cult of BJDs tends to ignore the place of young girls in their make-believe world
by not only condoning and encouraging the fantasy of females as sexual objects, but taking the
further step of reducing them literally to playthings: toys.
Almost certainly, the BJD fan and collectors' Websites are trolled by many bad men looking to
engage any unsuspecting adolescent. The modern Asian ball-joint dolls are blameless; they are

inanimate collectibles that have drawn a group of overindulgent parents and others bonded in an
obsessive interest in strange fashions that cannot possibly appeal to a sexually healthy adult.
It can only be hoped it's a short-lived fad.
Venus Angelic (random tutorial, re: hair/face-up)
Courtney Love sings about metaphoric doll parts

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