From the pages of Mommy and I Are One, Number 6 (P.O. Box 643, Allston, MA 02134; $4.95)

Excerpts from:

I, Doll Collector

By Kate Piestrup Hambrecht

Doll collectors like myself have the unhappy distinction of sharing one of the most transparently pathological hobbies in America. Most of us are overweight, middle-aged or elderly women with a passive/aggressive suspicion of people. We’re rude to checkout girls at the Safeway and have unnaturally clean carpets. And we collect miniature people who wear nice clothes, don’t have bad breath and don’t say or do rude things–like have nipples.

The most common group, and seemingly most normal (because I belong in it), is women trying to recover their own lost youth. We’re fans of Barbie and other dolls that have what the industry calls “play value.” Playing with dolls makes you feel like a little girl. It’s fun. When you meet a truly good play doll, you can step into her personality instantly. Her body will be deprived of those lines and bulges that obsess you. Girl dolls are who you want to be and fashion dolls are who you wish your friends were. The girls are a crystalline moment when you were young and felt everything deeply and had yet to discover life’s greatest hoax–sex. Barbie is something you might want to visit but would never want to live there.

Next, there are the collectors of TV Shopping Network dolls dressed in poorly realized Gibson Girl rip-offs. They think women are most beautiful when entirely covered in lace, bows and ribbons. The dolls they buy are made of brittle porcelain and meant to be displayed in a clear plastic “Dolly Dustless” box, available for and extra $12. TV Shopping Network doll collectors don’t say things like “I like pretty little girls in pink dresses” because they think everyone does.

The smallest group, but one that will grow as Baby Boomers age, is that of the voodoo grandmothers. Within this group, there are two distinct factions:

9Women who buy high-priced “character” baby and child dolls because their grandkids are too old to be cute. Or maybe because they don’t get enough visits from their grandkids. Or perhaps even because “Cuteness” equals the sacred, as evidenced by the annoying (to me) resurgence of fat-baby angel dolls, as though our spirit world is ruled by sacred deities with the personality of the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

9Women who buy (high priced) abuse victim dolls. These are more common than you would think, especially in black dolls. They have puffy features, sorrowful eyes and a general scruffy street-kid air about them. One company, Sandi McAslan Dolls, even makes white kids with requisite lazy eyes and missing teeth. I guess abusing people must be fun in some sense or we wouldn’t do it. But the women who buy these dolls are only getting postbeating guilt. Could that guilt be what we crave? One of the most popular creators of sad-eyed dolls, Janie Bennett claims her tearful black children are beautiful and reinforce self-esteem of black youth. And perhaps they are beautiful because they allow older women to admit the guilt they feel, having anticipated or at least witnessed a segregated, racist society. Unlike the idealized happy babies sold on the Home Shopping Network–models of babies that women wished they had as their own children, but don’t–these porcelain martyrs are the sad offspring that white middle-class women wish they hadn’t created, but did. Like the bleeding, mutilated images of saints in Catholic churches, these dolls become the vessels at once for doll collectors’ guilt and hope.

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Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): zine cover.