When I was a young girl, friends and family constantly showered me with brand new dolls. I remember at only five years old I loved pretending I was a mother to my toys and couldn't wait until the day I had own children.
I eventually grew out of that phase and didn't look at another doll until my daughter was born, which was a whopping 25 years later!
However, some people keep their dolls throughout their lives, as they hold sentimental value that they'll keep dear for the rest of their lives.
Sometimes people can take their love for their belongings to all new heights. One California woman has proven her passion for dolls extended far beyond a collector's treasured assortment by deciding to make her own her own.
But, these aren't your ordinary dolls.
Stephanie Ortiz, 33, has been collecting dolls since she was a young girl.
She decided to join the Reborn community four years ago, and began making strikingly life-like dolls as a hobby. Unfortunately, Ortiz was laid off at her job as a manager at a landscaping company last year, but she decided to take the chance and turn her passion into a full-time career.
She became a Reborn artist and has quickly become one of the most recognizable names in this niche community of women who like to collect and role-play with these dolls.
“I never thought I’d become a sought-after artist,” Ortiz said. “I was at a doll show recently and people came up to me crying. I didn’t even know what to say.”
While these dolls are pieces of art, Ortiz said they take a painstaking amount of time to make.
Ortiz said that despite the lengthy amount of time it takes to make each doll, she often works on five to eight at a time.
“I can’t just work on one doll,” she says. “I get bored. Each baby has its own little personality, which makes it exciting to work on many at a time.”
Ortiz begins by ordering individual parts of the Reborn dolls to build on her own unique baby. She hand-paints every last detail from their veins to their freckles, to their rashes and blushed faces.
Their weight varies between four to five pounds and they are dressed in a body cloth that gives them the appearance of a real baby. Their limbs are made to be heavy and their head is filled with glass beads to "give it the floppy likeness of an actual newborn."
It takes about 40 hours to make a single doll, and Ortiz works 12 hours a day, every day of the week.
But, her hard work pays off, as each doll is sold at a very high price point. They range from $600 to $1,000, and Ortiz said she's earning more money than she has before.
“Unlike real children,” she said, “you can sell these children.”
Those in the Reborn community are known for taking their passion for their dolls to the extreme.
Many collectors role-play with their dolls and may even have a nursery for them in their home. They care for the dolls as if they were real children, and frequently post videos of their interactions online.
Ortiz, who has her own YouTube page with nearly 260,000 subscribers and more than 102 million views, said that while the “Reborners” share an internally supportive community, she often receives disparaging comments from internet trolls.
“Just because I have the dolls doesn’t mean I want a real baby. I have a real kid. With the real kid comes the crying, the sleepless nights, the expense. I have the Reborn babies because I can buy those cute little outfits and they’ll never throw up on them," Ortiz said, adding she knows “they’re not real.”
When the negative remarks become too much for Ortiz, she said she relies on her family to raise her spirits.
“Whenever I get down about the mean comments, my wife or daughter will say, ‘Get a doll, we’re going out,’” she said.
“When my daughter was younger, I think there was a time when she was jealous of the dolls,” Ortiz continued. “But now it’s something we share.”
Ortiz explained that when people aren’t hiding behind their computer screens, they regularly approach her when she’s out with her dolls, and are stunned by her lifelike craftsmanship.
“One guy was so convinced the doll was real, I finally had to point out its eyes didn’t blink,” Ortiz said. “It’s a compliment to me. I know I’m creating something that’s so real, people think it’s a real baby.”
Since Ortiz started her business, people have become so much in awe of her artistry, she’s even appeared on national television.
Appearance on national TV
In 2016, Ortiz appeared on an episode of The Doctors, where she showed off her handiwork and explained her motivation behind creating her Reborn dolls.
“I’m not crazy, but the dolls are crazy fun,” she humorously remarked during the intro.
The show’s hosts were also joined by psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser, who shed light on what draws people to a hobby like this, and whether it’s healthy to pursue it.
“It’s a hobby that can go into something that isn’t quite right,” Kaiser said. “What I tell people is this: if you’re collecting them and enjoying them, it can be comforting… I think you start to get concerned over a person’s psychological well-being if they’re really trying to feed it, if they need to change it’s diaper, taking it to restaurants, if it becomes ‘real’ instead of just a hobby.
While some people may question Ortiz’s passion for Reborn dolls, she stands firm in her decision in making her vocation public, and a less taboo topic.
“The community needs a positive light,” she says. “I want to have fun with my kid and my family and whatever hobby I enjoy. There’s no reason to be ashamed.”
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