Playing with Dollies: From Big to Small, They’ve Got it All

We recently delved into the world of realistic baby dolls (reborns), but there is so much more left to explore! The beauty and therapy of ball-jointed and Masterpiece dolls have also had some time in the spotlight recently with videos from Vice and social media attention, similarly to reborns. Interestingly, all three communities often interact and have overlap with each other. It’s not uncommon to see accounts with more than one type of doll.




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Earlier, there was discussion of the many therapeutic benefits found in dolls. Throughout the doll community, including lesser realistic dolls, they are often the same. For more information on how dolls have positive effects on their owners, please check out part one of this series. In short, dolls, especially realistic ones, trigger the release of oxytocin and in some cases, allow for a certain regression. While research is easily found for reborns, it’s difficult to ignore the personal claims of finding some joy and peace for their Masterpieces and BJDs. However, due to this difficulty, this will largely be a discussion of the artistry behind them, with personal anecdotes along the way.

Ball-Jointed Dolls

BJDs are truly unique as they can be as customizable as the owner desires. They are typically made out of plastic or resin and are fully poseable. This is achieved by thick elastic strings holding the various balls and joints together. They can be painted with realistic facial expressions, and various wigs and eyes can be inserted. When the owner tires of the current look, they can just swap out various parts. BJDs are smaller dolls, with sizes ranging between 4 inches and 2.6 feet, often depending on the simulated age.

While dolls are a universal toy, the most common BJD styles are Asian-inspired, appearing to have been plucked straight from anime or manga. As a result, lolita, gothic and fantasy types are often seen, however more realistic dolls do exist. They are often recognized by their large eyes and disproportionate bodies. In this sense, they are rarely realistic, with slender delicate — almost ethereal — features.




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Merely looking at the dolls, they ooze of opulence and beauty, so it’s no surprise that they can carry a hefty price tag. Individual parts, such as wigs, can easily be 50$+. They can be found within a several hundred dollar range, but dolls that cost over a thousand do exist. As mentioned, there is a great deal of customization available through various channels, and some people even offer one of a kind (OOAK) parts.

Compared to other doll communities, they are viewed in a more positive light, perhaps due to the sheer artistry performed, or as they are seen less as toys. BJDs have largely escaped the wrath of social media, with the exception of periodic mockery that the owners are “cringey” or too “weeaboo” (someone who is obsessed with Japanese culture and may associate it as being the ultimate upper class). They even have a subreddit that, while containing a little over 2700 members, is decently active compared to other dolls such as reborn babies (which has 189 members and few active users) and Masterpiece dolls (which does not have a subreddit). They also have the benefit of not having a subreddit directly relating to insulting the dolls!

Even beyond Reddit, there are other ways to connect with the community. Several online forums and stores exist such as the Den of Angels, as well as various in-person conventions. They often contain competitions and little fashion shows for their dolls with prizes. The community has a very large LGBTQ percentage and is something that they may bond over. Androgynous, masculine female dolls and feminine male dolls can often be seen, and the owner’s gender identity can be reflected accurately and in private. Much like the queer-friendly Sims series, fans can hide away from any homophobia or transphobia and play out their dreams.




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The delicate nature of BJDs are more ideal for taking photos and dressing up, but some find comfort in weighting the dolls to rest in their laps or even roleplay. The inventive stories can even get pretty racy, but are largely more PG-13 and traditionally focused on characters. Amanda Irwin, a collector, stated in the video below that she has anxiety, and her weighted BJDs help calm her, as she can rest them in her lap and “pet them (the hair) like a cat”.

To follow Amanda with how her BJDs help her and for an insider look in a BJD convention, watch the Vice video below.

Masterpiece Dolls

While BJDs are tiny condensed humans, Masterpiece dolls aim for a more realistic height. As they mimic toddlers or small children, they are much larger than what people may expect. Dolls can range from approximately 26 to 50 inches (between two and four feet) and can weigh up to 30 pounds. Each style of doll is extremely limited; there is a limited run of each model. While customization is more limited as they tend to be sold as is, pre-completed with skin tones, eyes and hair.

Masterpiece dolls can quickly be recognized from their size, as they are child-sized, but also from their inquisitive eyes and cheery or curious expression. They are poseable, perfect for pictures, but can be a bit difficult to cuddle or play with. Each one develops their own personality from the clothing and accessories used. Fantasy Masterpiece dolls can be quite rare to find, and realistic looks are the most common.

As Masterpiece dolls have limited runs, they can be incredibly expensive! Similar to the other dolls in this series, they can often be found for between several hundred and over a thousand dollars. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily for those who want something truly out there and unique), they rarely require any changes to their hair and the likes. The official Masterpiece website lists different places to purchase their dolls, however the majority of dolls change hands through independent people or trades. eBay and Instagram are especially important in this marketplace.

The community also comprises of collectors, roleplayers and people using the dolls for therapeutic purposes. The official website directs fans to various Facebook groups and online forums where people can chat, and Instagram provides an excellent platform, especially for roleplayers. This provides plenty of overlap with the reborn baby community, especially for those interested in roleplaying family situations. It resembles a quite posh version of playing house, but for adults. However, due to the proximity to reborn dolls, child-sized dolls can be seen as the target of insults on various subreddits. This surprisingly can also lead to some animosity between the two communities as they are just different enough to cause a rift.

Masterpiece dolls are very artistic, but the roleplay and therapeutic aspects also exist. I had the opportunity to speak with Viveca (which is her play name), who owns two Masterpiece dolls and one Paradise Galleries baby (often lumped in as a reborn), about the differences between the communities and her personal gains from the .

Name: Vivica, which is based off the Sanskrit name “viveca”, which means recognizing the difference between the real and the unreal. I had that name before I even had the dolls. It was something that I go by besides, you know, my given name and it does mean something special to me, so Vivica is the name.  

User handle: roleplaywithdolls

Time spent in the community: When I first got the dolls a couple of months ago, I would say I’m spending, well I guess I was spending an hour on Instagram a day, if you count that as the community, but I was interacting with the dolls more often.

Number of dolls: Three. I have two Masterpiece “dollters”, I was calling them, which I was combining the words “doll” and “daughter”, and one Paradise Gallery baby boy. I really only got the Paradise Gallery baby to see if I wanted a reborn. It was something cuddly, something small to hold, very nice.

Left to right: Elisha Simone, Monika Laori, Baby Charlie. Photo by roleplaywithdolls.

What is different between the reborn and Masterpiece communities?

The Masterpiece dolls, I think, are very fulfilling for a lot of people because they’re faster to access than the reborn children dolls. But I guess the main difference being that with the Masterpiece dolls, you can get these kid-sized dolls with various looks. They’re very beautiful. They’re fully poseable, too, that’s another thing. What I’ve noticed about the communities, I don’t notice any huge differences. The reborn community is a lot larger because more people know about them. The babies are more easily accessible, if you want a reborn, I guess. Like finding someone to make a reborn child, I didn’t know where to go for that, really, especially wanting an African-American look, you know, a black look, that, to me, I hadn’t even seen that anywhere and I was seeing that get pretty botched up when it came to the babies a lot of the time. I mean, there are some beautiful ones, but I just didn’t want to have that mistake. I felt better knowing what the doll would look like when she arrived, and also like the full visibility of the Masterpiece dolls. My four year old look doll can stand up on her own. She can, I can pose her in all kinds of different positions. She’s not cuddly because she doesn’t have a soft middle or anything, because like I said, they’re fully poseable, the latest Masterpiece dolls. But yeah, I can’t say that I know the biggest differences in the communities. I felt very welcome in the reborn community, just as welcome as in the Masterpiece community, and I notice there’s definitely overlap. So I always just tag things reborn because I know people who are interested in reborn dolls who are interested in seeing those as well. (Masterpiece dolls) they’re limited edition. Like my Ellie, she’s the taller one, there’s only 350 of her made, ever. I guess the reborn community, you could say, has more exclusivity with the dolls, because they’re one of a kind, most often. There’s different kits, but the production in the end is one of a kind. But as far as I’m concerned, my dolls are also one of a kind. Isn’t everything one of a kind, actually? But yeah, they are limited edition.

How do people react to seeing your dolls or page online?

(laughs) They think it’s very weird, but I don’t care if they think I’m weird. I think weird is good. So, people’s reactions. I make people pretty comfortable in life in general, so when they find out about this, yes, they think it’s strange, but they tell me so. They don’t make, they’re not secretive about it, where they’re like “oh, she’s weird. I’m not going to talk to her”. They ask me “this is you going through another weird level. What’s this about?” and ask me, so they respond with questions. It’s going to make you question things! You see it’s a little off-putting, right, it can be, so they want to know do I really think the dolls are real, they want to know how attached I really am, why I have them… I mean, that’s how they react. They’re curious. Yeah, they’re curious and assumptions, like how people react to most things, there are a lot of assumptions. I prefer questions to assumptions. Cause I can assure you that your assumptions of me are almost always wrong in every area of life (laughs). So it’s better to ask. So I don’t mind if people ask, even if they’re asking from a judgemental place, actually, because I have no problem answering questions or being looked at as strange. But generally, I am very well-accepted by the people in my life and I only follow people who have dolls. So I have not received hate on my page or anything like that, because I am putting it out there to people who would enjoy it. So, I’m getting excellent reactions from the community, very excellent reactions, even from strangers.   

Why own a child-sized doll instead of just babies?

I didn’t want a baby doll. I’m just not interested in them, very much. It’s the same reason why if they get the reborn babies and like looking at babies. And I’m not saying that to be a smart-ass, you know, “because I don’t like them”. I mean that as genuinely the reason. I like kids. It makes me feel good to feel like there are children happy around me. There’s so much sadness in this world. It’s like you come home to a piece of artwork of like, children smiling. That makes you happy, right? What if that artwork was a living diorama that you could move around anytime, you get it? Like, I get to come home to a living image, although it’s not alive, but that living image of a child. And because I don’t want children, it would be ridiculous to have children just to have that scene in your life now and then. How selfish is that? People say people who don’t have children are selfish. No, people who have children to fulfil their own personal needs are more selfish, actually. It’s not well thought out, you understand? If I want a child for love, isn’t it better I get a doll and not put that pressure on a real child?  


Photo by roleplaywithdolls​

What does an average day look like, roleplaying? What do you do to roleplay?

You know, before I got these dolls, I was going to do a lot more with them. I’ve had them a few months, a couple of months. I thought I was going to do a lot more with them. I didn’t. I thought I was going to buy a lot of fake food because I think fake food is really cute too, for some reason. But yeah, I don’t really interact with them that much. The pictures on Instagram and stuff, everything you see on Instagram, besides the unboxing videos and a couple of detail videos that I did but never put out there, those Instagram moments are really the only interaction with the dolls. Well, no, no, no. That’s not true. I’ve had some personal days where I was using them for doll therapy for a couple of hours. I would say maybe a dozen hours, altogether, maximum, but I was holding the dolls, and it was helping me bring up memories and stuff. But that wasn’t really roleplay. I didn’t really expect it to occur like that. I do something called tapping EFT (emotional freedom techniques). I don’t really actively do it anymore but some of the benefits of it still rise. It’s kind of a personal development technique but it helps you release past memories and insomation, that’s what it is. The dolls help me to regress a little bit for that. That wasn’t roleplay though. So the roleplay I’ve done you’ve basically seen on Instagram. Oh! And sometimes I’d watch children’s shows to calm myself down when I’d have moments of really high stress, and I bought these dolls at a time of extreme high stress in my life, so I was very aware it was a lightweight midlife crisis, okay? I know that’s odd but it was my own little therapy for myself. That was another interaction I would do with the dolls, although I wasn’t really doing anything with them, I would hold them and it’d be like “okay, we’re watching this show”. Sometimes it felt like I was vicariously watching it as myself as a child again and I could relive things, or I was reparenting myself and giving myself the love and being held when I wanted to be… Sometimes I don’t think people let themselves play with the possibilities in something enough. I just wanted to touch on all these different things and the therapy aspect of it. I’m the sort of person, I don’t feel like anything I do in life, I need to do forever. No hobby I do sticks with me forever. I can’t help that. But everything else is passing and I’m very good at letting go. And a lot of people think the dolls are the opposite of that, but for me, they’re helping me let go.

Does your family “play along”?

Yes, actually! My dad just sent me a small American Girl doll. They’re like six inches, these American Girl dolls. They’re like mini ones or whatever. He sent me one as a doll for Ellie. So yes, my dad plays along. He’s really, really sweet about that. And my friends are very sweet about it too. My close friends, when I first revealed to them… well, a couple of them, anyways. One of them was creeped out by it and she said so. Like I said, I’m fine when people tell me the truth. I get that some people are creeped (out) by dolls and there’s actually a mechanism in the brain that might be the reason for that, so I don’t look too into these things. I don’t take these things personally. But yeah, I was kind of shocked at my one friend: “Yeah, we can take Laori out in a stroller and take her out”. Like she was totally down for that. I didn’t even want to do all that, like “no, I don’t really want to do all that with this doll but that’s so sweet that you were supportive like that!” It actually made our friendship even stronger because that was so cool, but she was supportive like that. And my other friends are like “I’ll babysit!” Yeah, I don’t have bad people in my circle. I have supportive people, and even some play along, yes.  

What do people get wrong about the reborn/Masterpiece doll community?

That we think that they’re real or something, that we’re confused about reality. I think what they get wrong even further about life is you think half the things in your own life are real. They’re not, do you know what I mean? (laughs) “Vivica, look into that! Look at that.” What’s really real? I beg people to ask themselves that question. Are your thoughts real? Is anything around you really real? What really matters? It might be a little esoteric but hey, you can use anything to go deeper in life. Everything is a witness to the truth, correct? Yes, it is.

Photo by roleplaywithdolls

Whether dolls are admired and loved for their beauty and artistry or the happiness they give, they’re a classic and timeless toy disregarding ages. The elegance of ball-jointed dolls and the childlike joy of Masterpiece dolls have continuously touched the lives of their owners, whether it be satisfying a need for art or to regress to younger years and heal. They may niche communities, but they thrive beautifully with each other.

I’d like to give a heartfelt thank you to the ball-jointed and Masterpiece doll communities for sharing a slice of your lives with me. Watching you interact with your dolls, for whatever purpose, was incredibly sweet and touching. A special acknowledgment goes to roleplaywithdolls , sincerely_thebellets and everyone else who shared  their pictures, experiences or encouragements with me!