CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“Pink Aisle Refugees: Guys not afraid to call a doll a doll’”
The Telegraph — August 8, 2002
They call themselves “Pink Aisle Refugees.” At best, they are a courageous bunch of men shattering society’s prohibition against boys who play with dolls. At worst, they are hack plastic surgeons, forcing countless Barbies to go under the knife against their will.
Welcome to the Internet’s “Men With Dolls Forum,” a place where female action figures are put on a special pedestal above all toys with a Y-chromosome.
“A grown man shopping in the ‘Pink Aisle’ for Barbie clothes for his female action figures can feel more than a little alienated,” explains MWD member Matt Black, a corporate communications consultant from Philadelphia. “When we come together and discuss this feeling, we are refugees — seeking refuge in each others company.”
“But usually, this feeling doesn’t last long,” he adds. “Either people become confident and proud — they say to the high school girl at the register, ‘Yes, this is for me, this is for MY doll!’ — or they’ve created their own cover-story. ‘It’s my niece’s birthday tomorrow, I don’t think she has this yet, but her mom can always exchange it, right?’ I started with the latter, but have graduated to the former.”
But the forum is far more than a messageboard for the Doll Pride Movement. MWD brings together hobbyists who like to “customize” their figures, creating their own characters by altering hair color, facial expressions, body parts, clothing and accessories. Some changes are done by switching clothes and body parts from existing dolls. Other additions are designed from scratch.
Black, who goes by the screen name “TheRenCapt,” recently came to the aid of a colleague who accidentally smeared permanent marker on a Posh Spice doll while trying to touch up her eyebrows. Needless to say, cosmetology isn’t for amateurs.
LAM001: “… I’ve been left with a large purple stain over her left eye, that the goof off WON’T remove… Must I repaint her whole face? Or has anyone any ideas for getting this stain off? Right now, she looks like she’s been beaten up.”
TheRenCapt: “I know that doll head well… Rule #1 of repaints — NO MARKERS! Put your Sharpies and felt-tips away! … It will bleed over time. Markers sink die INTO the vinyl. You want to paint on the surface. Acrylics are your friend. I use the tip of a needle (no joke) to paint eyebrows. As for the head, if you are deadset on using it, yes, it is a total repaint. Best advice: trash it and find a new one.”
The once non-existent (or closeted) world of men who collect dolls is now a booming market. Mattel has licensed a new line of Lingerie Barbies and it’s likely that women collectors aren’t the ones getting excited over teeny-weeny pink bras. Playboy figured they may as well move in on the silk turf, too. You can turn any G.I. Joe into Hugh Hefner with just two of their scantily-clad Playmate dolls.
“I wish I could give you some socially enlightened response,” says Rob Caswell, a Massachusetts-based artist who grew up in Nashua. “But alas, the main draw for me is quality 1/6th scale cheesecake… I can’t find any attraction in collecting a figure of, say, a frumpy meter maid.”
Thus, it may come as no shock that many of the doll alterations on the MWD forum are breast enhancement operations. Blue Box International has a popular line of well-endowed figures called Cy Girls Perfect Body, which are selling faster than the company can make them. The doll comes with a separate snap-on breast plate for enthusiasts who wish to make her chest even larger.
Merging Barbie with a Cy Girl Perfect Body is one of the more common procedures. “She’s generally accepted as an organ donor,” jokes Mark Volk Jr., a Washington D.C. systems analyst who founded Men With Dolls last June. “Heads are used most often, usually with surgery to remove the awful smile or a face repaint,” he adds. “Though some members do use the super-articulated Gymnast Barbie body for some of their custom figures.”
Be forewarned: MWD members say it is often tough to fit standard-issue Barbie tube tops or halter tops over the new Perfect Body torso.
Men With Dolls welcomes members of all ages and genders, but the risque content might not be suitable for the collector who prefers Cinderella ballgowns over Madonna leather. Fashion tastes aside, the forum does attract its share of women participants.
“Their passion and craft abilities are easily on par with the male membership,” concedes Caswell, the ex-Nashuan. “They’re just like ‘one of the guys’ … or us guys are all ‘just one of the girls.’ I guess either fits, depending on your perspective about collecting female dolls.”
Craig Wren, a graphic designer based in Ohio, maintains that the MWD Forum is the ultimate compliment to women
“You can name just about any of our five senses and women have some way of delighting that sense,” he explains. “They look nice, they smell good, they feel soft and warm, they appeal to our need for nurturing and comfort, and of course, they provide us with love in many ways – from mothers to wives to daughters.”
“We would all be in a terribly miserable world if there were no females in it,” adds Wren, “and this is reflected in our collections.”
If behind every bust-enhanced Barbie are sentiments like these, maybe the “Men With Dolls” should issue their own line of Mother’s Day and wedding anniversary cards.
Darren Garnick currently owns no Cy Girls or Barbies, but does boast dolls of Jerry Springer and Jesse Ventura. Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears every Thursday in The Telegraph’s “Encore” magazine. Feedback and ideas are welcome via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.