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Lifelike baby dolls steal the hearts of some

RARE PASSION: Madam Ho is the only artist here who creates these "reborn" dolls. To get that realistic effect, she paints only under natural light, including veins and blemishes like those on newborns.


    Apr 20, 2015

    Lifelike baby dolls steal the hearts of some

    SHE looks so lifelike, you would expect her to open her eyes and cry for milk.

    Even though this doll is not a real baby, the process of its "birth" is almost as intensive as real labour.

    First, there are layers - at least 40 of them - of paint to be slathered on the doll. And each layer has to be baked in an oven to heat-set the colour before the next layer is painted on.

    This process takes at least two weeks for Linda Ho, the only artist here who creates these "reborn" dolls. She also paints blue veins and blemishes like those on newborns.

    Madam Ho can paint only during daylight hours because she needs natural light to get that realistic effect.

    The stay-at-home mother, 25, then puts in mohair, strand by strand, on the doll's head. This takes another two to three weeks.

    In an interview with The New Paper, Madam Ho says she decided to make her own because she could not get realistic dolls in Singapore.

    Her attempts at buying these dolls overseas left her disappointed.

    She says: "I tried to buy twice from overseas, but the transaction didn't happen. I was heartbroken because I just wanted one badly."

    The mother of three children - aged three, five and six - says it started as a hobby.

    "I was amazed that it's possible to turn a blank sculpture into something so lifelike. It is like turning a blank canvas into something realistic by just painting. It intrigues me."

    In total, she has spent over $10,000 on more than 100 kits. Each kit, which she bought online, comes with a head, a pair of hands and a pair of legs.

    But her husband is uncomfortable with the number of doll kits stashed in their three-room Punggol Housing Board flat.

    This sparked the idea for Madam Ho to sell completed dolls locally.

    She says: "I started to sell them as I realise there is interest here. I didn't want people who want such dolls to end up heartbroken like me."

    Demand for the dolls has been rising since she started selling them early last year.

    She says: "I showed it to my friends and they asked how they can get one, too."

    But the orders have been so overwhelming that Madam Ho has stopped taking new ones for now.

    So far, she has sold about 20 dolls. Her clients include teenagers, couples trying for a baby and the elderly.

    A 25cm doll, which resembles a premature baby, costs about $200.

    She says: "Those with full silicone bodies are at least US$3,000 (S$4,100) and above. The vinyl version is the more affordable option."

    To test how realistic her work is, she takes the completed doll out for a test run in a stroller and gauges the reaction of members of the public.

    "The more people ignore it, the more you know it looks real," she says.

    But to some people, these dolls are more than just art or toys.

    One British woman, Kerrie Williams, 33, splurged £20,000 (about S$40,000) on seven dolls after she suffered a miscarriage in January 2012, the Daily Mail reported.

    The mother of two says the fake babies comforted her when no one else would.

    She says: "I was 12 weeks pregnant when I miscarried and I hit rock bottom afterwards. I just desperately wanted another child."

    But the dolls caused her partner to split up with her.

    Experts here warn of the danger of going beyond keeping the dolls as a hobby.

    Thomas Lee, consultant psychiatrist and medical director of The Resilienz Clinic, says: "It is strange and unusual to regard an inanimate object as a real thing.

    "To treat dolls as substitutes for real persons or real relationships is entirely a different thing which can indicate a deeper psychological issue."

    Also, the person's attention is taken away from real relationships, resulting in the breakdown of marriages or bonds with real children.

    Dr Lee notes that these dolls "can be a useful short-term tool" to deal with the grief and emotional pain resulting from children who were lost or have grown up.

    But not for long. He says: "If this persists for too long, when the person has grown overly attached to the dolls, it can indicate that the grief has not been resolved, or worse, a psychological disorder is developing."