What’s with The Dolls, Ellen?

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I own more dolls today than I had in my entire childhood. Blame it on COVID, but what began with creating Peeps dioramas every spring brought me into the world of miniatures, dolls, and Instagram. I wanted to expand beyond the Peep season, so I started collecting miniatures and using tiny felted bears or mice. One thing led to another; I am hanging out with Barbie’s friends now. 

I owned a Barbie, Midge, and a Skipper as a child. (That’s one Barbie, one Midge, and one Skipper.) I also had a Tressy doll with hair that grew and two Liddle Kiddle Dolls, Biff and Lola. I started a collection of dolls from around the world that consisted of six dolls. That made for a tiny world. 

Today’s doll world is enormous, made of collectors and hobbyists from around the world connected through social media. While everyone stayed home during COVID lockdowns, dolls attended virtual parties, galas, weddings, anniversaries, and social gatherings. Tonya Ruiz, creator of “Grandma Gets Real,” became a social media star with her hilarious “Quarantine Barbies.” Artist and doll photographer, Izabela Kwella (@Bella_BellaDoll), published a gorgeous “how-to” book on doll photography.  

Mattel, MGA Entertainment, and other manufacturers have developed stunning lines of diverse dolls. Dolls can be contemporary, historical, heroic, fantastical, and always accessorized. If you cannot find a doll you like, YouTube has videos on how to swap heads, repaint, and re-root hair to make your doll unique. My daughter and I watch My Froggy Stuff on YouTube and follow Froggy on Facebook and Instagram for tips on crafting for and with dolls. I tried my hand at converting an old Barbie into Annette Kellerman. 

What does any of this have to do with writing? Like other creative pursuits like painting or pottery, art inspires. Ever listen in as a child plays with their dolls or action figures? They are storytellers. Their play has world-building, character, dialogue, setting, and action. If something is not working in their story, they revise. 

I cannot build a diorama or take a photo until I know the story and characters that will be represented. One photo is like a page in a picture book, combining words and images. The whole process sets me up to write. 

Perhaps children need something tactile, like dolls or action figures, to stimulate ideas and their imagination. I keep rocks, tiny dolls, finger puppets, and a mechanical bird on my desk to fidget when I must think through something. 

Research conducted by Cardiff University and Barbie reveals that doll play helps children develop empathy and social information processing skills. Reading fiction also develops empathy and understanding. So, let’s read and play “Barbies,” as we used to say. 

My doll photos can be found at my other Instagram site, @croakmore_creative