Lolitas vs. The Living Dolls

Anyone in the Lolita fashion right now can tell you that one of the biggest hot topics at the moment is the media's recent portrayals of Lolitas as "Living Dolls" and lumping them in with a variety of different people who choose to use Barbie as their fashion icons. It's not unusual to associate Lolitas with dolls, we've been doing it ourselves for years, but this recent trend of lumping them with Barbie dolls is a new and unusual stereotype. For some reason it's easier for people to understand the fashion in terms of Barbie dolls. To an extent it's understandable: many Lolitas are known for wearing pink and having elaborately large hair, just like Barbie! But when compared to the other self proclaimed "Human Barbies" Lolitas seem really out of place, at least to those of us who are very familiar with the fashion. Personally I find it really strange that Lolitas are being featured in the same shows as people who go through extensive plastic surgery and extreme breast implants. I really have no problem with people who generally want to look unreal and plan on having very real medical procedures to do so, I just fail to see what these people have to do with the Lolita fashion, because the two are almost always mentioned together.

I've heard a lot of mixed reactions to the term "Living Doll" being used to describe Lolitas. It's mostly groans and head-desking, but a number of people like the term because they like looking like dolls (not necessarily Barbie dolls though) and feel like they shouldn't have to change because of some reality shows. Alternatively I've heard some people say why shouldn't we use the term "Living Doll" to describe Lolita and show people how Lolita is really done and provide some much needed normalcy, compared to the often over dramatic, suspiciously edited, pseudo-Lolita shown in these shows.

A number of Lolitas have expressed concern about people simply getting the wrong idea about what Lolita is based on these shows, and it's a very real concern, as the people featured on these programs, if relatively normal outside of the show, are edited in ways that are intended to make your average viewer think "what a weirdo!". In these "Living Doll" shows and articles Lolitas are often painted as juvenile fame obsessed losers who have little interests beyond wigs, fake eyelashes, and the color pink, and it's this idea that most people are fighting against, not necessarily Lolita's association with dolls.

How do I personally feel about this term being applied to Lolitas? Honestly, as someone who has been a Lolita for a very long time, I find it very difficult to muster up the effort to really care what outsiders to the fashion think about it. I've been around long enough for strangers to have thought we were all self-harming emos, Harajuku obsessed Gwen Stefani fans, or Lady Gaga clones, and then promptly forget they ever thought these things about us in the first place. This new "Living Doll" stereotype is just another on a long list of annoyances. In general I feel kind of apathetic about being called a "Living Doll" by outsiders, it's annoying because it's not true, but there's pretty much a guarantee that if someone thought I was some sort of Human Barbie Doll just because I wear Lolita and they saw a reality show that featured the fashion, they probably would have thought something equally silly if they hadn't seen the show.

What do you think about using the term "Living Doll" for Lolitas? Do you find it to be a less controversial term than "Lolita" and an easy way to explain the fashion to outsiders? Or do you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the hightly-edited antics of "weirdo watching" reality TV?


  1. I'm not a fan of the media grabbing the 'living doll' title for the reason you mentioned of how the media will twist it into being some oddball thing to gape at. However, just like with what seems to be happening with reality shows and cosplay right now, I think it's mostly just a sign that the lolita fashion movement and participation has reached a critical tipping point where even reality tv outlets want to get in on the viewership they think displaying the girls as odd will cause.

  2. I won the "Looking like a doll" competition at the Juliette et Justine Tea Party in London and I felt very flattered. Looking like an antique doll is definitely a look I like. But the term how it is used in the media is really misleading. But well.. lolita is it as well ;)

  3. You give a great point about how outsiders will always have some odd thing to associate lolita with! I think what rustles people most is the fact they are using the term with more specific reference to lolitas and I don't think that's been done before. Both "living doll" and "lolita" have weird connotations. One makes it sound like we are all trying to imitate dolls and the other, well we all know the controversy there. I can't tell if one is better than the other but it would be nice (and not likely to ever happen) if western media were to present us as much more grounded and human as our choice of clothing seems to be. When I explain the fashion to outsiders I prefer a more historical explanation because it seems the least weird to me haha!

    What I don't quite understand with the complaints we need to push ourselves away from the living doll term is that we've been using the terms "doll" and "doll-like" to describe our clothing and appearances for years. I mean we're certainly not all trying to look like a barbie but I feel there is some gray area of that aspect in how we present ourselves. I know I take it as a huge compliment if an old lady on the street says I look like a doll because they are an expression of perfection.

    1. I think that for some people pushing away from any associations with dolls altogether is just a reaction (although I think it's an overreaction!) to the Living Doll shows. I don't agree with it, but I can understand why they are trying to do so. I sort of see it as the way some people are very adamant about removing all mentions of sexuality from the fashion (despite that things like Ero Lolita, corsets, and bondage gear styled accessories pop up in the fashion now and again, not even mentioning the fact that you can't really speak for everyone in the fashion!), or say things like "The name Lolita was chosen totally arbitrarily! Probably only because it was a pretty sounding female name!", these things might not necessarily be true but some people think that by denying it completely there's no chance for someone to assume something like that. Again, I totally don't agree with going about it like that, but I can understand why people are so protective of the fashion's image to outsiders that they would deny any association with stuff like that.

    2. Yeah that makes sense, it's too bad though! I admit I like the association with dolls (maybe not the over the top version), and I feel like pushing away from the association of them will only ever be seen within our circles so I figure why bother. It's a shame when I see people on fb tell how they were asked in line at the grocery store if they were "like that living doll on My Strange Addiction" but at the end of the day you can't correct everyone and they probably won't believe you anyway haha! I mean in a sense it's a little nice that the fashion is starting to get attention, and I'm too optimistic that with it continuously on the rise in the west it will start to be a recognized subculture.

      My takeaway is that unless some factual articles appear without using us as weirdo shock bait, lolita will always be seen as this misunderstood and strange thing you may spot someone wearing. I'm only concerned with the nice compliments I get while wearing it and ignore all else :D

  4. Personally, I think the term "Living Doll" is an insult. It is implying that Lolitas don't care about anything but what they wear and how they look, rather than their personal health and well being.

    While I do want to look a doll, I do not go to extremes like, starving myself to get skinnier, plastic surgery on my face, permanent make-up, etc.

    I love putting on make-up and felling pretty, don't get me wrong, but that doesn't mean that I think that my real face is ugly! I used to get into situations where people say that I became a "Living Doll" because I think I am ugly, I don't like myself, I harm myself, etc, and they think their doing a good thing by calling me a doll as an insult.

    The above are my reasons why we should not be labeled as "Living Dolls". We are not plastic dolls, we are human beings with feelings, lives, hearts, souls, and everything else!

    This is from my personal view and experiences, so it's fine if you don't agree with me.

  5. I personally don't mind the term living doll. I think being called a living doll is a lot nicer then a lot of the things some lolitas get called.

  6. I don't mind when people call me "doll". I know that my fashion makes me look like one, so this is probably the closest thing that people will say and it is unavoidable that people just call you anything.
    But some weeks ago, when I was out in a kind of lolita-cpk-mix, an American lady (in a Japanese train) asked me: "You look so pretty; are you one of these .... dolls?"
    And them I knew: this term seems to be a trend over there. xD But for some reason it felt weird that she said it this way ... Because I am not a doll, I just look like one. For me and most of us, that's a big difference.

    1. "I am not a doll, I just look like one."


  7. I think human barbies and lolita have nothing to do with it each other, but there are many kinds of dolls out there these days. I think this living doll thingie migt be a phase just is only passing by. Just a few weeks ago, this little girl, maybe two years old, came to me at as hopping centre with his dad to ask if I could take a picture with the girl. It was so sweet, how could I have not. The dad said the girl thought she saw a living barbie and the girl asked if I was coming from a dance. It was just too cute, that I didn't want to start educating them. ^__^

    If someone says to me, I look like a doll, I take it as a compliment. Because I still remember when people talked about porcelain dolls and lolita style together, they were kind of like the ultimate look. It sort of fepends on the situation, the person who talkes about it etc, that how I like the topic of abut lolitas looking like dolls..but don't like the fact, that some connect lolita-styled people to those plastic surgery addicts and wanna-be-living-dolls.

    ~ Frillycakes ~

  8. I think of Living Doll and Lolita as two different things but I personally don't care if the two get confused. I can see a LD being a Lolita, but I don't really see all Lolitas as LD. I've watched Lolita pick up over the years slightly but it's never really been a thing that I hoped people would someday be like, "Oh, look. A lolita." when they see me. So when someone calls me a Living Doll instead of Bo Peep or a princess feels about the same. I myself do not look nearly as lovely, or I suppose the drastic extreme could be called "nonhuman", as most of the people that mistakenly are called LD in Lolita so I think when I am called a doll it is used under different circumstances than others. I take it as my appearance is similar to a dolls in the way I dress or have my makeup, not my actual shape, size, or overall appearance. I do feel empathetic to ladies that are so similar in "doll like appearance" that people confuse them for the extreme LDs that have surgery or do drastic things for their body images since these are the ones the media seems to sensationalize. This could garner them negative attention or hurtful accusations. In this I can see the dislike for the Lolita and Living Doll confusion and the movement to set firm lines in the differences of the two "fashions". I use that term loosely since both topics seem to be able to hold a sense of a lifestyle depending on the individual.

    I do agree with Dokine's point about feeling comfortable about my self image. I like how my face looks. I like myself with and without make up. I use make up and accessories to change my appearance to suit a "look" I am aiming to achieve. Putting on these things does not change me into some sort of alternate person nor are they means to disguise some shame I have of myself. Make up, circle lense, false lashes, hair extensions, etc are similar to a pair of shoes in my opinion. I never try to play off something simulated as my own. I never say, "Oh, yes, this is my real hair/eye colour/ lashes..." I am honest and people respond rather positively towards it, stating their admiration of how interesting the items are or how different. Many people stop me and ask how I accomplished certain parts of my look for the day. I do not like the idea of someone thinking I am ashamed of my face or myself since it is the very opposite. I do not know the Emily girl from that episode of MSA but I adamantly believe that she is not exactly like how the show painted her to be. Every lady has some insecurities about herself and I am sure they asked her to share them. The dramatization of "reality" television is what sells it so I have no doubts in my mind that the show did just that to make sure that Emily came off as some sort of trembling basketcase of insecurities that absolutely refused to spend a moment in reality.

  9. When I dress in my frills, I aim to be a princess. Yes, I collect dolls, and yes sometimes they wear Lolita, but no, I do not aim to look like a doll when I dress up. I think everyone has their own preferences and themes with their clothes, so maybe "living doll" works for some Lolitas, while others don't aim to look doll-like at all. I just don't think the phrase works for every Lolita out there.

  10. I had a lady who walked up to my when I was wearing lolita. She asked if I was a "living doll" I said yes, only because I hate correcting people and explain the whole fashion, and she was extremely happy. However she did give me her name a number because she a had a dress for me. I never did call her.

  11. (Possible Abuse Trigger Warning)
    I'm leaving this anonymously because it's a bit touchy for me, and I don't want to be known for this, but:

    When I was a child, I underwent "training" to be a sex slave by neighbors, and was told that I was a sex doll and that's all I would ever be. I started to hate my Barbie dolls after that. Because Barbies are played with, they are undressed and re-dressed, they act as you tell them to, they get left outside and forgotten and dirty, they get messy and unkempt, they get broken. They are subjects of abuse.

    I thank the Lord with all my heart that at around the time I was going through those series of abuses, I had seen a beautiful, beautiful Porcelain doll in the store around Christmas time. It was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen, and I wanted it. All of the sudden, that Christmas, and for many Christmases (?) and Birthdays to follow, I received Porcelain dolls (including that first one) as gifts from my parents and my Grandma. They sat up high on the shelves, perfect and beautiful, where no one could touch them. No one could undress and redress them, no one could break them, no one could /play/ with them and make them messy and unkempt, no one could take them outside and forget about them where they would get dirty. They were just meant to be beautiful. I decided that if I /had/ to be a doll in the eyes of others, I wanted to eventually be this instead. Beautiful and untouchable.

    The mind of an abused child.

    Fast forward to two years ago. I started getting into Lolita, and I was dealing with a horde of "skeletons" as memories came up. Even starting as an Ita, I felt more beautiful and more confident than ever. As I've grown in the fashion, I've grown as a person and I've been able to heal from my childhood traumas.

    I have porcelain pale skin, and have been told a few times since starting Lolita that I look like a beautiful Porcelain doll. :)
    (I want to note that I have Porcelain dolls of varying skin tones, so being pale isn't necessary to be Porcelain; I did not meant to come across that way if I did.)

    How do I feel about the media terming Lolitas as "Living Dolls"? I think referencing us as Barbie dolls is...horrid. Even if it's a temporary thing, it's awful. Referencing us as Porcelain dolls...even if we aren't striving to look like a Porcelain doll (I wasn't, for the record, when I first started into the fashion)'s a true compliment. Because everyone thinks Porcelain dolls are beautiful. Not to mention, that Lolita does share elements to dresses you often see Porcelain dolls in; it's a more, in my opinion, natural conclusion than calling us /Barbies/.

    It depends on who is saying in what context and how.

    I hesitate to mention this a little bit because...people who associate the fashion with the novel...I didn't get into Lolita because I was a victim of pedophilia. Lolita isn't dressing up like a little girl, not for me. But this "Living Dolls" thing has been a little triggering for me, because of what I went through. And...I'm certain I'm not the only one out there. So, for those who can't speak up in this regard...I speak for us.

  12. I really don't like the term "Living Doll". It gives me a really negative feeling. I love lolita fashion, but I don't want to be compared to a doll - I'm a human being, not a weirdo who wants to be a doll.

  13. I must admit, I stumbled on here by a link. I know nothing about the scene but I certainly went through an eccentric punk period in my younger years (colored mohawk a foot tall, wearing spikes all over my clothes, etc.) but I find it weird to get bothered by this. Who cares? I remember my other punk friends always complained about people "not getting it," and bemoaning why people had to look at us differently. Then don't look different. When I made a choice to stand out, I knew I would stand out and accepted the good and the bad.

    It may be harsh or simplistic but you need to accept that like the author of the article points out, people are going to make crazy inferences about you based on the fact that you do not follow the dominant fashion. Many of them will not, nor should they have to learn about your scene. If you make the choice then you're accepting the results and sadly, sometimes it can be annoying. People can be pre-judgmental and ridiculously irrational which includes reading into alternative fashion choices way too much. When I was a punk, people thought I was a miscreant psycho when in reality I'm a quite mild mannered and (not to be arrogant) very intelligent person. It didn't bother me because I realized it was a consequence of my decision to dress a certain way.

    Who cares what they call you? Honestly, as a complete outsider Lolita sounds wayyy worse to me. Though certainly the whole doll thing is fairly derogatory, to me at least, Lolita has such a bad connotation both seem fairly arbitrary labels. It strikes me as neo-Victorian (in film at least, the neo implies a deliberate imitation yet with significant alteration) a sort of modern take on a idealized notion of turn-of-the-century style.

    When I first heard the term a few years ago (absent any real context) I assumed it was a kind of paraphilia or anime/hentai. When I saw people wearing the style (a few girls come in to the place I work often) I thought they were cosplaying. I certainly would rather call it neo-Victorian than terms that carry the baggage of imply some kind of pedo-complex or mental derangement. But what do I know, it's your scene, your choice and you shouldn't be concerned enough to even register others negativity.

  14. Ive reccently heard about the living doll moment, let me say, im new to lolita but lolitas arent dolls! Lolitas arent perfect they just want to act and be cute. Sure some might be kiddish but some people never grow up even in adulthood! As i say, dont judge fashions on the outside, why do we want to look like dolls now! Srrly, dolls are like perfect and we all arent, ughhh,

  15. I know this is an older post, but just adding my two cents...

    I honestly think it's great if normal people are associating lolita with the term "living doll." It's an easy description of our look to an outsider that doesn't require a lot of explanation because it's something they already have a reference to (ie, to someone who doesn't know lolita, it probably does look like "princess" or "china doll" clothes.) Even though I know that actual LD subculture is different than lolita, your average layman doesn't know or care. I'd much prefer to just say "yeah, I'm a living doll" than go into any sort of explanation of lolita. Yeah, it's another excuse to hide behind instead of working hard to normalize lolita, but let's be real, some battles aren't worth fighting and it's nice to have an easy comeback for when regular people ask what your fashion is!


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