These hyper-realistic baby dolls may unsettle some, but they’re a comfort to many

The growing ‘reborn’ movement includes collectors, hospitals, grieving parents—and the lonely

The “reborn” movement started as a niche community in the 1990s and has now expanded into a global network of artists and enthusiasts. These ‘reborners,’ mostly women, create hyper-realistic baby dolls, finessed with layers of paint to achieve the mottled skin of a newborn and hair inserted follicle by follicle.

The painstaking process can take several days, with the final product fetching up to several thousand dollars.

Photographer Didier Bizet, with the help of friend and writer Charlotte Vannier, travelled to five European countries to document reborn enthusiasts.

For passionate dollmakers, reborn is a form of art, says Bizet. The buyers range from collectors, the lonely or depressed, couples coping with the loss of a child, and even a hospital that uses the dolls to calm patients with Alzheimer’s. “They are so happy to see babies,” says Bizet . “It’s like sunshine during the day.” The joy is fleeting, as the patients eventually begin to doubt the authenticity of the doll and lose interest, but for a few moments they are once again holding a daughter, or a grandchild.

“When you have a real reborn doll in your arms, it’s something different. When they are really well done . . . it [feels] like a real baby,” says Bizet. “The hands, arms, legs, everything. Especially when you take the head of the baby on your shoulder.” While Bizet maintains it’s “just a piece of silicone,” to many of the women he photographed, it’s more than that. Amanda, for instance, takes her reborn, A.J., out for walks in a stroller, and says it eases her depression.

“It’s just a doll,” Bizet says, “[But] she explained that she felt much better with this doll and why not? If it can help, why not?”

Bizet is a finalist for the Sony World Photography Awards, to be announced in April 2020.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.