On Monday evening at 10pm, Channel 4 aired the documentary Secrets of Living Dolls. The programme showed some insight into adult males in America who like to dress up in rubber body suits and masks made to look like dolls, primarily they liked to do this in private. Like many other documentaries of this sort, Channel 4 seemed to be attempting to explore a small underground community that was mostly hidden from families and public from a fear of being victimised and suffering from prejudices of others. Perhaps the problem with the documentary was that it didn't explicitly state the reason for filming and uncovering this underground community, however on the night it was aired people took to their Twitter accounts and Facebook status' to tell their friends that what these men were doing, well it simply isn't right!
But...is it not?
To live out the desire of dressing up as a doll, especially in your own private time, is not something that harms those involved and nor does hurt anyone else. Through the documentary Secrets of a Living Doll, for a certain time of the day, week or year dressing in this costume is something that allows the individual to be happy and fulfill their personal desires (which, I believe to its fault, was not particularly explored by Channel 4). Yet there is still a backlash with the actions of these Living Doll; so does this mean that the problem lays with those who are part of the community or those who are outwith it and looking in? Living dolls really seems to be another underground community, which has now been exploited to the wider public thus to there preconceived ideas and small mindedness. Yes, the core of the documentary was missing - there was not enough explanation and understanding around the dressing up. Hence, channel four have revealed something about another community, which is separate from the "vanilla" lifestyle, and misrepresented it. Like many subcultures and scenes, which are hidden from the eye of the general public, unless you go searching for them they are hidden because they are alternative to what society traditionally deems to be accepted. Living Dolls seem to be portrayed unfairly by viewers, even if channel 4 were fairly neutral, it seems people have jumped to certain conclusions that they are 'weird' and therefore, their actions were 'wrong' - supporting their argument mainly on the bold aesthetics of the mask or body suit. The criticism of the Living Dolls across social media echoed the condemnation of drag or trans people in the past (and unfortunately, in some cases, the present). Furthermore, one of the most reassuring elements of the documentary was when Living Doll Jennifer (doll name) who had saw the child protection agency come to his house deemed his hobby safe, this hopeful scene in the documentary suggests that harmless subcultures can be accepted in society.
I believe that most of us out there, are in favour of people being able to express themselves, hence if subcultures could be more widely accepted there is an opportunity to lessen prejudices' and make a safer community for those safer for those involved. Of course like most communities some involved will be problematic and this should of course be raised them. One Living Doll said they enjoyed dressing up because when they walked down the street they felt like a beautiful women and enjoyed that attention. This no doubt minimises the problem of street harassment and cat calling. Yet, what was missing from the documentary is the element of why the doll masks and body suits are as important to those wearing them as they are. If it was only a matter of being glamorous and to look physically like a female the excessive detail and range of choice of face and body mask would not, I assume, be so important to the buyer. However, like in many sexual subcultures such as the kink/bdsm scene, cruising for sex or drag there are elements that do not sit comfortable with the people until there is an explanation as to why the desire exists and why others have a need to divert more strongly from a "vanilla" lifestyle. For the Living Dolls, there may be a connection with a form of female or feminine identity. Nevertheless it seems likely that it is not just "dressing up", as you might feel compelled to do at Halloween, for the individual wearing it - the mask allows for an exploration of gender and sexuality of the self.
Ultimately, the Channel 4 documentary was a short insight into the world of the Living Dolls. Their actions seem to have little, if any consequences to outsiders apart from creating a negative response from the people who dislike the aesthetic appearance of the costumes. Yet, more knowledge of the Living Dolls as a community and subculture could increase our understanding and even our appreciation of the men in masks. However, it comes to down to spending years not battling the strange, wonderful or weird communities that exist in hidden depths of society and rather, giving them an opportunity to be understood and, most importantly, heard over the loud voices of the critical and ignorant. And after all, we've all got to live somehow.