What a peculiar programme ‘Secrets of the Living Dolls’ turned out to be.
It is strange in these hedonistic times to encounter a subculture hitherto unheard of, but encounter one I did, courtesy of Channel 4, last night.
The documentary Secrets of the Living Dolls (not to be confused with RealDolls) shone a light on the rubbery face of Rubber Doll masking, where men transform themselves into full-sized female dolls by wearing latex (or silicone if they can afford it) suits, a la Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.
‘Femskins’ they’re called, in RDM parlance.
Perhaps surprisingly, the men featured didn’t identify as transgender. In fact, all three featured in the show identified as cisgendered heterosexuals. Californian retiree Robert, Essex-based live action role-playing nerd Joel, and doll conference co-ordinator John.
Only one of the ‘maskers’ featured, father-of-six John, was “out of the doll house” to family and friends.
The documentary crew filmed barman and masking-newbie Joel as he prepared to introduce his (strangely-mute) alter ego to his friends. The expression on the face of his female friend – who obviously expected Barbie, but got a microwave-melted Pete Burns – really said it all.
Perhaps the most interesting ‘masker’ of all was 70 year-old Robert. Obviously well-moneyed, Robert displayed a series of disembodied, man-sized silicone Barbie masks of varying degrees of quality to the camera before initiating his transformation. Out came the talcum powderand on went a very-expensive, fully-customised (not a fan of the ‘bald’ look, Robert had added pubic topiary) doll suit.
The transformation, both visual and in attitude, from softly spoken septuagenarian to sexy silicone senorita ‘Sherry’ was touching. Well, it was touching until Robert started leering at himself in the mirror. Then there was a bit too much touching, so the camera panned to one of the other participants.
Sadly, what motivates these men – all those featured were male and no statistics on female ‘masking’ were offered – remains elusive. Is it a fetish or just another form of cosplay? Well, yes, for some, is the answer to that, but for others the answer is a little more complex.
“I decided to emulate a sexy female, to basically be what I couldn’t have,” says John, who also uses his fem-skin as a tool to help facilitate his participation in ‘girlie’ activities – manicures, Bieber concerts, gynaecologists visits etc – with his six daughters.
The documentary’s subjects attempt to play down the strangeness of their hobby, but it’s hard to not to think that grown men spending tens of thousands of pounds to look like a Barbie that someone left on the er, barbie, is the very epitome of strange.