Meet the mini-me dolls: Matching freckles, plaits, even braces – the new children's craze is dolls customised to look like their owners but is it charming or a little sinisterSince launch in 1998,
U.S. company American Girl has sold 20m dolls‘Hair salon’ styles the dolls’ hair and that of their owner once a month
Designer outfits ranging from 35 to an eye-watering 200
09:46 GMT, 16 July 2012
My daughter, Annie, is in the garden with Bella. Both are wearing matching pink summer dresses and white sandals.
Their hair — two identical bobs — are the exact same tone of golden blonde. And each of them has eyes of cornflower blue.
Annie and Bella are not, as you might imagine, twins. They’re not even sisters. But they are inseparable. They watch TV, eat meals and go to the hairdresser’s together.
Welcome to the world of mini-me dolls.
Dolly doppelgangers: Shona's daughter Annie, far right, with her friends (from left) Dorothy, Charlie, Holly and Amelia
Buying a doll identical to your daughter is already big business in the States. Since its launch in Chicago in 1998, U.S. company American Girl has sold 20 million dolls, with 44 different hues of eye and skin colour to choose from, and 30 hairstyles.
All types: There is a doll with hearing aids, and recently they launched a doll without hair for those children unfortunate enough to have gone through chemotherapy
There is even a doll with hearing aids, and recently they launched a doll without hair for those children unfortunate enough to have gone through chemotherapy.
At 11, my own daughter, Annie, is in her final year of primary education at the Royal School in Surrey and is, strictly speaking, a little old to still be playing with dolls. But she’s still obsessed with Bella, who was bought for her last birthday from the newly-opened My London Girl store — Europe’s first doll cloning shop.
Many of her peers also own mini doppelgangers. For every Amy, Grace and Olivia in Annie’s year group, there is now a plastic version to match.
So what’s going on here A year ago, you couldn’t drag these 11-year-olds away from their computer screens.
Now they’re playing tea parties on their bedroom floor with lookalike dolls.
So is this a welcome return to traditional, wholesome play for girls, or are we simply fostering their narcissistic tendencies
Neagle, who with her husband Paul, a former financial executive,
launched My London Girl in West London’s Westfield shopping centre last
year, insists the doll renaissance can only be good for children.
‘It’s a return to traditional values,’ she argues.
doll is the only toy that represents a human being, and research has
proven it’s vital for intellectual and emotional development that
children interact with them.’
900 sq ft My London Girl store offers a choice of 14 dolls and 40
outfits. Designed for girls aged three to 13, they cost 79 each and
come complete with matching clothes for their owners. Dolls’ outfits
cost from 25, matching clothes for owners from 35.
A lucrative idea indeed. Every time you buy an outfit for the doll, there’s pressure to buy a matching one for your daughter.
Sitting pretty: Since its launch in Chicago in 1998, U.S. company American Girl has sold 20 million dolls, with 44 different hues of eye and skin colour to choose from, and 30 styles
‘We’re responding to huge demand,’ says Paul, who has taken early retirement from his job in marine insurance.
‘Even before we set up the store, I could see that these dolls were a massively growing trend.
my daughters had an American Girl doll when they were younger — bought
by me on business trips to the States — and word soon spread amongst
got to the point where every time I flew to America, I would be handed a
shopping list as long as my arm to buy clothes and accessories from the
store in New York. I was spending more time shopping for miniature
outfits than I was in the boardroom.’
Today, the London shop, which is overwhelmingly pink, sells around 50 dolls a week.
‘Our dolls are not for babies — they are companions for girls aged somewhere between seven and ten,’ Paul explains.
‘They have healthy-looking, non-sexual bodies. There are no boobs, for instance.
the matching clothes we sell for dolls and children are not
adult-styled outfits. They’re the kind of clothes you are, hopefully,
happy for your children to wear.’
I visit the shop with Annie and her four friends, there is a hushed
silence as we cross the threshold.
Then, with squeals of barely
contained hysteria, all hell breaks loose as the girls rampage through
rails and rails of clothing.
are pyjamas, jodhpurs, ice-skating outfits and elaborate party dresses —
in sizes small enough for the dolls, and big enough for them.
Brushing up: The friends already visit the stores hair salon which, one Sunday of every month, styles the dolls hair and that of their owners in the same way. Girls can also learn to do a French plait and chignon their dolls hair
Ready to go: The five friends proudly show off their new dolls' hairstyles after their session at the salon
Three of Annie’s friends already own dolls and are here to visit the store’s ‘hair salon’ – which, one Sunday of every month, styles the dolls’ hair and that of their owners. Girls can also learn to do a French plait and chignon their dolls’ hair.
Another friend is selecting a doll to take home, and wants to buy a matching dress that she and her doll can wear together at a family wedding later in the year.
Annie has brought Bella along to buy a new pair of shoes. We need another pair of tiny shoes like a hole in the head, but unfortunately Bella seems to be a mini Imelda Marcos.
But of the mothers I have spoken to in Annie’s class, the consensus is one of ‘thank goodness they’re not playing with Barbies’.
They’ve got a point. I’d far rather Annie identified with a doll that looks like her than wanted to play with some freakishly thin ‘woman’ doll with a size-zero figure, big breasts and Dynasty-style hair. Still, I can’t help feeling the mini-me dolls are a little creepy.
But Louise Gill, 39, who’s married to Kevin, an accountant, and lives in Haslemere, Surrey, disagrees.
Their 11-year-old daughter, Charlie, owns a doll with the same long brown hair and cheeky smile as her owner.
‘I think it’s sweet,’ says Louise. ‘Charlie’s face has lots of character, and she has managed to find a doll who looks just like her and she can relate to. What’s wrong with that
‘She has actually convinced herself Rosie is real — but that just goes to show what a great imagination she has. I’d far rather this than having her obsessed with Facebook or make-up. It’s prolonging her childhood just a little bit longer.’
Expensive hobby: With designer outfits ranging from 35 to an eye-watering 200, who can possibly afford to indulge their daughters in this narcissistic pastime
With designer outfits ranging from 35 to an eye-watering 200, who can possibly afford to indulge their daughters in this narcissistic pastime ‘We’ve probably spent about 400 so far,’ says Louise, a full-time mother.
‘I don’t mind because it has become an all-consuming passion for Charlie and one I don’t think she’s going to grow out of any time soon — so it’s not money wasted on a passing fad.
‘I recently paid to have matching T-shirts printed for her and Rosie at the American Girl T-shirt boutique in New York, and also paid for them to have specially done identical hairstyles at the salon. Obviously, these extras are not something we would fork out for on a daily basis.’
While some may argue it’s all just a gimmick, and a jaw-droppingly expensive one at that, it’s hard to argue with the motto of the My American Girl magazine: ‘You’re great — just the way you are.’
Indeed, during our trip to the store, another of Annie’s friends, 11-year-old Dorothy, wanted a black doll to look just like her. The store sells ‘Grace’ but her hair is in an Afro style, whereas Dorothy’s hair has been straightened and plaited.
In the doll cloning world, this is no obstacle. Two long-suffering shop assistants simply removed Grace from her box and spent the next two hours carefully straightening and plaiting her hair so that a gleeful Dorothy could have her mirror-image.
But while the dolls do bring their owners a lot of pleasure, some mothers are still a little dubious.
‘I do think the whole thing is a bit odd,’ admits Maria Thorn, mother to 13-year-old Amelia.
‘Amelia recently got braces. I’m led to believe you can buy a doll with braces, too — but I’d definitely draw the line there. In fact, I’d like to have drawn the line a lot earlier, but you can’t help getting sucked in.’
With her bright auburn hair and freckles, Amelia stands out. In the past, when her daughter has taken her doll out in public, they’ve been stopped in the street.
‘I think she likes the attention it gets,’ Maria says. ‘But it’s more than that. The doll is an extension of her — something she has control over. It’s all about claiming ownership.’
Certainly, back in the store, Annie is begging me to claim ownership of another doll, called Pippa. She doesn’t look like her but has the same personality (apparently). But I’m putting my foot down: one mini-me clone is quite enough.
But please don’t tell Annie that while she is at school, Bella hangs out with me. And why not I get to spend time with a girl who’s exactly like my daughter — minus all the eye-rolling and back-chat.