The History of Creepy Dolls and Kids Who Love Them

Adults familiar with the creepy doll stereotype common in films and media are often baffled by the children who love to play with these dolls. Learn why some children aren't bothered by them.

Macro Shot Of Doll Eye
Photo: Getty

If you've ever thought twice about seeing people dress up in Halloween Chucky costumes or consciously avoid watching horror movies featuring dolls, you are not alone. Many adults fear dolls, an emotion so strong that it often crosses into phobia territory, and is aptly titled pediophobia. Children, however, do not share this same fear.

Creepy Dolls Are a Kid's Best Friend

A viral TikTok video shows a young girl receiving a creepy doll, Ophelia, as a gift from her aunt. In a follow-up video, her mom has conducted a "doll reveal," showing the doll wearing brightly-colored children's clothing wrapped up in a blanket in a sleeping position next to signs the daughter has made. One reads, "No Water for Ophelia" and another, "Ophelia is Perfect!"

The doll, which is actually taller than the toddler herself, has black hair, pale skin, sunken eyes, and an overall creepy demeanor.

Similarly, a Florida mom shared how her 3-year-old brought a doll, named "Chloe Beard" (which the mom renamed to Creepy Chloe) along on a family vacation to Magic Kingdom at Disney World. The doll garnered attention at the theme park, even allowing the family to skip long queues and earn some additional unexpected benefits.

A Brief History of Dolls and Their Ability To Entertain and Scare

Dolls have been part of the human experience for centuries. For instance, wooden paddle dolls were found buried in ancient Egyptian burial grounds and tombs dating back to 2000 BC. Similarly, in Germany, clay dolls came into existence in the 13th century, and French fashionable dolls became popular in the 14th century.

In other parts of the world, these inanimate objects served as companions to many when other forms of entertainment were not available. There has been a fascination towards dolls in general—so much so that a quick Google search of "doll museums" lists over 40 museums across the United States people can visit to see and learn more about collections of antique, art, baby, contemporary, fashion, and miniature dolls across the decades.

Unlike the versions that predate them, modern dolls differ in appearance and functionality, thanks to the unquestionable creepy doll stigma that exists today. Some people blame Hollywood and filmmakers for creating this association, while other historians point to the ways in which dolls started to possess more human qualities in the 18th and 19th centuries. The transformation from cute, inanimate objects, to miniature versions of humans, made dolls a perfect platform for creatives to explore and exploit qualities of fear and horror.

Why Fear Is Lost on Kids Who Love 'Creepy' Dolls

Some children seem to be immune from the stereotypical creepy doll persona.

"Children may be attracted to these types of dolls because they are unique and allow for creativity and imaginative play. Younger children have not yet been conditioned to truly understand what 'creepy' is or what it means. The concept of creepy is something that becomes societally influenced based on exposure to messages from adults and media putting a label of 'creepy' on something," explains Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, Ph.D. and licensed psychotherapist in Phoenix, Arizona.

According to Dr. Fedrick, a child's selection of toys will inspire their creativity and allow them to make sense of the world by learning to problem-solve, better understand hypothetical scenarios, and give them the chance to use their imagination actively and intentionally.

As for dolls, especially those that mirror a smaller version of a human, children gravitate towards playing with them because it piques their interest and helps them develop their brain and personality.

"Children are also drawn to toys that replicate real-life scenarios in which they have seen caregivers engage in, such as dolls, tools, kitchen sets, etc. There is a good chance that a toddler-aged child chooses a doll to play with because it resembles the child in multiple ways (the real hair, the height, etc.). Therefore, the child is drawn to this toy because it is actually more familiar than it is creepy," she adds.

While adults' notion of the world is informed (or misinformed) by their external environment and by mainstream media, children form their own ideas of discomfort and fear through personal experience.

Parents can introduce toys (and yes, that includes human looking dolls) to their children without influencing the child's perspective about the toy with their verbal and nonverbal messaging.

"A primary caregiver is the child's main source of knowledge and insights about how to perceive the world, whether it is a safe or unsafe place, as well as how to behave and interact in it. Therefore, when a child displays anxiety or discomfort about an inanimate object, it is most likely due to the parental messages that have been sent about that object," Dr. Fredik notes.

With Halloween just around the corner, this might be the perfect opportunity to get over the age-old "creepy doll" stigma and gift your child a toy that they can experience for themselves—even if it keeps you up at night.

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