Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, from the Smithsonian Magazine, recently posted an article titled, The History of Creepy Dolls. This brought up the question, why are we so scared of dolls?
In her article, McRobbie mentions that people seem to have more trouble with dolls, in a museum exhibit, during the winter and that it is typically more common in adults than children. The question is, why?
As for the winter months, it is likely because of the darker atmosphere. In winter, there tend to be fewer sunny days. Most days are grey or white, and the sun stays hidden, what little time it is up, already lending to a creepier feel. The days are also much shorter in winter, so there is far less daylight and more darkness.
With darkness comes fear.
However, that may explain one aspect of people’s fear of dolls, but not all of it. Winter certainly isn’t enough to cause irrational panic simply based on the number of hours we receive sunlight; it only adds to it. So, is it the dolls themselves?
Not all dolls are considered evil or have any negative connotations toward them. Chucky, Annabelle, and Talky Tina all make sense because they were evil dolls. However, as humans, we can be creeped out over the most benign of them.
Some people are only creeped out by specific dolls, like the taller and more life-like porcelain types. Other people, adversely, are terrified of all types, from porcelain to Barbie to baby dolls.
Nearly everyone knows someone that is spooked by some type of doll, and we’ve all heard people speak about doll’s eyes. The cold, soulless stare of a doll’s eyes is enough to send some people speeding in the opposite direction.
We know that dolls have been a part of human culture for likely as long as we have walked the earth. Archaeologists believe that evidence shows dolls to be the oldest known toy and have historically found them all over the world.
In some cultures, dolls were an important object for young girls to have, while in others, they were simply meant as a companion toy. Perhaps, considering them as companions has warped our minds into thinking of them as more like living things rather than inanimate objects.
While most dolls are designed to be beautiful and innocent, much like the children they are marketed towards; some are not.
There are many cases of dolls found that were clearly created to be used in rituals, made as effigies, designed as representations of terrifying deities, and even used as messengers from the gods. Some are still used in ritualistic ways today, such as with voodoo.
There is an authentic classification for the fear of dolls: Pediophobia. It is exactly as one might expect, basically a persistent and irrational fear of dolls. It can cause chest pain, nausea, panic attacks, rapid heartbeat, and more.
One theory says that the scared feeling goes back to that primal fear of faces. It is believed that in the early days of humans, we looked for faces in everything to keep ourselves safe. Now, we still see them but generally recognize them as nothing more than coincidence.
Dolls, however, aren’t just faces, though. They are full-bodied people that aren’t alive. Humanoids with no souls, and there is something inherently creepy about that.
My little sister gave me a beautiful porcelain doll years ago after my father died. She admitted there were two reasons for giving her to me. One, as a way of showing her sympathy (we do not share the same father), and two, because the doll scared the daylights out of her. She couldn’t even stand the fact that it was in the same house as her. There was nothing even remotely off about this doll. As soon as I had it in my possession, however, I felt slightly creeped out.
There was no rhyme or reason behind me or my sister being creeped out by the doll. It was something that our grandmother had found and given to my sister as a gift. Our granny meant the world to us, so for my sister to give away something granny gave to her, she had to be terrified of it.
Another personal example is: When my youngest son was little, we got a bundle of toys from a local church for Christmas one year, and a bunch of them were girl toys. While we were looking for a way to re-home the toys, a small plush doll started talking. She said, “mama,” and what sounded like, “rip Becky’s hair out” that was it; my five-year-old was thoroughly spooked, as were the rest of us. He was so scared of the doll, though, that he cried until my husband took it outside and left it in a car the kids didn’t ride in. He wouldn’t go near that car until the doll was gone.
Even after getting older, he maintained that there was something wrong with that doll and that he still had no desire to be around it. In his defense, it never did stop talking, and we never put batteries in it.
We may never fully understand our minds or why certain things scare us. It seems that dolls, however, are simply too human for us, and that creeps us out on a psychological level.