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Inside the hidden world of sex dolls' make-up

“They really don't like being seen without their make-up on” - anonymous

In the 2007 film Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays the role of Lars Lindstrom a pathologically shy 27-year-old who comes out of his shell after he takes his relationship with Bianca, a lifelike sex doll, public. In one scene from the film, his cosy village community decide to support Lars by treating Bianca to a set of beauty treatments. An uncanny scene for most, but for some a reflection of everyday life.

Over the last thirty years, the sex doll industry has evolved from producing cheap novelty items made of rubber, plastic or vinyl to a global industry estimated to be worth $30 billion featuring high quality, high tech, realistic looking sex dolls, made from TPE and silicone, some of which are equipped with artificial intelligence. It’s less Barbie more I, Robot. These material advances, in turn, have allowed for more customisable products: nowadays most doll manufacturers offer a wide range of personalised faces, skin colour, body types, breast sizes, and eye-colours to choose from, and, for the more demanding clients, some companies provide additional features such as a customisable clitoris, artificial milk glands, and also an insertable hymen. Then there’s the customisable make-up.

“All doll owners will need make-up at some point, regardless where they buy the doll from,” says Kevin, CEO at Fine Love Dolls, whose specialised sex doll accessories range from customisable costumes and sexy lingerie to tattoo decals, piercings and cosmetics. Given that over time, and from excessive use, the dolls’ make-up can rub off, it’s important for places like Fine Love Dolls to offer a range of make-up in case of an emergency. But aside from emergency touch-ups, could doll owners be getting pleasure from making up their dolls? “Doll owners are more into dressing them up, but I assume some do like applying make-up onto them, the same way some men like to paint these Warhammer figurines or other small scale replicas,” says Kevin, which is why Fine Love Dolls offers a wide range of choice. For $129, you can purchase a complete kit that includes your choice of eyeshadow palette, blusher, lipstick, eyeliner, fake nails, a full set of brushes and also a cleanser. “Sex dolls already have a “perfect" skin complexion so foundation isn't really needed,” says Kevin. As for the most requested products? “Eyelash glue, nail glue, lipstick, cheekbone powder (for the areolas and genitals as well), eyeliner. That's about it pretty much."

But it isn’t just Kevin. There are hundreds of brands out there offering sex doll enthusiasts a glittering array of colourful cosmetics. Cushion blushers at Sexy Sex Doll “create plump cheeks for your beloved sex doll with a natural, gradated flush”, wet look lip glosses at Real Love Sex Dolls to “make your lover's lips extra kissable” and even fancy make-up bags complete with a natural eyebrow pencil and upscale silver mascara at Love Doll. So, what’s special about these products? Well, nothing really. It’s just the packaging. What these companies are selling is just plain old make-up, which according to Kevin, holds very well on both TPE and silicone. So what’s the problem? Well, for a lot of male doll owners, totally alien to the concept of contouring, applying make-up, and knowing what shades work well together and which don’t, what products are the most durable or the most trendy, can be tricky. While some devotees admit having acquired their make-up skills by observing their wives, friends, mothers and daughters, the most effective tool when it comes to learning how to blend an eyeshadow is still the good old YouTube tutorial. For some, bloggers like Jaclyn Hill will work wonders, but for others looking for something a little more bespoke, there are specialised dolls-only make-up tutorials.

Mishka Valentino runs a YouTube channel dedicated to glamorous makeover tutorials and DIY quick-fix operations. Scrolling through comments under his videos, it’s clear how swapping make-up tips has become less a way of learning, and more a way for doll owners to connect with each other, a means of fostering community. “It shows that doll make-up and everything involved with it is really something you are gifted with. I’m Jealous,” says one commenter; “Great job, Mishka. This is my New Year's resolution. I have the wardrobe, just have to master the make-up,” states another.  

"Make-up in the context of these dolls is less a symbol of male sexual desire and more a means of creative expression"

Then there’s, basically a Facebook but for dolls, and The Doll Forum. Self-proclaimed the “world's definitive resource on love dolls and erotic dolls for adults”, The Doll Forum is an online community of over 60,000 members where like-minded hobbyists share their passion for these life-size, poured-polymer beauties. Currently, The Doll Forum counts over 180 make-up themed threads, ranging from articulated product reviews to galleries where proud owners share their most advanced lewks - a surreal version of MakeupAlley. “Finding make-up that works well with these dolls can be a bit of a challenge,” complains one user. “To me, make-up for dolls is fun. Love to see an ordinary face turned to Cinderella,” another chimes in, in a thread about whether NYX Slim Lip Liners are really worth the hype; while another one jokes after taking a sneak peek of his inanimate fiancée: “they really don't like being seen without their make-up on.”

As members of an underground community, who often wish to remain nameless for fear of judgment, the internet has given doll owners and doll enthusiasts both anonymity and a community of like-minded individuals with which to share their hobby. “A lot of these men use dolls as a therapy,” says Kevin. “A lot have been emotionally hurt or simply aren't compatible socially or emotionally with others. And, yes, dolls act as a therapy in that sense.”

For some, this safe space also means having the chance and freedom to experiment with make-up, which despite all the efforts from brands like MILK, Tom Ford and Chanel, is still a taboo topic for most cis-gender men. On closer inspection, it would seem that make-up in the context of these dolls is less a symbol of male sexual desire and more a means of creative expression. It’s a way for owners to create a sense of personality and a semblance of character in their doll. Designed and advertised for sexual stimulation, companionship, artistic representations of human fantasy, and other creative pursuits, with their alluring look these dolls are there to simulate real, engaging situations, and the artifice of make-up helps them to turn into real, women, at least in their owners' eyes - a true testament to the power of make-up.