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TikTok doll roleplay community
via TikTok (@slyvaniandrama)

The messy interpersonal drama of TikTok’s doll roleplay community

From traphouse Barbies to cheating Disney princesses, Tiktokkers are staging videos of toys acting out unhinged scenarios – and healing themselves in the process

Forget your childhood games of domestic bliss in the Barbie Dreamhouse – on TikTok and Instagram, dolls are getting seriously messy. In one video from TikTok user @belatown, Violet from Disney’s The Incredibles comes home from university early to find her mum engaging in “carnal relations” with her boyfriend. She then berates her for being “just another side ho”, willing to lie down and “have her porkchop penetrated” by a man half her age (the stunned boyfriend is the dashing prince from Tangled, Flynn Rider). All the characters are voiced by Bela Delgado, the creator of @belatown, who hurls insults back and forth with preternatural ease. 

Delgado is part of a budding genre of doll roleplay content creators, who stage videos of toys acting out delightfully unhinged scenarios. While the mechanics of the videos vary – from improvised to scripted, spoken to captioned, handheld to stop-motion animation – the creators are united by a shared commitment to bringing the romantic, domestic and interpersonal chaos of dolls to life.

For grown-ups who never gave up on playing with dolls, as well as those who just love to keep up with the dollies online, this content is a portal to boundless fantasy, absurdity and fandom. For example, the “Barbie Life in the Traphouse” series by @joliechienne chronicles the day-to-day happenings of a Barbie Dreamhouse turned drug den teeming with neglected children, from the Child Protective Services lady banging on the door, to the mum frantically stockpiling weapons. Each episode opens with the iconic theme song: All the days are breezy / The floor is kind of greasy / At the traphouse / It’s not a crack house / So many kids / Wish there were none / Yes they’ve got drugs / And they’ve got guns”

Elsewhere, @dolldramaaa has created a brief but unforgettable 10-part series that begins with an American Girl Doll couple’s marriage torn apart when a fed up husband cheats on his alcoholic wife with a stripper, while @sylvaniandrama sees the idyllic Sylvanian Families dolls recast in soap operatic narratives that frequently devolve into jail breaks, funerals and the odd cameo from Jeffrey Epstein as critter. Other creators tap into existing fandoms by painstakingly recreating popular TV, film and theatre scenes with dolls: @realbarbiesofbravo adapts the Bravo reality TV universe’s greatest hits, from the explosive Vanderpump Rules season 10 reunion to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ infamous “Dinner Party from Hell”, while @warrencito uses stop motion animation to create “dollmations” of camp classics such as Cher’s “Dark Lady” music video and Barbara Streisand’s rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl.

@belatown Violet comes home from university early only to find her mother engaging in carnal relations with her boyfriend ##belatown##drama##theincredibles##pixar##barbie ♬ original sound - Belatown

While coming up with new scenarios and crafting elaborate sets and costumes is a rich creative outlet, it can also allow creators to explore their own challenging and confusing life experiences in a safe, fantasy setting. Themes and events from @sylvaniandrama account creator Thea Von Engelbrechten’s life often find their way into the Sylvanian’s escapades, albeit with ample artistic licence. “In my first college essay, I carelessly didn’t use Harvard referencing properly and got a permanent plagiarism mark on my record,” says Von Engelbrechten. “I thought it was ridiculous that we hadn’t even set foot in college yet due to COVID and they were sending out these really serious legal emails to students in our course for our first try. I was feeling very angered – so made a video where a chewed up bunny is in jail for plagiarism.”

Delgado draws inspiration for @belatown from talk shows about dysfunctional families including Maury and Jerry Springer, as well as his own chaotic childhood in foster care. “When you see me punishing a Ken or Barbie because they cheated on their spouse, neglected their children, or abused another Barbie, it’s coming from a very real place of me enacting justice I was never able to see as a child,” he explains. Sometimes, when reliving versions of his own childhood experiences through the dolls, Delgado uses one of them as a conduit for himself. “There are episodes where I have the little daughter or son just go off on the adult for everything they’re doing wrong, which is something I felt like I was never able to do when I was in foster care,” he says. “The dolls kind of give me that power. It heals something in me.”

According to Dr. Riki Thompson, an associate professor of writing studies and digital rhetoric at the University of Washington, psychologists and therapists sometimes use dolls to help children process trauma and abuse. By using external objects as stand-ins for themselves and those who have hurt them, patients are able to process their experiences at a distance. It’s hard to describe something that happened to you by putting yourself in the story,” says Dr Thompson. “It’s much easier to look outside of yourself and imagine something happening to your friend, or to these dolls that you can rename.”

“The dolls kind of give me that power. It heals something in me” – Bela Delgado

For many content creators, there’s a therapeutic aspect to doll roleplay. For those who grew up playing with them, returning to what Dr. Thompson calls “the implements of childhood” as an adult evokes nostalgia and brings healing to one’s inner child. Delgado loved Barbies as a kid, but wasn’t always allowed to play with them. “When I was five, I got taken to a very evangelical foster care family – the type of people who didn’t like that I liked the colour pink – who took all my Barbies and gave them to their biological daughter,” he recalls. By making a livelihood out of something he was shamed for as a child, Delgado has come full circle. 

Warren Wright of @warrencito started making dollmations soon after getting sober, and finds that the process provides a sense of purpose and allows him to connect with memories of his late mum. “For me, it’s about celebrating that little kid who loved watching musicals with his mum and talking shit,” he says.

Humour is critical to the genre. There’s something innately funny about seeing a cohort of cutesy dolls, with all their connotations of childhood innocence, engage in downright bad behaviour. While it’s hilarious to see a bunny abandoned on an operating table part way through lung surgery or a mouse with hacked off ears say he regrets killing people, these jokes would obviously not land if they were acted by humans. “I think the dolls are so funny to use to act out dark realities because of the juxtaposition between their perfect little houses and the drama that’s going on in their lives,” says Von Engelbrechten. While Wright has depicted violence – such as the nightclub shooting from the “Copacabana” music video — in his work before, sometimes he thinks twice: “I’m currently working on Mommie Dearest. And it’s crazy because half my friends are like, ‘Don’t show the wire hanger beating scene.’ And everyone else is like, ‘It’s part of the movie. Don’t censor yourself!’”

Playing with dolls on the internet isn’t all fun and games, and recontextualising toys that loom large in the collective imagination can attract haters. Once, a woman messaged Wright to tell him he needed Jesus after he depicted Barbie – to her, a symbol of traditional family values – as the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese. Delgado has also received several DMs from psychics weighing in on his energy: “One of them sent me an essay about how I have an overwhelming aura; a looming presence that holds centuries and generations of karmic retribution. I was like, ‘Oh’,” he says. 

However, the vast majority of feedback received by doll roleplay content creators is positive, mainly expressions of gleeful delight at seeing something so creative and singular on the feed. Sometimes, fans feel seen, like when Von Engelbrechten explores body image issues through the Sylvanians. “I had a video where the meerkat mom said she loved commenting on her daughter's weight and I got a lot of messages about that one. Some people even sent it to their own mothers,” she says. Whether using the chaotic spectacle of the dolls as a distraction from the humdrum of daily life, or recognising and processing your own universal human struggles in their little lives, there are boundless ways to engage with doll videos. Just like us, dolls contain multitudes.

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