Lots of gay men grew up playing with Barbie. And while some of us had parents willing to buy us dolls, probably more of us had to keep our relationship with the pint-sized fashion icon under wraps, limited only to secret rendezvous with our sister’s when no one else was looking.
The connection between being gay and loving Barbie is very important for Mike Meireles, an avid doll collector from Mississauga featured in Maureen Judge’s documentary Living Dolls. “I think that being open about my sexuality made me accept Barbie more freely,” Meireles says. In the film, he talks about how he played with Barbies until he was about 10, when he started worrying about other kids thinking he was gay. “I was like . . . burn all the evidence! And only until I could be true to myself and not have to hide and lie, then I could bring her back. But I brought her back full force.”
He’s not kidding. Meireles lives in his mother’s home, although she has moved into the basement so that Meireles, his partner and about 500 Barbies can spread out upstairs. Meireles’s section of Living Dolls focuses mostly on his home life as he prepares to attend his first Barbie convention, and it’s clear that his mother and his partner have let themselves get drawn into his enthusiasm for the doll. “My partner has incorporated Barbie into his world in order to make me happy,” Meireles explains. “And in turn, it has also made him happy.”
Meireles is just one of the subjects in Judge’s documentary, which also includes a young mother who neglects her family’s mounting bills to buy more Ellowyne dolls, a man who has been working for years on a semi-pornographic stop-motion animated film starring his custom-altered “robot” dolls, and another man who shares an intense connection with Bianca, his RealDoll.
Although the kinds of dolls they collect may be different, each collector has a similar level of devotion to his or her hobby. “The featured subjects were not chosen for the size of their collection,” Judge says, “but rather on the basis of the connection they had with their dolls and how it had a direct impact on the rest of their lives.”
In her film, dolls become surrogate lovers, children and even alter egos for their collectors. “I believe the inspiration behind the love of dolls is that dolls are human in form,” Judge says. “We can project our dreams onto them and, in doll play, they are reflected back.”
Meireles echoes her sentiments closely in his thoughts on Barbie: “I see her as a muse in which one can express their true feelings about themselves and their world.”
While Meireles plans to continue collecting and attending conventions, he admits that balancing doll collecting and his finances can be a challenge. “Sometimes in life, you have to choose between eating and Barbie,” he says. “And of course, I'm going to choose eating. But sometimes it's so tempting to go hungry.”