on the page magazine

issue no. 11, summer 2004


Deconstructing RealDoll

by Meghan Laslocky

In Leah's pictures, she sits in various postures in a floral garden chair. She's wearing a pink polka dot bikini and a heart-shaped necklace. You can just make out a scar that runs up her left leg. She could be the waitress in the Lucinda Williams song, "The Night's Too Long," who holds a Corona that's cold against her hand, and dances with a man whose shirt is soaked with sweat. "The night's too long/It just drags on and on/And then there's never enough/That's when the sun starts comin' up/Don't let go of her hand/You just might be the right man/She loves the night/Doesn't want it to end."

Stephanie is wearing white thigh-high stockings, a white bustier, and Mary Janes. She has enormous melon breasts—the type only created for porn. In one shot, her mouth is open and her hair splayed against the pillow behind her. It's a freeze frame of shock, as if the camera has caught her just as her face is headed into a windshield. In other photos, she has white butterfly clips in her hair. She also has a slight scar up her inner thigh.

The other girls are more variations on the theme: Tami stands in a window, looking pensive, in a white lacey bra. She has a prominent vertical abdominal muscle. Amanda is small breasted and looks like a teenager you'd see in suburbia. She seems drugged, as if she'll fall over from too much tequila at any moment. Celine sits on a black leather sofa in gold lamé underwear and looks like a well-maintained trophy wife. She probably spends most of her time in her BMW, driving to nail appointments and talking on her cell phone. Stacey wears an orange tank top, a white mini skirt, and has a scrunchie on her arm. Mai looks to be a sweet and mild Chinese girl. She's in a white tank top on a beach towel in a backyard, and her breasts are as enormous as Stephanie's. Nika is Puerto Rican, I think, with severely plucked eyebrows and an expression that seems to say, "Oh, c'mon big boy." Angela is photographed from behind, with her bare ass and her hands tied behind her back. She's on a bed with dark green sheets that make the bed look more like a pool table. Melissa's neck is circled by a pearl choker, and she looks the most like a drag queen of all of them. Jenny could pass as Melissa's sister, but they don't appear to share wardrobes—she's wearing jeans that lace up the side and an ill-fitting lace bra. Her navel is pierced.

Leah, Stephanie, Tami, Amanda, Stacey, Mai, Nika, Angela, Melissa, and Jenny are all love dolls. Customers ordering these high-end love dolls from RealDoll.com, the producer of "the most realistic love doll in the world," can mix and match among seven body types, eleven heads, five skin tones, six eye colors, eight hair colors, ten wig types, and a rainbow of nail and makeup colors. All of the dolls have three functional orifices. As the BMW of love dolls, they each cost $5,749. Customers who are short on cash can order the minimalist RealDoll torso for $1,500, which was created in response to market demand. According to the web site, "This torso starts just above the belly button, and terminates at mid thigh. It includes both Vaginal and Anal entries, and is made with the same high grade materials as the dolls."

And Matt Created Woman

San Marcos, a small town north of San Diego, is the birthplace of Leah, Stephanie, Niki, and their sisters. RealDoll and its parent company, Abyss Creations LLC, is housed in a non-descript building in a light industrial area. Matt McMullen, RealDoll's Pygmalion, dresses like a skateboarder and has multiple piercings and shoulder-length blonde hair. He is pretty like Kurt Cobain and handsome like Uma Thurman. He has an interesting cadence to his speech, a southern California surfer-dude lilt and a way of emphasizing certain words, that is quite captivating.

In 1994, Matt sculpted female forms in his garage—mostly small, 12" figures made of resin that he sold as model kits for extra cash. Abyss Creations evolved then, long before RealDoll, simply because he liked the word "Abyss" and knew it had the advantage of being at the top in directories of model kits. "I'm fairly verbose at times, and I just liked that word." He had taken a couple of art courses but was mostly self-taught, and he worked at a Halloween mask company, where he learned to work with silicone and picked up some other sculpting and technical skills. Meanwhile, his sculptures grew in stature and he became more and more interested in making them softer and more inviting to touch, and building a skeleton for the sculpture that would not only support the flesh but also allow the figure to be posed. And he liked sculpting women's heads: "I'd be doing one, and I'd think, gee, she's really pretty...."

"'96 was like first time I made a silicone doll, with a skeleton, and I mean, it was chalk-full of problems. Joints wouldn't stay together, it weighed too much, the silicone was too hard. But overall it looked great and it photographed great, so I took a lot of photographs and I started a little web site to show what I was doing to whoever stumbled across it… . I guess word of mouth made more and more people come look at it, it's such a weird thing, it looked like a real person. I would take nude pictures, I would take clothed pictures, just to show different environments. So far as the nude pictures go, it wasn't like erotic photography, just a body that I sculpted, more of an appreciation of a body. But what happened was, a lot of people found my little web site and started to write me emails. Most of the people that would go to the point of actually writing the emails had a sexual idea about my poseable mannequin. But people were saying, 'Hey, is this a sex doll, can I buy one, how much?' so I was answering these people saying, no, it's not a sex doll, it's not made for that. And they were really pushy and wanted to know if they could pay me to convert it into a sex doll."

Soon Matt had ten men insisting that they would pay him $3,000 for a converted sculpture, and $30,000 was more than he would make in a year at the mask company. "So, I said, well, okay, I'll do that." He quit his job, took deposits from his early adopters to buy materials and set to work to try to fulfill what his customers wanted.

"I went back to the drawing board and figured out how to make things work, putting sexual parts in the doll, making the breasts softer, looking at it really more form the angle of having a love doll." He spent several months playing with ratios of silicone to try to figure out the best feel and durability. He designed more detailed genitalia that were softer and penetrable. "I had to make it feel good. As good as rubber can feel."

Those first ten customers were thrilled—they'd take pictures and pose them, set up their own web site, talk to more people, and soon Matt had a business. Only then did he coin the term "RealDoll."

Within a year, Howard Stern had gotten a hold of a doll and was having his staff try it out on air. Then HBO started calling, and Penthouse. "In retrospect, it's a very unique approach to a product that has been around forever," Matt says. "Love dolls are nothing new. Love dolls have been around since people figured out how to make a fake woman. They found wooden love dolls from hundreds, no thousands of years ago. But I think it's just a new way of looking at an old concept. I took something that was really laughable before, you know, you'd think of a love doll before, you know, $100 bucks, fits in a shoe box, fill it up with air, and they're funny looking. They look like a joke.... Our dolls are a whole different level. If [a blow-up doll] is Level One, we're at Level 99."

Matt isn't concerned about competition: given the artistic and technical sophistication of his dolls, it would be difficult for a newcomer to acquire the knowledge to build a facsimile. "Not to mention that we now have seven different bodies to choose from, and eleven heads. If I were someone on the outside and I wanted to compete, I would feel overwhelmed. That's a lot of bodies to compete with."

The Competition

Most contemporary love dolls are cartoonish absurdities—blow-ups that one can only assume are mostly bought as jokes. They're typically manufactured in China for a few bucks a pop and sell here online or in sex shops for $50 to $250. The disjunction between the box packaging, which of course suggests that your blow up doll will inflate into a real live porn star, Christy Canyon or Chelle Fireball, and its sad plastic contents is remarkable.

Blow up dolls come in more incarnations than one can imagine—"Sweet Spot: A Taste of Things to Come," a catalogue from Hong Kong, lists nearly seventy different models of complete dolls, five of which are male. While there are a few dolls for purists, such as one nameless doll simply called "Love Doll No Holes," most have a gimmick to make them stand apart from the crowd. It's hard to know which one is the most ridiculous: Saucy Sondrine's hair, nipples, and genitalia glow in the dark; Betty Fat Girl Bouncer is designed for chubby chasers; Mermaid Delight, which wholesales for a mere $6, promises to be a virgin; Brandi Sommer has "super vibrating LoveClone™ lips" attached to a "noduled sleeve"; The Perfect Date is just 36 inches tall, has a mouth, and a cup holder built into her head. There's even a Dairy Maid doll who lactates. She has short blonde braids reminiscent of Swiss Miss. Miranda is the Cadillac among blow up dolls—"modeled from a real woman, the contour and proportions are flawless. Every detail is crafted with superb skill and delicacy." Miranda wholesales for a whopping $144—she's "guaranteed to be the most pleasing doll in the entire history of inflatable love mates" and has "twin chambers for maximum support and full-body shape." Some of the blow-ups vibrate and scream, though frankly they all look like they're screaming.

Then there are the doll parts—Sweet Spot offers over twenty versions of latex and silicone female body parts—"My Lovely Torso" is just a torso, stopped at the waist, flat across the bottom, with a hole, as if a woman had been cut in half. Some are just legs with a hole. Genitalia and dolls supposedly molded from porn stars—Juli Ashton, Tyffany Mynx, Kobe Tai, or Asia Carerra—make up a large part of the market. According to data from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, twenty years ago, dolls and body parts accounted for $1 out of every $1,000 sold in the "erotom" (eroticized item) market. Now, dolls and body parts account for $1 out of every $100 of erotoms sold. Why? Surely the discretion of the Internet, and improved materials.

The Process

Back in the BMW factory, Matt takes about two months to sculpt a new RealDoll body, a bit less to sculpt a new head. He never works from photos or models. Once he's finalized a new head or body, his staff of four—Ron, Maureen, Joey, and Brian, take over with replicating the new bodies and assembling dolls for new orders.

Today is "pour-day," meaning it's the day they prepare the molds and pour the silicone. Ron, a former construction worker, arranges the skeletons in the backside of the molds. They've just gotten in some new custom designed parts from a German engineer, so now the newer models will have fingers with knuckles that move, click, click, not just wire that bends. Ron's molds are all laid out horizontally, supported by wooden dowels as thick as broomsticks. He's tinkering with the joints, getting them in just the right place in mold. Maureen and Brian are scraping dried silicone from large orange buckets, cleaning them for a new batch of silicone, and Joey has just poured the breasts into one mold and is cleaning the rest of it with an air pump. "The breasts, it's kind of a messy job to make them, it gets everywhere, as you can see," Joey says. Soon inserts will be positioned to create anal and vaginal cavities, the two halves will be clamped together, and they'll pour silicone into the mold. After a few days, they'll remove the molds, which have been prepped with soap to keep the silicone from sticking, and then the bodies will hang on a rack for another few days to "cure." Next week, the older models that don't have hands and feet in a uniform mold will have theirs grafted on (newer models are all-in-one), and the seams will be trimmed and refined. Seam scars running down the inner thigh are thus far unavoidable.

Meanwhile, the heads are poured, again with inserts to create a mouth canal. Once they're dry, Joey peels them out their molds and refits them, like skin, over an under skull that will support the head permanently. Later all of the parts will be united—head, body, feet, hands, and the seams will be smoothed to hide the grafting. In the newer models, labia and a vaginal canal constructed out of softer silcone than the rest of the body will be inserted.

Maureen and Joey prefer the final touches to the pouring process: they like inserting the eyes; painting the makeup, toenails, life-like skin details such as veins, and genital flush; and gluing on the pubic hair, if it's ordered. A cartoon hangs on one work table depicting a row of headless bodies, bubbles emanating from their necks saying, "This is the part we really like, when Joey paints us!"

Joey and Maureen also field phone calls from customers. Maureen takes a break from scraping buckets to wander over to a rack of dolls and report to a customer in Holland on the details of Body 3, which is 5'10", has 38DD breasts, a "dancer-type body", and is compatible with heads 1, 2 and 5. "He's kind of a perfectionist," she sighs when she hangs up. "He's an architect. But he and his wife are ordering two dolls, so I've got to pay a lot of attention."

The studio's floors are slick with silicone, and about a dozen headless bodies hang suspended this rack—their legs are spread, the same way they are poured, to prevent creasing in the top inner thigh. There are body parts every where—a torso here, breasts there, penises of various sizes on a table. Green master molds hang from high on the wall, and another work table has about ten silicone spheres with nipples on them. These are the "booby balls" that Abyss distributes as free gag gifts—paperweights or stress relievers. One unpainted GuyDoll (a new model also known as "Charlie") hangs from the rafters. He didn't work quite right—a bit of his frame shows through his abs. He looks a bit like Gary Sinise, but Gary Sinise probably doesn't come with an extra penis attachment.

The Dolls

According to Matt, RealDoll.com gets about a million hits a month—just "Looky Lou's" as he calls them. When push comes to shove, they sell about 200 dolls per year, and each doll takes roughly 80 man hours of labor. "Our price is as low as we can make it and still make money," Matt says as he leads me the showroom. "We're not gouging people. In fact, we buy the most expensive materials available because they tend to be the best."

Meeting the finished dolls up close and personal is bizarre—walking into the show room feels a bit like walking into a brothel. They're hung from specially designed racks that suspend the doll from a hole in the back of the neck. Amanda and Melissa are immediately recognizable from the web site—Amanda is teensy tiny and has tan lines. "Yeah, my wife wants me to get rid of her," Matt says. "She thinks she looks too much like a young teenager." One of them, Celine (Head 5), upon close inspection has a really, really beautifully sculpted nose. Matt thinks that Melissa (Head 1) is the prettiest. Their skin is waxy, and on close inspection one can see that the kinks aren't quite worked out of their necks—they look a bit like a towel wrapped around a pole. One doll has some electronics next to it, which Matt nudges with his foot. "That's not really working now," he says, referring to an animatronic hip gyration system they're developing.

All of the dolls are quite petite. "The main reason for that is the weight. The silicone is fairly dense, fairly heavy. We've reduced that by using lighter materials inside the body, but you can only do that so much before you start to sacrifice the poseability and realistic feel. So most of the bodies are petite because otherwise they start to push the envelope with like 130, 140 pounds, which is pretty heavy for dead weight. The heaviest doll we have is around 130, that's a Body 3, and that doll is hard to move around. The male doll is hard to move around. We can't go much bigger than that. Not because I don't appreciate larger sizes, and there are a lot of people that want it, they ask why the dolls are all so skinny, some people want, like really big, which I probably won't do. But a lot of people want a little more meat on the frame, that's what I like, so once we figure out how to make it lighter [we can do t