Today I received my first doll from the Fresh Dolls line. Her name is Jacqueline and she is a lot curvier than a Barbie doll. The Fresh Dolls are “black” dolls, made to more closely resemble African American women than the typical Barbie doll. Here’s Jacqueline, whose description states that she is “mixed,” which I interpret as resembling a woman of both European and African ancestry. She will, of course, be joining the West Enders!
Jacqueline’s arrival made me wonder how many different “playscale” doll types I actually have among the West Enders. Almost all of my dolls are Mattel’s Barbie, friends, and family.
This version of Barbie is a reproduction of the doll I had as a child, the first Barbie ever produced, in 1959. Barbie will always be a brunette to me. As a child, she represented the adult world of my mother, who had dark brunette hair.
In my other universe, I am a biological anthropologist, and one of the things we concern ourselves with is human diversity. It’s been very important to me to reflect human diversity in my miniature universe; not just skin colour and geographic origin, but body shape as well. Barbie has been accused of promoting a negative body image for girls. As a person who has gone from being an excruciatingly thin young woman to a fat old lady, I definitely want to include that in my mini-universe. One of my favourite dolls is this one from the second film version of Hairspray. I love her because she is built like me.
One of the first “plus-size” fashion dolls was Dasia, one of the Big Beautiful Dolls created by Audrey Bell Kearney and Georgette Taylor. Nobody ever parts with these dolls and I was extraordinarily lucky to buy one of the 18th anniversary dolls. She’s stunning.
Another doll created to counter Barbie’s unrealistic physique is Lammily. There are three dolls, and I have been one of those who participated in the crowd funding for all of them. Lammily dolls are based on the proportions of average 18 year old Americans. The main issue with the dolls is that they are difficult to dress. Barbie’s body was actually designed the way to facilitate getting her clothes on and off rather than to reflect an actual human being! Here’s my favourite Lammily doll, and I think the most beautiful of all of them, who regular readers of the blog will know as Emma.
Venturing beyond the American doll market, there are a number of playscale fashion dolls. Here is Steffi, who readers of the West Enders will also recognise. Steffi is a Barbie clone produced by the German company Simba Toys. She is very similar to Barbie, with a male companion and a number of small children. There are clothes and lots of fun accessories for this doll line and the West Enders include quite a few of them.
Barbie is known around the world, but in China, Japan, and South Korea, playscale fashion dolls have been produced that reflect the cultural values of those countries far better than Barbie. (I might add here that I sadly do not own any of the quintessentially British Sindy dolls.) The Asian fashion dolls reflect the popularity of manga and anime. Kurhn is a Chinese fashion doll and is indescribably cute. Regular readers of the blog will recognise her as a central character in the West Enders.
There are several wonderful Japanese fashion dolls. Takara Tomy produces both Jenny and Licca-chan and her family and several of these dolls play roles in the West Enders. Here’s the very cute Jenny.
My favourite Japanese fashion doll is Momoko. These dolls are stunning, have amazing clothes, but are also very delicate – and very expensive! I have four now and I love all of them. Here’s the latest addition to the West Enders, the lovely Himari.
Pullip dolls come from South Korea and are part of a group of dolls with very large heads and big eyes. I just can’t find any enthusiasm for them. But Pullip bodies are used in J-Dolls, one of which is a character from the West Enders, our young Jazmin.
Another recent purchase of mine is a South African doll, Maisha from Malaville Dolls. This is another company dedicated to providing young black children with dolls that look like them rather than the ubiquitous “white” dolls available. Maisha is so cute and has very dark skin. She’s a delight to behold. I should mention that I love it when “black” dolls have natural hair like this. Maisha and Emma are both good examples.
Here’s another new arrival with marvellous hair. I don’t know who actually makes these dolls. I saw her in a Facebook group and hunted her down. There are a number of these available on Amazon, but they seem to come from different sellers. All I know is that they are produced in China and have articulated bodies and fabulous hair.
Many collectors adore Integrity Toys’ various dolls, which come in 12.5 inch and 16 inch versions. I have to say that they are not my favourites. Their faces are sullen and unpleasant and I do not understand how collectors find them attractive. To each his or her own! I decided that I wanted to own one so that I could say my collection included this particular variety of playscale doll. I’m a story teller more than I am a collector, but yes, there’s a bit of “collector” in there as well! This is Liu Liu Ling and she has one of the least offensive faces among the Integrity family of dolls, in my opinion. I do hope to add some of their male dolls as one or two of them don’t look like they’ve been sucking on lemons all day!
Another recent addition to my playscale family is the WWE action figures. I don’t find them at all attractive but they make great evil enemies in my stories, like this one. I mean, face it, who wants to meet her in a dark alley?
Before I leave my female dolls, I need to add the first doll I ever collected as an adult, this Marilyn Monroe doll. I think I bought her in the 1980s or 1990s. Her outfit, the white skirt from The Seven Year Itch, has disintegrated. Both hands have snapped off. She’s not attractive, bearing only a passing resemblance to Marilyn, but I just can’t abandon her.
So those are my adult female dolls. What about the males? Trying to find male dolls is what inspired me to branch out beyond Mattel. The recent male dolls, Ken and his ilk, have horrible plastic hair and immovable limbs. They are awful, although one or two have reasonably attractive faces. I got very tired of trying to find male dolls for my ladies and in desperation, I turned to a group of dolls produced for girls who love boy bands. There are a large variety of them and I have quite a few. Here’s one as an example, a recent and quite good looking one, Max George from The Wanted. Who are The Wanted? I haven’t a clue. People, I’m 65 years old – boy bands are not my thing. I have no idea who any of my boy band dolls are in real life! They are shorter than Ken and make good partners for Momoko and Lammily dolls.
My quest for articulated male dolls with rooted hair took me in many directions. My absolute favourite, and a principle character in the West Enders, is our lad Sutton. He’s just so delightful. His romance with Merida has been a joy to write. I found him on eBay, “gently used,” which meant something very different to the seller than to me. I had to glue his waist articulation to keep him from flopping over completely, but I didn’t care. I love him!
My blog is super heteronormative. I realise that and wish that I were a better writer and could branch out a bit. Unfortunately, all my characters are heterosexual, which doesn’t reflect human diversity at all. It is a failing. That said, let me introduce my High School Musical Doll, who I call Corbin. He’s Suttons’ opposite – short where Sutton is tall, but just as loveable in his own way. He reminds me of my role as the mother of a teenage son many years ago. He’s charming and completely irresponsible – and very cute.
The lack of diversity in male dolls has been horrendously frustrating. I had no male Asian dolls – none. In desperation, after seeing a YouTube review, I turned to the World Peacekeeper series – cheap articulated 1:6 scale action figures. I’ve managed to find two “Asians” to add to my collection, the most notable of which is Tommy Lu, a major character in the West Enders.
Next come the “big head” boys. In my desperation for articulated male dolls, I turned to the Ever After High dolls. Here’s Dexter, whose head is abnormally large. But his articulation is fabulous and he plays a mean guitar.
An even more ridiculously sized head characterises poor Jake, from the Liv doll series. My husband constantly mocks him every time he comes into the doll room. Poor Jake! But like Dexter, his articulation is amazing.
Then there are the “one off” male dolls, purchased purely to move my story forward. My husband told me my blog, with its focus on romance, was dull as a soap opera. I needed a villain. Who better to be a villain than the unmentionable POTUS? He even talks, but I don’t push that button very often. I mean, is this guy not the very embodiment of evil in dolly form? But this is where I feel my age creep up on me. The white cat – Ernst Stavros Blofeld anyone?
And this character is even worse for making me feel old, even though I was beside myself when I found him. Illya Kuryakin, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. I googled it and I found him. I knew I needed a Russian spy…
But then my husband asked our grand-daughter-in-law if she knew who Illya Kuryakin was, the simple and straightforward answer was no. I feel so old.
Now that I’ve covered the adult women and men in my dolly universe, I want to touch on the children very briefly. Both Mattel and Simba Toys have children, as does Takara Tomy. So what else is out there that works as a child for a playscale family?
First and foremost are Lottie dolls. They are meant to be around 9 years old, but relative to a Barbie doll they are a bit smaller than that. Mine are all meant to be around 8 years old. They are very cute and reminiscent of the Asian anime and manga inspired dolls.
Another doll that playscale collectors might not recognise as perfect children is the Mini-American Girl doll, which recently evolved into the Lori Doll line.
Those are all the various types of dolls in my collection of playscale dolls. I know I am missing a few types of dolls like Sindy, plus all the 1:6 scale action figures. What do you collect? Please feel free to comment – I’d love to know how my fellow photo story bloggers deal with the lack of articulated male dolls with rooted hair, for example. Who else am I missing? I’d love to hear from all of you!
September means back to school for the young people of the West End. There are several schools in the village, including a very exclusive independent school, Saint Gertrude’s, which offers Reception through Sixth Form, and several state schools. The children who attend Saint Gertrude’s are easily identified through their tartan uniforms. Lara’s husband Josh, stay-at-home dad, helps his friends out by walking all the smaller children to school, no matter which school they attend. The other parents, most of whom must leave early for work, really appreciate this. After dropping off the children, Josh will shop and clean, pick the children up, and then prepare an evening meal for the family.
Ruruko and Rikki both attend Saint Gertrude’s and say goodbye to their friends Hari and Skipper at the turn off to the school. Skipper attends West End High School and Hari takes the bus to the exclusive Roberts Academy.
Alistair hangs around the High Street close to the entrance of Saint Gertrude’s. He’s been expelled from his school in Germany and sent to live with his brother Kevin and Kevin’s extended family. He’s not particularly thrilled about it. As he debates whether to go in or not, another student his age approaches. Dexter is back in Sixth Form and stops when he sees a new face.
“Hullo,” he says in surprise, “Are you new? I thought I knew everyone in the school! I’m Dexter Delaval, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Alistair Puppe.”
“Are you related to Kevin Puppe who runs the George?”
“Yes,” says Alistair, “He’s my brother.”
“Fantastic! My band plays there on a Saturday night!” It isn’t really Dexter’s band, so to speak, but that doesn’t matter at the moment.
Suddenly Jenny joins them and Dexter introduces her to Alistair.
“Is this your girlfriend?” asks Alistair bluntly. Jenny blushes.
“No, it’s my girlfriend’s best friend,” laughs Dexter. “Here’s my girlfriend.”
Kurhn arrives and Dexter introduces her to Alistair as well. “Kurhn doesn’t go to Saint Gertrude’s, she goes to the Sixth Form at West End High School,” he explains.
“Hi,” says Kurhn. “Listen, Dex, I can’t meet up after school. I’ve got a voice lesson with Nicole. Why don’t we all meet up for a study date tonight in the library after tea?”
“That’s a plan,” says Dexter and Jenny enthusiastically agrees.
Alistair is completely dumbfounded. His academic career has been far from stellar thus far and he’s starting to understand why his brother insisted that Saint Gertrude’s would be just the thing. Study dates in the library? Could anything sound more tedious? He wonders just to what lengths he’s going to have to go to fit in and make new friends.
Once school gets underway, the High Street clears out until the shops open. Marcelo and Luna are going for a stroll when they bump into Audrey. She does not appear to be pleased to see them.
“My darling, look at you,” coos Marcelo. “You look fabulous, as always. Black and white suits you perfectly and look, you match me. Great minds think alike, wouldn’t you say?”
“I could not be less impressed, Marcelo,” says Audrey coldly. “You haven’t responded to a text or a phone call for a month. I’m sick of you, I’m sick of this relationship and it is over. Completely.”
Marcelo is completely unfazed. “Oh, what a shame, my love. I’ve been very busy with the band, you know. But, as you wish. And here we are wearing such complementary outfits.”
“You truly are pathetic,” says Audrey and walks away.
“Wow,” says Luna, “That was sudden.”
“Bitch,” mutters Marcelo under his breath.
Elsewhere, the day is off to a better start. Mira has not ended her relationship with Tommy but is taking a break. She’s teaching a one month intensive yoga course called, “Beyond Asana: Yoga’s Eight Limbs,” and has told Tommy that she needs some mental space while she’s teaching it.
Midge’s pregnancy is advancing without difficulty and she goes to the Medical Centre for a checkup. Roberta has started her new nursing job and listens to the baby’s heartbeat.
“I’d like to talk about the birth,” says Midge. “I’m wondering what the options are and whether I can have the baby at home, even though it’s my first.”
“You certainly can,” says Lara. “Roberta and I can attend you at home as easily as we can attend you here. If there are problems, we will have to get the helicopter to come either way. The alternative is a long drive to the city. The only issue will be that we can’t administer anaesthesia at home and you will have to give birth naturally.”
“I’m sure I can handle it,” says Midge.
“Many people think that until they’re in the throes of labour,” laughs Lara. “But if anyone can it will be you. I would recommend that you send Sasha over to ours when your labour begins and let her stay with Lottie and Alexandra because we don’t want her to be frightened if you start to yell.”
“That’s a deal,” laughs Midge.
Alistair is not the only new face among the West Enders. Deangelo’s brother Diondre has started his new job in sales and promotion for Barbie’s latest venture. It’s a fashion house called The Barbie Look, self-contained, with designer Liu Liu Ling, an in house photographer, and a group of well known fashion models. Barbie has hired Emma as creative director and is hosting a private launch party in the pub.
Diondre and Deangelo have always excelled in everything they do and Diondre is not particularly surprised to have landed such a fabulous job. He has to admit, however, that being surrounded by some of the country’s top models is slightly intimidating. He will not let anybody see that, however. He remains cool as can be, as if he has spent his entire life among supermodels.
And a lovely group of beautiful woman they are – Ivana Panenka, Michelle Jones, Salynda Wong, and Ariadne Kostopoulos.
Lavinia’s older daughter, “plus sized” model Faith Devine has joined the Barbie Look as well. She chats with designer Liu Liu Ling and Lilli Akana, who has left Tommy’s employ to work as Barbie’s PA.
Ken is Business and Finance Director, and chats at the bar with Liu Liu’s partner, Sam’s brother Jamie, the in house photographer.
There is another person feeling just slightly out of her depth, along with Diondre. It’s Momoko. She’s finished her degree and this is her first “real” job. She’s working as an design intern. She chats with the “petite” model, Kitty Collier, who is very friendly and does everything she can to make Momoko feel at home in this new environment.
So one relationship has ended, another is on hold – but what about Sutton and Erika? Will she forgive him for that selfie? Stay tuned to the next episode to find out!
The first May bank holiday brings beautiful weather and a music festival at the university. Luna and the Dolls are backing up the Ladies in Black, who will have a special guest; none other than our own Nicole Bernstein! The crowd begins to gather in the university gardens outside the Student Union, where the concert will be held.
Marcelo and Audrey arrive early. As the Dolls manager, Marcelo wants to make sure everything is set up and ready to go.
The crowd begins to gather. There are some new faces here, whom we will get to know better in the autumn when the university term begins. For now, pay attention to the handsome lad in the middle, Corbin’s friend Deangelo Davis. We’ll be seeing more of him at the next bank holiday, when Emma hosts her match making barbecue party.
Another important new face is this man, Jamal Jones. His sister Michelle is one of the Ladies in Black, and he has brought his other sister, her twin Chrisandra, to see the concert. Jamal is a Senior Lecturer in Biology at the university and was recently seen having coffee with Monique and Bonnie on the day Monique came to discuss the technician job.
Monique was quite impressed with him – quite the different man from Sutton! She’s planning on inviting him to the barbecue and Emma can do her matchmaking elsewhere.
Yuki has come along with Corbin and Jazmin and Corbin’s pal Zayn. Zayn is quite taken with Yuki. To her horror, however, she sees Pierre standing directly behind her, alone. Then she remembers that Nicole is the guest star. She tries not to look as perturbed as she feels. At least there’s no sign of Nick – that would be unbearable.
Mira has come with Tommy and is also feeling a bit perturbed. He has brought along his “personal assistant,” Lilli Akana, who we saw with him in the pub. Mira is starting to wonder about her relationship with Tommy. They’ve been together for almost six months and the romance seems to be completely stalled. They go out, they chat, but no sparks fly, no passion builds, nothing. And what man brings his PA on a date? Tommy claims that as he is in the music management business, this is work as well as play and he trusts Lilli’s musical judgement. Mira is not impressed.
Inside, the Ladies in Black use the coffee shop as their backstage area while Luna and the Dolls perform.
The Dolls are rocking down the house, as usual. But there are some surprises in store for their fans.
Jake is on piano…
And Dexter is on guitar! And he’s wearing Jake’s guitar necklace. When Luna introduces the band, it’s the first thing Jenny notices from the audience and she is not happy. That’s the necklace she gave Jake for Christmas!
Dexter has been replaced by a new bass player, whom Luna introduces as Gwenhwyfar Hughes. Robin is still on the drums and he and Luna are the only two who aren’t a surprise. The fans don’t mind, though – the addition of the piano is fantastic and Dexter is a fabulous guitarist. Gwen and Robin are also great together and the Dolls have never sounded better.
During the break, it’s the Doll’s turn to gather in the “backstage” coffee shop. Suddenly, Jenny and Kurhn burst in. Kurhn is looking very distraught and Jenny – she doesn’t even say hello!
“Why is Dexter wearing that necklace?” she demands.
“Whoa, Jenny, what’s going on here?” Jake responds. “I gave it to him. It’s a guitar. He’s the guitarist. I’m the piano player. It looks good on him.”
“You can have it back,” Dexter says. “I didn’t realise there was an issue.”
“There isn’t an issue,” Jake says.
“That’s it, Jake Blake! I’ve had enough!” Jenny shouts. ” We’re through. I gave you that because I cared about YOU, and you don’t care enough about me to even keep it! You never spend any time with me anymore, you’re always rehearsing, or hanging around with Dexter. You treat me like dirt, and I’m not going to take it any more!” With that, Jenny bursts into tears and runs out of the shop.
Kurhn doesn’t know what to do. Obviously she wants to run after her best friend and comfort her, but her voice teacher is about to perform! She’s hoping that Nicole will put in a good word for her so that she too can some day sing as a guest with the Ladies in Black. Finally, it’s too much for her, and she mumbles, “I need to see this performance,” and heads out the door as well.
“I want to catch this too,” says Luna, and heads out after Kurhn.
“So, Jakey boy, trouble with the lass, eh?” says Robin, laughing. “Not to worry, kid, it’s not every woman who can be with a musician. It takes a special sort, someone who’s happy to be in the audience and dance, or another musician. Or just somebody with a passion of their own.”
“How about your bass player, Robby,” says Gwen playfully. “Is she good enough for a lad like you?”
“Way too good for the likes o’ me, Gwen,” laughs Robin. He and Gwenhwyfar seem to have hit it off from day one.
“Wow, Jake, I’m really sorry,” says Dexter.
“It’s not your fault, Dex. I suppose I have neglected Jenny. It just seemed logical for you to have the necklace. It looks great on you and I want you to keep it. Maybe Robin’s right – Kurhn has her own musical career to think about so she doesn’t care about you rehearsing. I’m not sure what to do about Jenny. I do care for her – a lot.”
“I know you do,” Dexter replies. “Why not let it rest for now, mate, and see what happens.”
The Ladies in Black are fabulous as always.
Sandra has replaced Jake at the piano.
“And now,” announces Amy. “I’m sure many of you are familiar with the amazing duet between Luciano Pavarotti and James Brown doing ‘It’s a Man’s World.’ Well, today I have a chance to do my own version, with the one and only Nicole Bernstein!”
Amy and Nicole are incredible! The crowd loves it and among them, Pierre’s heart swells with love for this amazing woman. He feels like the luckiest many in the world. Kurhn too is beside herself with joy – her teacher! She’s the luckiest girl in the world.
After the concert, the crowd leaves in high spirits.
Among the last to go are Steven and Sutton.
“What did you think of our old friends’ performance?” says Steven. “They never come round to the George anymore. Sandra has never responded to a phone call or a text since Valentine’s Day. Seeing her makes me care not at all – she’s lost weight and she’s way too thin for me. I like a woman with some meat on her bones. Your old friend Merida looked as juicy as ever, though.”
Sutton doesn’t know what to say. Merida looked better than he’s ever seen her. Confident, sexy, oozing sensuality. Erika Holmes has invited him to a family barbecue on the next bank holiday and he’s really torn. Monique will be there, of course, and how embarrassing will that be? He really likes Erika and her sweet girl next door air – but Merida! He’s not going to think about her. That possibility is over, forever. Time to move on.
Stay tuned to the next episode! Before we find out what happens at the barbecue, we need to look in on Nick, who has passed his PhD viva with flying colours and now has a job interview at the university coming up.