There’s something profoundly icky about the breast-feeding baby doll, Bebe Glotón (the name translates to “Glutton Baby”), a Spanish creation that will be marketed internationally next year. But that ickiness has nothing to do with the idea of children holding up fake babies to their nonexistent breasts and pretending to feed them-a practice that no doubt has been going on since there have been mothers, babies, older children, and breasts. No, what’s gross about the Glutton (something tells me the marketing department is working on a different name for the U.S. market) has to do with the transformation of that age-old practice into an expensive and utterly pointless commodity.
Many of the responses to the recently circulated videos of the Glutton in action focus on the “inappropriateness” of such a toy and the fear that it will “sexualize” little girls prematurely, or encourage them to have babies earlier than they otherwise would. The disapproving responses, like Kathie Lee’s on the Today show , include speculation about the slippery slope toward anatomically correct boy and girl dolls that mimic the act that leads to babies in the first place. The counterargument in the doll’s favor holds that breast-feeding is not sexual but a natural act, something to be encouraged, etc. But both sides gloss over the creepiest thing about Bebe Glotón: the anatomically in correct and thoroughly un natural accessory she’s sold with. Before suckling her plastic progeny, the child-mom must don a “nursing halter top” with flower appliqués where the nipples should be, against which the doll makes slurping sounds, then cries until you burp her (watch the whole process, from halter-donning to impressively loud belch, in this demonstration video ).
This bra-like garment, with its coy metaphorical areolae, strikes me as by far the most perverse feature of this product. Little children, both girls and boys, already come with built-in symbols at the spot where their nipples should be. THEY’RE CALLED NIPPLES. If your child wants to mimic the act of breast-feeding, a lifted shirt and a regular doll (or a stuffed lion, a wooden spoon, or whatever happens to be handy) will do the trick nicely. One of the great advantages of breast-feeding, often trumpeted by its champions, is that unlike bottle-feeding, it’s free (if you don’t count the opportunity cost of missed work time, etc.). Why pay 44 euros (around $55) so that your kid can pretend to save money-and pretend, against all evidence, that human milk is expressed through appliquéd daisies?
Though the Glutton is a European-made doll, her conceptual roots seem deeply American. There’s the bizarre confluence of prurience and Puritanism suggested by that halter top and the depressing assumption that, by buying devices that cost more money and make more noise, we’re somehow augmenting our children’s imaginations. The lesson Bebé Glotón really teaches young girls is one that the baby-gear industry would be all too happy to have them internalize as they grow up: In order to bring up your kid right, you need to buy lots and lots of crap.
Image is a still taken from a promotional video of Bebé Glotón.