Reborn Unboxings are YouTube’s Oddest and Most Poignant Niche

For some it’s a curiosity, but for others, it’s a way to fill a hole in their lives

Sarah Manavis
Sep 16, 2019 · 4 min read
Image: Unsplash/Bastian Jaillot

Harsh lights. People’s voices. A sudden bursting sensation. There’s some crying, some squeals of glee, and it’s hard to know what’s really going on. A baby is emerging from a dark place and being seen for the very first time. But this isn’t a real-life birth. This is a reborn unboxing video.

Reborn unboxings have been around for the best part of a decade, but are increasingly popular on YouTube. The videos feature people unboxing incredibly realistic, incredibly expensive dolls that are eerily identical to a newborn baby; complete with wrinkles, veins, and thin baby hair that weigh and feel just like an infant. Many of the boxes will come with other items — baby clothes, blankets and toys, and even birth certificates. And some reborns actually come in a fake womb, giving the unboxers an exciting opportunity to perform a C-section to let their baby out.

Unlike the glossy videos we’re used to on lifestyle channels, reborn unboxings tend to be low-budget, with seemingly little thought put into lighting, framing, video quality or the ability to hear the speaker. Unboxers are usually not made-up or apparently styled, but are simply normal people shooting video in their normal homes. Yet despite the lack of finesse, the low quality, and their unglamorous nature, reborn unboxings regularly draw in millions of views, even on relatively small accounts.

Reborn dolls vary in price — some dolls marked as “reborn” average around £55 ($68) on Amazon, with the cheapest available costing roughly £40 ($50). However, the vast majority of the dolls you see in mainstream reborn unboxing videos are custom-made or made by individual artists rather than huge retailers. These dolls, commonly bought on Etsy, are more regularly priced around £300 ($370) — but to get a very realistic doll, you could pay up to £4,000 ($5,000).

Reborn unboxings likely benefit from hate-watching — users find them so surreal, bizarre, and creepy that they watch them to mock them, rather than to gaze in awe at these fake newborns. Almost any popular reborn video (over 100,000 views) will have the comments disabled, making it difficult to track down exactly what negative comments reborn unboxing creators are getting. However, channels that regularly post — or are dedicated to — reborn unboxings often refer to the abuse they get from people who “don’t understand” why they like reborns.

“I’ve had to develop a pretty thick skin,” says Katie McCulloch, a reborn artist and YouTuber whose channel “Katie’s precious angels reborn nursery” has amassed 37,700 subscribers and nearly 8 million views. “I didn’t want to be judged by the people saying we’re crazy and weird and the babies are creepy.”

“I still get some horrible comments,” she says, “but now I just let people have their opinions and laugh it off.”

McCulloch admits, though, that even she was skeptical when she first encountered reborns. “I was thrown off,” she tells me. “I didn’t understand adults playing with dolls.”

“But as the months went on I found myself more and more interested in reborns and the weirdness slowly slipped away,” she says. “Most of the time if people just give them a chance and watch some videos or even buy a baby, they end up thinking they are pretty cool.”

Not all viewers are hate-watchers or reborn fans — reborn unboxings also draw in a fair amount of fascination from other adjacent YouTube communities. Emily, a 23-year-old fan of reborn unboxings who asked for her surname not to be used because of her high-flying career, came across the videos through the ASMR clips she watches daily.

“[I get] that the appeal for those people buying unborn dolls is having that comfort and getting to go through the feeling of what it would be like to have their own newborn,” she explains. “But the appeal for me and other people watching is getting to go down this rabbithole of a community that we don’t really know anything about.”

Despite their reputation for being creepy and strange, some people find reborn dolls to be a godsend. Taylor Kellie, a Canadian mommy/lifestyle YouTuber based in British Columbia, is one of these people, making her first reborn unboxing video last July.

Before the video, Kellie had experienced a miscarriage as well as a stillborn birth and had extensively vlogged about the grief she suffered. But a few months after her son’s death, she was gifted a reborn — one specifically chosen by the reborn outlet because it looked similar to her son. She shared an emotional unboxing video where she explained how much the reborn baby helped her, soothing the anxiety she faced after losing her son.

“Many people think the dolls are creepy,” she says in the video, “but they need to realise that there are some incredible therapeutic benefits from them.”

“I’ll walk around the room with him in my arms, looking through my son’s things and it just brings me absolute joy and serenity.”

Reborn dolls have expanded beyond just newborns — many YouTubers are now making videos of older babies, toddlers, and in some rarer cases, teenage dolls. And we are likely only at the beginning of the reborn craze, with mainstream YouTubers pivoting to reborn content (such as the Ingham family, who have released a £350 reborn doll of their baby Jace).

“It’s just a little bit of roleplay,” says McCulloch in one of her reborn videos. “It’s fun, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Some people don’t understand it and make fun of it, but that’s okay,” she says, as she puts on rubber gloves to perform a fake C-section. “They don’t have to like it, because other people do.”

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