by Audrey Harper
Imagine that you’re staying somewhere…your grandmother’s, your aunt’s, a motel with peculiar decorating choices…wherever this place is, the decoration of choice for your room appears to be dolls. Harmless, button-eyed toys for children. When you arrived during the day they weren’t so bad, but now that it’s gotten dark outside, your lamp is casting ominous shadows on all the little figures. You swear that the little porcelain one by the window is looking at you now, when she hadn’t been before. This idea that maybe she turned her head on her own sticks in your mind as you turn out the lights and try to sleep. Now that the room is completely dark, however, you start to worry if it’s when you’re not looking that she moves.
The fear of dolls is called Pediophobia, and can manifest in a few different ways. The first is the general fear of dolls. All dolls are equally scary to someone in a broad sense, no matter what it looks like or what it’s made of. Some people who have Pediophobia can even have a fear of small children.
The second way is where we get more specific. Someone who’s more specific in their Pediophobia is someone who is only afraid of one or two different types of dolls. Cloth dolls, porcelain dolls, stuffed animals, and even those hyper-realistic dolls that act as “fake babies” can serve as a specific fear.
The third way actually has a different name, but still falls under the Pediophobia umbrella. Automatonphobia is the fear of things like mannequins, ventriloquist dummies, wax figures, and marionettes. These things look human even though they aren’t, and that uncanniness leads to people’s fear.
But that uncanny nature of mannequins only really explains why some people are afraid of automatons. Why are people afraid of dolls? Is it because they have fixed eyes? Is it because they resemble small children? One idea is that pop culture seems to have influence over what we’re afraid of, and movies like Child’s Play and Annabelle feature dolls acting as villains or vessels for demonic possession. Anyone easily influenced by horror movies might grow a little paranoid of Raggedy Ann after watching one of those.
Some people aren’t afraid of dolls. Some people collect them, display them, and create hobbies out of them. But for a lot of people, walking into a room with them as decoration is like stepping foot on Isla del las Munecas, an island in Mexico haunted by thousands of dolls. So the next time you’re trying to sleep somewhere, and there’s a little porcelain doll watching you, consider this: would it be better with the light on?