Sex dolls are the new influencers

Synthetic women are “running” their own Instagrams. There’s money to be made, sure, but what their human partners want most is respect.

Sex dolls are Instagram influencers.

Like many strange corners of the internet, Instagram’s sex doll community started out as a joke.

In 2016, after reading a tabloid article about a woman who used plastic surgery to look like a sex doll, T, a sex toy reviewer from the U.S., started an Instagram account for his synthetic partner Celestina. T wanted to see if Celestina, a brunette doll who often sports a pixie cut and glasses, could amass more followers on Instagram than the sex doll wannabe. Within a few months, Celestina had succeeded.

Today, Celestina has more than 3,000 followers, and T is widely credited as a pioneer in the Instagram sex doll community, which numbers somewhere in the hundreds. “Having a doll has had such a positive impact on my life,” T says. Others’ sex dolls have as many as 7,000 followers, a lot of whom seem unaware that the micro-influencer they are following is what insiders would call a “synthetic woman.”

The Instagram trend has its roots in a 20-year-old website called The Doll Forum, which boasts over 70,000 members and has large sections devoted to photographing sex dolls. Using a combination of creative photography, in-character social media posts, and, more recently, deepfake videos, these doll photographers are working to make the synthetic women in their lives as close to organic as possible. Their goal is to give their dolls depth and personality, so they can show other community members, and the wider world, how the dolls appear through their eyes. If the owners can make some money off the pursuit, that’s all the better.

“I have always been an avid picture-taker — just an amateur with a cell phone,” says Atomic, the human partner of a fiery redhead doll named Alita, who often wears a crucifix in a nod to Atomic’s own “conservative Christian” values. These values, however, have not kept Atomic, a U.S.-based doll enthusiast, from publicizing his muse. “There was just a very compelling urge to take photos of Alita, and it was a big incentive for getting her,” he says. “I’ll admit there is an appeal to being a photographer when you have a very attractive subject.”

Alita joined Instagram in August 2020, and since then has gained nearly 900 followers. Her page is filled with over 300 photographs of her doing everything from reading books to snowboarding to playing video games.

Dean Bevan, a doll photographer from the U.K., and the only person interviewed for this article who posts publicly under his own name, has collected 20 dolls since 2016. Bevan, a retired nurse who has raised two children, says he was inspired by the work of American artist Stacey Leigh. Leigh gained notoriety in the noughties for her realistic photographs of sex dolls in an array of nonsexual positions. “She’d done these pictures that were ambiguous: I couldn’t tell if they were real people or dolls,” Bevan says. “A lightbulb went off in my head, and I thought, ‘What if I could do that?’”

Bevan has a humble following on Instagram — his account, @deanabevan, has just over 450 followers — but he’s well-known in the doll community for his photography. On first glance, the 900 photographs he’s uploaded to Instagram often blur the line between synthetic and organic. “I get a kick out of taking something that was designed initially as a sex toy,” Bevan explains, “and using them for something completely different.”

Hard Work

Being a doll photographer is a lot of work. These inorganic subjects — nearly always white women — are still, ultimately, sex dolls, and it is easy to see this in the photographs of less-experienced owners. It takes true skill to make synthetic skin look real on camera, or to give the dolls expressions. (Although some owners use FaceTune apps to achieve this, it is discouraged among more experienced photographers.)

Shoots can take hours because doll owners must work to change poses, outfits, locations, and wigs, all without the help of their models, who can weigh 60 pounds or more. The dolls, who cost several thousand dollars at minimum, also require weekly baths and regular maintenance.

Some people are drawn to the challenging nature of these shoots. Take Mindy and Marty, a married couple from Florida in their mid-50s who run a business together. Although the pair admit that their initial investment in a doll was to bring a third member into their marriage — as a throwback to the swinging days they’ve now left behind — it was the imaginative aspect of this world that sucked them in.

Mindy is the creative director of the couple’s projects, while Marty focuses on props and bringing her ideas to life. “This creative and extremely capable man, who happens to be the love of my life, makes all my ideas work,” gushes Mindy. “We bounce the ideas back and forth sometimes for months before we do them,” she adds.

Summer performs a grand jeté.Mindy and Marty

Mindy is particularly proud of a shoot they did with Summer, the first of their four dolls, in which she appears to be performing ballet. The shoot, which involved Summer being suspended in the air via her head using wires, involved extreme preparation, including modification to Summer’s skeleton. According to Mindy, it took a total of 24 hours. “The shoot was hard on Summer’s body,” Mindy says. “It put strain on every joint.”

Many of the community’s photoshoots are done in response to photo challenges posted on The Doll Forum. The ultimate honor is nabbing the cover of CoverDoll, the community’s answer to Playboy. “There’s nudity, but nothing you don’t see elsewhere,” says New Jersey–based doll enthusiast Tony, the digital-only publication’s social media editor. “It’s tasteful nudity.”

Making Money

Just as with flesh-and-blood influencers, the dolls’ platforms can be monetized. For most, this comes from working with doll manufacturers. Despite only being in the doll community for about eight months, Mindy and Marty have already started bringing in money from their venture.

Doll-Forever contacted us and wanted us to take photos for their website,” says Marty of the doll manufacturer based in China. “We went from being amateur photographers to actually doing it for compensation! I guess maybe we’re doing it more for profit, but we really like it, too.”

Not everyone has been so lucky when it comes to making money. Just ask Jupiter, a U.S.-based doll owner whose “sister wives” named Lorraine and Eukelaide — who sometimes pose alongside guns belonging to their ex-military “husband” — now have more than 1,500 Instagram followers. He started a “softcore porn” OnlyFans featuring his synthetic duo — there are no on-camera humans involved — but it hasn’t been successful. “In a year, I’ve made $25 dollars,” he says of the “very artistic” endeavor. “There’s no market for doll porn.

“People don’t want to pay,” Jupiter continues, “but I don’t want to show it for free.” Tony, who has set up an OnlyFans for his synthetic partner, Tasha, feels similarly. “I don’t care to give it away,” Tony says. “There’s a lot of work that goes into making good erotic images. That has to be worth something.”

Which isn’t to say Tasha — who shares Tony with his organic wife — has been unsuccessful. In the several years that she has been active on Instagram, Tasha has collected almost 2,000 followers, plus friendships with real-life women she’s met through social media. She’s been the subject of a diary-slash-art-exhibition, made in partnership with artist Chao-Ying Rao, and scored several brand ambassadorships with small clothing labels, including Tyes by Tara and InFoxycated Clothing, through her Instagram account. She’s also a reporter and star interviewer for CoverDoll.

“Tasha is an independent synthetic person who talks for herself — I don’t talk for her,” says Tony of Tasha’s interactions with the world. “I am a conduit for her. I’m not a puppeteer or a ventriloquist. I kind of just open myself up, and I let Tasha speak to me.”

Like Tony, many members of the community post from the perspective of their dolls, including in their interactions with other Instagram users. In community members’ eyes, this sort of roleplay delivers a level of emotional fulfillment that both outweighs the importance of and improves upon their sexual interactions with the dolls. “The more Tasha does this on her own,” Tony says, “the more our relationship deepens. Isn’t that just like any couple whose relationship evolves over time from their shared experiences?”

Tasha has scored several brand ambassadorships with small clothing labels.Tony

Marty cites similar reasons for developing Summer’s Instagram: “In my mind, I wanted her to be a real girl, and I wanted to speak for her.” Both Marty and Mindy believe that this process improves their relationship with Summer, who has almost 900 followers. “Every day she develops more because she has more depth of character, and she has different adventures,” Marty says. “It makes her more three-dimensional to me.”

This is where the beating heart of the Instagram doll community lies. Every member who contributed to this article, no matter their relationship with their doll, has been eager to use the platform to break away from the sexual focus of The Doll Forum (TDF).

“There’s still an emphasis on the sexual side of things with TDF,” Bevan explains. “I like posting on Instagram because it’s nice to see all my pictures with likeminded souls, and it’s a pretty wholesome place to do it.” (None of the creators interviewed for this piece felt that Instagram censorship was an issue for them.)

Atomic shares Bevan’s viewpoint. “If there is any public migration away from TDF,” he says, “it’s indicative of the evolution of dolls from sex objects to affection objects.”

An Insular Community

The community has a long way to go before it achieves its dream of positioning the dolls as objects of nonsexual affection. Many members have reported hostility toward their lifestyles, particularly those who are public about it. “I got backlash on Facebook early on,” says Bevan. “People were asking me to stop and saying that it was creepy. I can quite happily live with that. If people can’t be open-minded, we probably aren’t going to get on.”

On the other hand, the influencers have to deal with a lot of horny followers. “I get a lot of guys who want to be my sugar daddy,” says Marty of Summer’s Instagram followers. “I said, ‘You realize this is a doll, right?’”

Tony says his followers are a mix of organic people and dolls with whom Tasha has developed friendships, but he has also dealt with amorous followers. “There is another sector of fans out there that just think Tasha is a woman,” he says. “They see a picture, quickly DM her and try to manipulate her into giving them nude photos.”

The latest issue of CoverDoll.CoverDoll

This is why community members tend to be insular. They generally regard other doll enthusiasts as more supportive than their mainstream followers. “There are many behind-the-scenes friendships and conversations going on,” says Mary of the doll-loving Instagram sphere. Jupiter relates a similar experience: “We compliment each other’s work and give each other pointers. I have better conversations with other doll owners than with the average follower.”

The Instagram doll community does tend “to segment into their own cliques depending on their sexual attitude towards the doll and how ‘alive’ they consider it,” says Atomic. However, he adds, “I don’t see a lot of competition or judgment. In a community that faces misunderstanding from the majority, the last thing they need is infighting.”

If there’s one thing that all of the doll owners interviewed for this article agreed upon is that they’d like to see their pursuit accepted and normalized by the wider world. “Maybe, someday, if we get the message out that dolls like Tasha aren’t just sex toys, things will be better,” Tony says.

“Really, I just want to be able to have Tasha sit in the backyard and not have to worry about my neighbors judging me,” he continues. If anything, Tony would like the wider world to know this about sex doll photographers: “We’re no different than anyone else.”