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Seeing Double

[whitespace] My Twinn Dolls

That holiday gift for the child who can't get enough of herself

By Will Harper

They say that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. Well, everyone does. And they're all in Englewood, Colo. That's where the one-of-a-kind My Twinn dolls are produced--a unique and unsettling gift idea for precious children (or parents) who just can't get enough of themselves.

To my way of thinking, the concept of owning a twin doll isn't just bizarre, it is plain creepy--creepy enough to inspire a post-Hitchcock psychological thriller: Kid grows attached to vinyl look-alike; doll telepathically orders kid to poison parents and mutilate sexually promiscuous teenagers.

Despite the sheer perversity of the idea, apparently there are kids out there who think highly enough of themselves to ask mommy and daddy to buy them a $160 poseable toy self-replica. My Twinn catalogs are appearing in Toys "R" Us stores this holiday season to compete with Barbie and Teletubbies.

Here's how the cloning process works: Parents send in a photo of their child with an order form containing specifications for eye and skin color, hair length and style. There is even a face parents can mark up with a pen, denoting freckles, birthmarks or unusual features.

The artisans at My Twinn Doll Company then take the photo and hand-paint the eyebrows and beauty marks on a facial mold, while professional stylists cut and shape the hair. A snip here, a pluck there, and voilà: a portable 23-inch vinyl doppelganger of little junior.

To make the symmetry more surreal, the My Twinn catalog--replete with smiling, dimple-cheeked JonBenet descendants--offers matching outfits for both doll and child. This is so that in the fine tradition of couples dressing alike and twins dressing alike, there can be no mistaking the togetherness of child and doll.

Anthony Pratkanis, a professor of social psychology at UC-Santa Cruz who studies consumer behavior, thinks the creepiness factor accounts for why the twin dolls haven't caught on like Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmos or Cabbage Patch Kids.

To some extent, he says, My Twinn dolls appeal to traditional consumer vanities: uniqueness, exclusivity and high price. But Pratkanis compares the sensation of looking at a twin doll to the discomfort one might feel hearing his or her own voice on a tape recorder or an answering machine.

"If we look into the mirror, that might be OK, but if we see ourselves in a photo--which is how the world sees us--we don't like it," he reasons. "It creates self-consciousness, and that's not always pleasant."

"People have a feeling this is eerie, like it's a second universe," he concludes.

Company spokesman Dave Liggett insists he doesn't hear from too many people who find the twin dolls creepy, but he concedes that "people who feel that way don't order the dolls."

Liggett also assures me that vanity run rampant isn't what motivates parents and kids to buy a twin doll. Carrying around a twin is a great conversation piece and thus an esteem-builder that helps shy kids socialize, he says.

"With kids who are shy it tends to be kind of an ice-breaker," Liggett explains. "If I took my 10-year-old girl to your newsroom, in a few minutes there would be a crowd of people around her asking about the doll." A crowd, I'm thinking, like the kind that might gather to gawk at a freak-show act.

Though Liggett downplays the toy's psychological implications, the company likes to promote one of its other peculiarities: mistaken identity.

It seems that people all across the land are mistaking the dolls for real children, according to letters written to the company by a number of tickled My Twinn doll owners.

There's the story of the minister with bad eyesight, for example, who blessed little Emily and her doll. Then there's the case of the police officer who pulled a woman over when he noticed her "child" wasn't safely buckled, only to discover that the child was really a My Twinn doll.

As creepy as it all may sound, the twin doll was born from noble beginnings. The idea started with a Southern California emergency-room doctor who treated young girls who sometimes brought their dolls along. He started asking the girls why they preferred certain dolls over others. A common answer he heard: "Because this one looks like me."

Thus, a new and unusual business was born. (After a year, the unnamed doctor sold the fledgling company to a business partnership in Colorado.)

The company is now celebrating its fifth anniversary. Because the company is privately held, Liggett refused to disclose its sales figures, but he says they sell "thousands of dolls each year."

"We're going at a good pace," he says. "We don't want to be a flash in the pan like Cabbage Patch dolls."

Lucky thing, too. Cuz there aren't a lot of people out there who look like that.

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From the November 25-December 2, 1998 issue of Metro.

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