Have you seen the Blythe doll in Thailand?
The Blythe doll, the big eyed, huge fore-headed doll that was never particularly popular in America, where it originated, is huge in Asia and no more so than in Thailand.
If you go to a local shopping mall in Bangkok, Blythe dolls, doll clothing and doll accessories are everywhere. But, it’s not Thai children who are buying them, it’s Thai young girls and women between the ages of 16-40 and, because they’re so expensive, it’s the upper middle-class and hi-sos (high-society women in Thailand) who are the biggest fans.
But what makes these children’s toys so popular and why do Thai women covet them so much?
The popularity of Blythe dolls began in Japan in the 1980s and, unlike the US where they slowly faded from view, Blythe dolls in Japan became a huge success – spawning clothing, books, magazines, Blythe doll clubs and more. This popularity of the Blythe doll has moved to Thailand in the last few years where, if it’s popular in Japan, a country the Thais desperately want to be like, then it’s popular in Thailand.
Now, if you go to any upscale Bangkok shopping mall, there are several stores selling Blythe dolls. Starting at around $50 each and going up to well over $1,000, some of these Blythe dolls are so popular the stores can hardly keep them in stock.
The Blythe doll in Thailand also shows up on postcards, greetings cards and even clothing. At any Thai market, you’ll see thousands of postcards of photographs of different Blythe dolls wearing all styles of outfits and hair styles, bags with photos of Blythe dolls on them and t shirts with the big eyed doll staring soulfully out at you in one of thousands of different poses. Even one of the King of Thailand’s daughters is so enamoured of Blythe dolls, it’s rumored when she goes to shop at a local mall, the store owner closes down the store and the princess spends a good while browsing the stock and choosing her favorite Blythes.
For many Thai women, who love Blythe dolls, its because of the way they look. Their big eyes, their high foreheads and their white skin, it’s the way many Asian women wish they looked – big eyes like westerners (many Asian women do not like Asian eyes) and pale skin, but stylized to something not possibly attainable – and that’s part of the fantasy of it. Plus, with Blythe dolls, you can even change their eye color – something not even a western woman can do.
I first came across the Blythe doll in Thailand a couple of years ago when, teaching a corporate English class in an international accounting company, I asked one of my students, a woman in her early 40s what she was planning on doing that weekend. She told me, “Doing make-up on my Blythe dolls”. I asked “Excuse me?”, as I had no idea what she was talking about.
She explained she owned 15 Blythe dolls and every weekend, if she had time, she spent it redoing the make-up on the dolls, restyling their hair (sometimes even cutting it!) and designing and making clothing for them. She’s 40 years old and married with a 12 year old daughter. Her daughter, she told me, has no interest in playing with the Blythe dolls at all, as she prefers her XBox.
This Blythe doll phenomena is captured all over Bangkok, with exhibits of Blythe dolls, art shows centered around Blythe dolls and even stores where Thai women just drop by to chat about their latest purchases and the clothing and accessories they’re going to buy for them.
For more information on Blythe dolls in Thailand and Blythe doll clothing and accessories, Blythe Thailand has a wonderful website with Blythe News, Custom Blythe and even a forum where, if you speak Thai, you can chat with other Blythe doll fans.