I’ve had automatonophobia since I was a kid. The first incident I remember involved a local fire station my girl scout troop was visiting back in second or third grade (too long ago to say for sure). We were going to learn about CPR and they had this monstrosity referred to as “Choking Charlie”.
This limbless mannequin had a motorized chest to simulate breathing. It wasn’t that there was a lack of limbs. The entire fact that this “fake being” was somehow moving like a real person was too much to process. I was in tears the moment it was visible. Being a little kid, this of course sent a ripple through my whole troop and we were all crying not too long afterwards. I quit the girl scouts shortly after.
We had flipped through the channels on day and a trailer for Child’s Play came on TV. My mother’s quickly changed the station, but I made my brother lock up all my Barbie dolls in his closet because I was convinced they wanted to kill me in my sleep.
Then there was then the time my family went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. My brother and I were stoked to go because we adored learning (and definitely science). So when there was a special exhibit on the dangers of drunk driving we accidentally walked into (and my mother saw the animatronics a few feet from me), it was an apocalypse in the making. I only went back to the museum once after that event. Even then, I refused to go to the same area the exhibit had been held.
Fast forward to high school. Another CPR class involving what I dubbed, “Charlie’s lost cousin”. I kept roughly 40 feet from the mannequins and turned down certification since there was no way I was touching one of those things. Passed the class and knew what would be necessary in an emergency, but no first aid certification for me. I was okay with that, given the circumstances.
While studying abroad in the UK, I tagged along with a friend to see an art museum she had found. One or two exhibits and a small gift shop. The art was fantastic. The gift shop we were approach had a few books that caught my attention. As I went to show my friend a print of one of her favorite pieces, I saw it. There was a small work that involved a handmade, full-size male mannequin. Detailed hair and clothing.
My heart stuttered in an awkward rhythm. She starts saying my name repeatedly. Softly at first, before the slight concern starts making her grow louder. But I couldn’t do anything besides pull her between me and the mannequin. The tears were gathering fast and I was starting to hyperventilate quickly.
After maybe twenty seconds, I’m able to snap out of it long enough to say I need to get out of the building. We step outside and the pressure on my chest lights the further the distance grows. As the suns shining down on us, I can see her worrying over what she should do. I didn’t expect to have something like that happen again, let along disclosing what I found to be a very embarrassing phobia. But I did and she made nothing of it. She just had me sit outside while running back in to buy the print I found and we were off to our next adventure.
Those are just some of the larger moments I can remember. There were definitely more and I had a few cases where some especially cruel classmates took advantage of hearing about my fears. Casual attempts to deal with it got me nowhere. I refused to seek professional therapy for it, but have gradually been working on it with an unexpected solution: ball-jointed dolls.
Even now, there are many dolls I can’t stand (we won’t even go into mannequins). However, Asian ball-jointed dolls (aka BJDs) are incredible beautiful to me. Studying the craft behind them is the first step into overcoming my fears. And it’s working incredibly well.
I think it’s because the visible joints make it very easy for me to mentally associate them with a “lack of realness”. It doesn’t trigger that same part of my mind that gets almost fearfully-angry over other attempts to replicate a living creature (because it’s not just a human trigger).
It’s a serious craft and this things are not cheap. Most hobbyist are adults and there’s an entire subculture around each facet of the craft. I watch videos from a lot of faceup artists. That is, artists who do the face “painting” and body “blushing” to give the dolls a more realistic look. Trust me…I know how ironic this is…
I like being able to see the process in stages…and on a small object. When I did my creative space tour, I show you all my BJD. I’ve yet to modify him, but it’s my next step. There was a time I couldn’t sleep with him in the room, let along in the box or a few feet from my bed. Now I’m drafting clothing patterns for my own designs as a way to personalize him and create a positive association.
Yeah…I know the therapy techniques around this. When you have a phobia, sometimes people think it’s an excuse. That you don’t want to get over it and like the emotional crutch. First of all, get over yourself if that’s how you approach anything like this. We all have different hurdles at different levels in our lives.
For me, it’s about regaining control of the fear in my way–and most importantly–when I feel that it’s right. The BJDs cover dolls. Animatronics still scare me and I doubt that will ever change. I mean, when you have tech celebrities forking out millions to avoid a robotic takeover–you feel a bit justified in your beliefs.
Five Nights at Freddy’s humored me for all of five minutes.
And then I considered taking another internet break…