By Abbey Adkison
For Reporting Texas
AUSTIN — “The dolls are a great little tool for self-expression,” says Lanie Labens, a 20-year-old collector who sees dolls as more than playthings. “And if you’re feeling repressed or there’s something you feel like you can’t express yourself, these are a great way to do it.”
Doll collecting takes up most of Labens’ time, between working at Kerbey Lane Doll Shoppe in Austin, blogging and attending conventions. Dolls have always been a big part of her life, even when they caused her to be bullied.
“I was bullied pretty badly in middle school and high school and I think the dolls were definitely part of it,” she said, before listing other factors. “I’m weird, I’m different. I always have been … and I’ve never dressed like anybody else. I always do kind of my own thing. And I’m also not shy. I never have been. And so it just kind of made me the perfect target for that kind of thing.”
Bullying is an issue that children have been dealing with since milk money was only a few cents. The evolution of bullying — into a ’round-the-clock cyberpresence — is something that keeps guidance counselors like Christine Campbell at Bowie High School in Austin busy. Internet and cell phone bullying may escape teachers’ notice in a way that getting shoved in a locker can’t.
“We may not find out about something until it’s been up on Facebook a week and half,” Campbell said. “And by then the whole school already knows.”
It can be difficult for students who are passionate about something their classmates may not deem “normal,” according to Campbell. She said being involved in extracurricular activities can help students feel connected to a community and cope with feelings of isolation and even fear. But bullying causes more than emotional problems for targeted students.
“Attendance becomes an issue,” Campbell said. “They usually don’t want to come to school anymore,” she said of bullied students. “Grades will start to drop and they will withdraw from their friends.”
Labens can relate. For a while, she separated her doll life from her school life.
“I wouldn’t talk about them,” she said. “And none of my friends knew about it. And honestly I didn’t have a lot of friends cause I was new in sixth grade. And so that’s like that was the worst thing ever. But I never stopped collecting.”
And now she is a bit of a celebrity on the doll circuit, and the dolls she owns often increase in value in the resale market.
“It’s just incredible what a hunk of resin can do for someone,” she said. “I know for me they’ve changed my life completely.”
She’s now an advocate for bullying victims, she said, “because I survived it, but there’s a whole lot of kids who don’t. I actually attribute part of my survival to my dolls. They kept me going, and I knew I had this whole life outside of school — this whole life that mattered when school life didn’t.”