Bullying in the Doll Community

By Linda L. Levine


Bullying is regularly in the news. You often hear about a young woman or man being bullied by other adolescents over being perceived as different or just being selected for attack for unknown reasons. You don’t think about the adults who engage in this very destructive behavior.  Would you be surprised to learn that almost 75% of adults in the United States have witnessed online harassment according to a survey by the Pew Research Center or that almost 40% admit to being a victim of online bullying? The effects of bullying can include:  stress, depression, mood swings, loss of sleep and fatigue, shame, guilt, embarrassment and low self-esteem. In severe cases of bullying, people may end their life.  


Many people are embarrassed to share their experiences but there is no shame in being selected by a bully for this kind of treatment. Sharing experiences can help others understand they are not alone and help them get the support they need.  I know what it is like to be bullied and would like to share my experience and the experiences of others in this article in the hopes that it makes a difference. I hope it makes some people think a little bit longer before posting that comment or saying something that might be hurtful.  Sometimes it is unintentional but for bullies it does have a purpose. It is intended to bring pain and make them feel powerful.  I also hope that when you see someone being bullied you take a stand against the behavior. It is the only way to show the bully that this behavior is not welcome and won’t be tolerated.


You don’t think of doll collectors as being bullies. Or at least I didn’t realize it was an issue before becoming more involved online in doll boards, in doll clubs and attending doll conventions.  It is unfortunate that a hobby that brings so much joy can also bring a lot of pain because of a small minority of individuals.  I have had wonderful experiences in the twenty-seven years as a doll collector and have made many wonderful friends. I really don’t want to see more and more people driven away from the hobby by those that have no respect for the feelings of others. I encourage everyone to hold these people accountable for their actions and support those who are attacked. As they say so often, it takes a village.

I have always been a Barbie girl. I have many photos of me (like the one above) with a big smile getting a new Barbie for Christmas or a special occasion.  I became a collector when I was sixteen and found out that there were special collector editions. I saw the 1989 Holiday Barbie and was amazed. I had to have her.  I was slower than some others to join the online doll community and clubs. I am a charter member of the Barbie Fan Club but did not go online to the forums until around 2006 or 2007.  I started going to doll conventions in 2007 after being a member of Mattel’s Collectors Advisory Panel and hearing so many great things about the events.


I am fortunate to share the doll collecting hobby with my mom but I craved the opportunity to meet other collectors. We loved the convention and being around hundreds of people that shared our love for dolls. We thought we would only go once but we signed up for the next year once we were home and never stopped going. The one thing that still felt missing was being part of a local doll club.  So many of the collectors at the convention spoke fondly of their clubs and the friendships they have made over the years. It became my mission to start a local club as we did not have one devoted to fashion dolls in my city. With the fiftieth anniversary of Barbie approaching, it seemed the perfect time to start a club. I used online doll forums to locate collectors in the area and we met for the first time in February 2009. It was a small group and continued to grow in the months and years to follow.


I was so excited to have a group of friends that loved dolls. We had monthly meetings and special events like parties, field trips, cookouts and sleepovers. I wanted it to be fun and easy for people to participate and I opened the club to anyone interested. I never imagined that people would take advantage of that openness.



Most people who join a club do so to have fun and make friends. Most people view their membership as a privilege and treat the other members with respect. They enjoy learning from each other. Many form very strong and long friendships that go far beyond club activities. I have met some great people through my club that I consider very good friends.


Not everyone is really meant to be in a club. Most of the collectors in my club and other doll clubs are in their 30’s or older and should be mature and understand appropriate behavior in groups.  You would not expect to need to instruct them on being respectful and contributing positively to the group. In the beginning, we had no membership agreement in place or even asked for contributions for the expenses.  We just asked members to volunteer to host meetings and bring some food to share.


It soon became clear that some were taking advantage of that freedom. I noticed that one person in particular was always cancelling at the last minute and taking on responsibilities and failing to perform them with no excuse other than they changed their mind and wanted to do something else. They even would refuse to bring a snack to contribute at the meetings. This one member would make comments that I considered inappropriate but I let them go as no one complained to me. It became clear that this person was just not valuing the club. When they were removed from the club, they sent very nasty emails, tried to stir up all kinds of issues among the members, and engaged in some inappropriate online behaviors in forums that we both visit.


Another member that was engaging in bullying both before and after we put in place the new membership guidelines left the club under very unpleasant terms. Their last statement was that they would save us the trouble and quit. It wasn’t the end of their hostility and they felt the need to engage in more bullying when we encountered each other at a convention. They also regularly try to spread rumors and disparage the club and its members. It is sad that those that engage in these behaviors never seem to accept personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Most studies on adult bullies acknowledge that they will not change their behaviors and you just have to remove them from your life to the best of your ability.


The funny thing was that as soon as they were gone, I had many members email and call me to say they were very happy to see them gone and they had seen lots of bad behavior of the part of these members but felt like they were the only ones noticing and didn’t want to cause an issue.  In private, they had no problem sharing their concerns. They didn’t want to publicly make a stand. It is really sad because if they had come to me earlier, I would have taken steps to address the issues. I thought I was the only one having serious issues due to their behavior though others had also witnessed it and reported feeling uncomfortable around them as it continued.


Even sadder, these members still feel they have to pretend to be friendly with the other members to avoid issues with them. They are well aware of how unpleasant they are when confronted about their behavior. One person even still invites them to their events and they were the one that spent 90 minutes telling me how awful the person was and that they were thrilled to have them gone.  People are afraid of being the target of their attentions and leave it to someone else to have to deal with the issue. I know that not everyone feels strong enough to do it but you would be surprised by how good it feels to stand up for yourself and others. It really does build your confidence.


When this occurred in my club, I started asking other clubs about issues they have faced.  I was told that most clubs have members like this and the only difference was that I took action and removed them from the club. Some of the clubs had members for years that caused all kinds of issues and they lost club members who could not put up with them any longer. Others told me of clubs that ended due to these kinds of members being allowed to remain. One told me that a club had actually divided into two separate clubs over these kinds of member issues. They can cause real devastation if not stopped.


It is important to share your serious concerns with the club officials.  They can’t address them if they don’t know there is an issue. Club officials need to be open to this feedback and take the action needed to protect the club and the members. It is important to specify the disciplinary process in advance of issues. It is not fun to have to deal with member issues but it is the responsibility of those who have taken on the roles of club officials to handle the problems promptly and professionally according to the disciplinary process guidelines. I took no joy in having to remove members and gave them way too many chances to change. It was only after acknowledging that they were not going to change and that they were deliberately engaging in these behaviors that I was able to commit to the action that needed to be taken. I learned important lessons from these experiences and I will not give anyone else multiple opportunities to take advantage of the club and its members.  It is also important for club members to support their club officials and stand behind the decisions when they are made due to misconduct. It is not a personal issue between the member and the club official(s) but is club business and everyone is impacted.


  Online Boards & Groups

The Barbie Fan Club is where I first became involved in online discussions about dolls. Over the years, I have discovered many other boards and communities. Facebook has many online groups related to dolls. These online resources can be great for learning about the hobby and making friends. They can also attract the attention of people who want to use them for less fun reasons. In the last few years, I have noticed an increase in the instances of online bullying and have heard similar thoughts from other collectors. As I was getting ready to publish the article today, I saw another post on Facebook about bullying on a doll group. 

It is a small group that seems to go online regularly and make it their mission to attack others. On the Barbie Fan Club, there were two main posters that were doing this for years. There were many complaints posted publicly about the issue of bullying and private discussions reporting members. It was so obvious who were the major culprits that when one member went to post about another anonymously, I was easily able to identify the member in question. If someone posted something nice about a product, they accused them of bring a tool of Mattel and drinking the pink Kool-Aid. If they posted something critical, they were just complainers/whiners. I repeatedly see people complaining about people posting their thoughts that are less than positive about the products on boards. If someone posts good news about a deal on some sites, they might be accused of hoarding items or profiteering. It has made people be afraid to post anywhere for fear of nasty responses and even attacks.

Sometimes it gets really ugly. There is a real mean girls feel to some groups. On a Facebook doll group, one poster said horrible things about the personal appearance of a Mattel designer when they were supposed to be critiquing their doll. I was the only one who made a comment about it and asked them to focus on the dolls and not personal attacks. After my comment, others chimed in to support what I said and the discussion got back on track. The problem is that most don’t say something. If they do, they then go on a personal attack.

I have seen and heard about bullies carrying attacks out across multiple sites and groups. They will start posting about other collectors on all different sites. I have talked to some of those people who have been attacked like that and it really hurts them. Some bullies will search for personal information online and post that as well which makes them feel unsafe. They leave their victims feeling incredibly alone and violated. When I and others have offered them support, they are very appreciative.

The important thing is to find sites with moderators that make sure that these attacks are not permitted. If you see bullying, don’t ignore it. When someone occasionally gets out of line, nicely redirect them to the real topic or contact the moderator/owner and let them handle it. If you don’t have something nice or constructive to say, sometimes it really is best to not say anything at all.

Conventions & Events

I mentioned conventions and how much I have enjoyed them. Many of us spend thousands of dollars on these trips. We expect to have fun and often get the chance to support charities as well which makes it even better. I have had so much fun and some years would attend up to three events. There is nothing like a convention. I have made lifelong friends. I have also added wonderful items to my collection and learned valuable skills at workshops. My club joined the Steering Committee in 2011 and we are very involved in activities at the National Barbie Convention. We donate dolls and other items regularly to conventions as well and have raised thousands of dollars for charity. We also host a special event for a collector that is very popular called the Southern Event.  


You don’t expect to have other attendees ruin the convention experience for those in attendance. Most conventions would not tolerate that behavior but not all are as vigilant as they should be about addressing issues. It is important to research the events you are interested in attending and see if coordinators have policies in place to address problem behaviors. If issues occur, report them to those in charge.


At this time of year, my mom and I would normally be preparing to attend Grant-A-Wish in Livonia, Michigan. For the first time since I and other club members began attending in 2011, no one from my club is going. Many of us were stunned that they continue to allow someone to attend who has repeatedly misbehaved and attacked other attendees and hotel guests after they assured us that the person would no longer be attending.


This person started drinking and then brought a bag of alcoholic beverages to the charity auction several years ago. They became very loud and disruptive and would scream out to one of the auctioneers that they loved him. When one of the attendees asked them to quiet down, the person cursed at them and refused to do so. No one from the club addressed the issue at the event and the next morning many were talking about removing the person from future events. We were surprised when she came back again the next year and continued to attend.


Issues also continued. She was upset that a hotel guest (not an attendee) complained about loud noise so she bragged about putting a sign on their door telling others to knock hard on their door and that they were doing room sales. She choose to start a confrontation at a workshop and began raising her voice and was not willing to stop until repeatedly told to do so. A new attendee witnessed that event and later described it as an attack and said that they thought she just came in the room to cause an issue and didn’t even realize she was actually attending the class. The same year, the President of the club was called by hotel security at 2 a.m. and told that there was an issue with loud drunken noises coming from her room and they had received complaints.


After the call from the hotel, the President said they would handle the issue and was removing them from future events. When they found out it was the same person who caused other issues like at the auction, they stated that she was a bully and needed to be held accountable for her actions. They even expressed concern that she would attack them at Barbie Convention when she saw her there. They said a letter was being sent but the person was there again at the event the next year. When several tried to find out why, some were not even given the courtesy of a response and others got no real explanation for the reversal. She even complained that people had contacted her about the issue. In fact, many of the club members who hold the convention were under the impression that this attendee had been removed from the event years ago or at least suspended for some time after the auction issue.  


I can’t think of any reasonable explanation for letting someone attend who has repeatedly caused major issues, especially after promising they would no longer be attending. They even let her be a table host at the event the year after the issue at the hotel and workshop. This person does not engage in this behavior at other events where I believe they would hold her accountable. She knows she can get away with it and has no reason to change her behavior. It is up to other participants to decide if they want to associate with an event where those in charge have so little concern for the safety and comfort of the attendees. I really hope that the club will address the issue before more damage is done. They have raised a lot of money for great charity over the years. They now also have legal liability because they are aware of her past behaviors and are continuing to allow her to attend.

What Can You Do To Stop Bullying?

It is up to each of us to make the doll community welcoming to those from all different backgrounds. We need to understand and respect the differences out there. We are not all going to feel the same way but we have to be careful that we still show respect for those we are interacting with by online and in clubs and at events. There is no need to personally attack someone.


It is really easy to be kind. It doesn’t take a lot of work to find opportunities to say something nice and supportive.  A simple thank you to those who take the time to share their thoughts is much appreciated.  There are people out there who try to deliberately start a fight with others. Trolls is the word most commonly used for them. In some cases, its best to just ignore some negative comments and move on if you don’t think your response will be helpful.


We need to start a bandwagon. When someone is behaving disrespectfully to others and is going on the attack, we need to say something or go to someone in charge to report the concerns if we can’t address them. We all need to support the people being attacked and get the focus back on dolls and collecting. It really does come down to respect and holding people accountable for their actions.  Each and every one of us can make a difference.  It is time to take back our power.

 Links to Sites to Learn More About Bullying