By Joe Roberts @JROBERTSJOURNO
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Videographer / director: Scott Hoon
Producer: Joe Roberts, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
A GIRL who refers to herself as a ‘living art doll’ has opened up about how developing an expressive personal style helped her overcome severe hardship.
Skye McLaughline, of Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania, endured years of bullying before she combined her love of art, makeup, and fashion to create her unique look.
Inspired by drag, clowns, dolls, and Japanese Harajuku fashion, Skye worked on creating her ‘living art doll’ style, using elaborate makeup to ‘caricature emotions’, despite being told she was “too fat” to be a doll.
Skye, whose ‘looks’ can take up to 12 hours to create, told Barcroft Studios: “I remember when I started calling myself a living doll when I was a teenager and people were like, ‘You can’t be a living doll, you’re fat.’
“I was just like, ‘Watch me’ and here we are.
“I think people always look at living dolls and they’re trying to be perfect. I think that being an art doll is the opposite of that. You are a caricature of expression.
“In the same way that drag is a caricature of masculinity or femininity, this is a caricature of feelings. It's cool because it's ephemeral. It only exists for a short time, and then it's completely gone. It's much like feelings in that way.”
The 25-year-old regularly wears her intricate makeup creations in public, and credits her experiences with bullying as the impetus for her turning to such a specialised form of artistic expression.
“My makeup was a form of escapism,” she said. “School was really hard. I was bullied terribly as a young person, physically assaulted, people stalked me just to be mean. I ended up having to drop out of school just to get away.”
“Not only were regular kids mean to me, but even the kids that were weird art kids were mean to me. There wasn’t a group that I was a part of. I was an outcast among outcasts.
“It's almost like they could smell it, because it started so early. I was in kindergarten when people started bullying me. What does a kindergartener even do?
“I have struggled with my mental health for many years. And I feel like art has literally saved my life. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't discovered it.”
It was during school that Skye developed an interest in special effects, and although she couldn’t afford the makeup she wanted, the inventive young artist began using marker pens to experiment on herself.
On one occasion she used the markers to draw gruesome injuries on her arms during a maths class, and did such a credible job, her teacher was convinced they were real and panicked when Skye raised her hand to answer a question.
“I ended up getting called to the principal's office,” she said. “And they were like, ‘We're going to need you to stop doing that, because you're really upsetting some people,’ and I was like, ‘I’m not going to stop, but okay.’”
Skye’s troubles didn’t end when she eventually dropped out of high school. At just 16 Skye was sexually assaulted, and says she had to deal with that trauma all by herself.
But following the dark experiences that made up much of her developmental years, Skye pursued her love of art and special effects, and began working as a makeup artist before getting a job in a haunted house attraction at 19.
“It was the most fun job of my life,” she said. “I had so much crazed, manic energy from all this pent-up anger and I got to let that crazy person out by being a clown and I would scare grown men to the ground.
“It was a fun power trip. I really discovered that makeup was more than just something that was superficial, something that you use to look better, because you could use it to look awful, and scary, and I love that.”
Aside from creating her own personal styles, Skye has an art studio at her home, where she lives with her parents, and uses her spare time to work on art restoration and modifying her three ball-jointed dolls.
“My dolls really are just a hobby,” she said. “I did years of research before I bought one and I learned how to do everything; how to repair them, how to modify them, how to string them, how all their mechanisms work.”
After experiencing isolation in her youth, Skye gained the confidence to share her artistic style with others, and has gained a significant following on social media – racking up over 30,000 followers on Instagram.
Friend, Bee, said: “When I first saw Skye I thought she was gorgeous, I remember the first time I saw her pictures I was like, ‘How on earth does she do that with her face?’
“It’s amazing to me how she can transform her entire look to just look like whatever she pictures in her mind. It blows me away every time.”
Now, despite her negative experiences growing up, Skye has developed a unique kind of confidence that allows her to go out in public in full garb without fear of what people will say. In fact, she has noticed that people are generally very complimentary.
She said: “It's exciting to go and be in a place where nobody knows who you are, and people will come up to you and people are really nice to me.
“They are always really interested. ‘What is this for? Where are you going?’ and I'm just like, ‘I’m just living’. It's fun to have your own little walking art gallery for people to admire as they go by.”
In the future, Skye aims to make a living off her art and even hopes to use her musical talents break into the music industry.
And although her intricate makeup and eye-catching fashion is impressive, perhaps the most striking feature of Skye’s personality is her ability to forgive those who made her early years so difficult.
“There is a great level of understanding that comes with growing up,” she said. “As your brain develops, you get a better sense of just what things mean and what I learned as I got older is that everyone in high school is suffering. It's not just you.
“You become their punching bag, but they are toughing it out like you are. I've had a lot of people come to me and apologise for how they treated me. And because we're all growing up, people deserve to be forgiven.
“Now, when I see somebody make a negative comment, I know that that has absolutely no reflection on me as a person.”