Not every doll lives on the shelf in a box packaged at the Mattel Factory. Not every doll is white, cisgender, ball-jointed with blue eyes. Some dolls are made through magic, self-creation and manifestation, like Devin Halbal, a 23-year-old TikTok star and writer from the Bronx with "Met Gala"-sized fashion dreams. Here is a doll out of the box and into the world, documenting her beauty and that of the earth through her travels, selfie stick and penguin bag in tow. Here is a doll that everyone loves to play with for her musings on travel, fashion, fine cuisines, geology, archeology, architecture and kindness, but she refuses to be collected for her own sanity.
With nearly 300 thousand followers and counting on TikTok, Halbal, more popularly known as "Hal Baddie," is carving out a path for herself in today’s very complicated age of representation. "I need to make this space for me and other girls to come after me because we deserve to be on magazine covers," she tells PAPER over the phone. "And I’m not talking about the dolls that get their work done. I’m talking about dolls who can't afford surgeries. I’m talking about dolls with beards. I think it’s really crazy that we still really don’t have models that are trans women who aren’t cis passing or 100% passing. We need models with beards. We need girls with five o'clock shadows," she continues.
Skirt and corset: Wiederhoeft, Bodysuit: Nihl, Shoes: Fluevog, Headpiece: Elena Velez, Sunglasses: Balenciaga
There is an unyielding expectation for dolls to be perfect, but here is a doll that shows up expressing her most vulnerable and authentic self. She’s shared videos of herself crying to videos getting her beard shaved in Turkey. "Dolls cry for a lot of reasons," she says in the most Cancerian tone. "Being a doll has made me very emotional and very understanding of myself and the world around me. It encapsulates my mood as a person — my aura."
"People live for doll energy. People live for Met Gala behavior."
She goes on, "The thing that is so interesting about being a doll is you literally live in a world where all the images and society around you tell you that you’re not the beauty standard and then when you enter the world the trade is trading. People live for doll energy. People live for Met Gala behavior. I’m constantly being sold images [that want me] to strive to be someone else and to strive to look like someone else, but in my real life I know that is not true. People love dolls and they wish that they could be dolls because dolls are special."
Top and skirt: Adrienne Landau, Necklace: 1017 ALYX 9SM, Shoes: Luar, Bag: Sever Studio
Hal Baddie has become an inspiration for many people all over the world, and while her influence has cast a wide net online, she is witnessing brands like Fashion Nova and Mejuri use her likeness for free while placing white models as the face of their content. In a recent Instagram post she writes, "Companies like Fashion Nova, Mejuri and others have used my audios to promote their products without paying me or putting me on their PR list. In fact, Fashion Nova didn’t even give me credit for my voice. This just isn’t okay. And this is disrespectful to me, the artist."
This is not the first time this has happened and it follows a trend of companies divorcing the voices of Black and POC TikTok creators from their image without giving them proper credit. Halbal has never shied away from advocating for herself. She has written pieces for Refinery29 and Teen Vogue in the past about survivorship and diversity of gender expression in clothing. Her TikTok follows this trajectory of thought production and philosophy.
Dress and necktie: Lorena Pipenco, Shoes: AGL (Purple PR)
The future of Hal Baddie is without a doubt as bright as the light she emanates from her phone screen. Who could refuse her precious smile, quirky laughter, charm and wit to boot? It’s impossible. She’s even inspired a "Hal Baddie"-themed party. "My supporters really connect to me because my content is not superficial," she says. "People view me as a safe space because I am a trans woman, because I’m a marginalized person. In short, they think I’m their therapist because I’m being vulnerable online, sharing my innermost thoughts."
"People view me as a safe space because I am a trans woman, because I’m a marginalized person."
She continues, "I think it’s interesting, too, because I used to co-facilitate a trans support group at the LGBT Center when I was in college. I was interning there and I feel like so much of the messages I get from people on TikTok remind me very much of that time of my life where I feel like I had to support people a lot. It can be overwhelming when you also just are trying to live your life and figure things out for yourself. I’m still figuring out my boundaries."
Jacket, and skirt: Saint Sintra, Earrings: Shiny Squirrel, Shoes: Lorena Pipenco
The pressure to show up for people depending upon your presence daily can be consuming to the point of lifelessness, much like a doll on the shelf, and it makes me wonder when Halbal has time to herself — and what rest looks for her. "TikTok and the work that I do is restorative, she says. "I’m talking about and doing things that I like. Also going for walks and runs. I love to run. And traveling." Next on her list are places like Italy, Maldives, Jordan and South Africa.
The space Halbal has assembled on TikTok is healing for both herself — her inner child, especially — and the millions of people watching from their phones. Moving forward, she desires to activate and elevate her presence in the fashion world. She’s been contacted by brands Pyer Moss and Kim Shui, and even sent items from the underwear line Parade. In addition, she has plans of creating a high fashion merch line and a one-woman fashion show to come in the future. We must all stay tuned and elevate, elevate, elevate.
Dress, leg warmers and gloves: Gogo Graham, Clips: Death in Mid-Winter, Shoes: Dubié (Lindsey Media)