Thursday, March 15, 2001

Barbie's boy toy

It's time for Ken to get a life

        Light the candles, hang the Over the Hill banners and blow up the black balloons. Ken is turning 40.

        Barbie's remarkably faithful boyfriend first appeared at her side in 1961 and to mark his birthday Mattel has tarted him up in a badly fitting dinner jacket. This boy toy deserves better.

        Although Conspicuous Consumption Barbie's Dream House is big enough for two and there have been several Dream Wedding Barbies in glorious gowns, we have no evidence that there ever was an actual ceremony.

        It appears that Living in Sin Barbie merely gave Ken a drawer for his swim suits and instructions to empty the Dream Kitty Litter while she was taking the bar exam. He's lucky she didn't make him wear a French maid's uniform.

Junk Bond Barbie
        In May of 1993, there were rumors. Earring Magic Ken in black pants with pink stitching and a lilac net shirt appeared to be experimenting with an alternative lifestyle. Speculation was quelled a year later when Locket Surprise Barbie appeared carrying Ken's picture.

        Barbie has changed with the times, beginning as a teen fashion model and dabbling later in everything from surgery to fashion design. Among her accessories in 1979 was a fur and jewelry safe with a security alarm. I think we can assume shortly after that Junk Bond Barbie became a leveraged buyout specialist. In 1984, Barbie was marketed with the slogan “We girls can do anything.” Accessories included a briefcase, calculator and business card.

        She has had 17 dogs, 12 horses, five cats and three ponies. She has been dressed by Blass and Versace. Barbie's military uniforms were reviewed by the Pentagon to ensure realism. To some, she has been all too real.

Musical Ken
        Barbie has been blamed for everything from bulimia to breast implants, but M.G Lord, who wrote, Forever Barbie, claims “Barbie was a revelation. She didn't teach us to nurture, like our clinging Betsy Wetsys and Chatty Cathys. She taught us independence.”

        And Ken's lesson is that men are an accessory, out of sight unless needed for the occasional Dream Date. His creator, Ruth Handler, successfully fought male executives at Mattel who wanted to add a bulge to Ken's groin, meanwhile sending Barbie out into the world with breasts like torpedoes.

        At first, Ken was not only seriously abridged but skinny. In 1968, he was buffed up and sold as “New, Good Lookin' Ken.” Barbie, always dramatically proportioned, had a nose job in 1997.

        The dolls were named for Ruth Handler's children. She and her husband, Elliott, founded Mattel in 1948. Ken Handler, a father of three who died in 1994, was a New York real estate investor and philanthropist. He told People magazine in 1989 that “Ken is Malibu. He goes to the beach and surfs. I was the kind of kid who played piano and went to movies with subtitles. All the girls thought I was a jerk.”

        Maybe. But he sounds like just the kind of guy a grown-up girl would like to get to know. I'm not suggesting that Ken become anatomically correct on his 40th birthday or, worse, politically correct. But wouldn't it be nice if little girls could collect Car Pool Daddy Ken or Deacon Ken or Soccer Coach Ken or Boy Scout Leader Ken? If that's too much to ask, maybe Barbie could at least give him his own keys to the Dream House.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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