Hey, and by the way… what’s Ken‘s story? Always considered a prop, an accessory; always a spectator, never a protagonist, Barbie‘s eternal boyfriend also has a past worth telling. Like Barbie, Ken has also been able to adapt to the new times; he has gone through many looks and fashions and has managed to reinvent his relationship with the iconic doll.
Not many remember, but Barbie and Ken broke up in 2004 and returned in 2006. That episode deserves a separate article, but the fact is that Mattel has also added storytelling to the life of this plastic man. Let’s talk about his story.
Ken was introduced to the market in 1961 as the boyfriend of the famous Barbie doll, just a few months after Barbie. He was created by Ruth Handler, one of the founders of Mattel, together with her husband Elliot Handler.
The idea of creating a boyfriend for the Barbie doll came when Ruth noticed that little girls enjoyed imagining romantic stories and couple games with their dolls. The story goes that she was inspired by her daughter, Barbara, who enjoyed playing with dolls and creating stories for them.
The name “Ken” was chosen in honor of Ruth Handler’s son, Kenneth. The idea was that Ken would be Barbie’s ideal boyfriend, a companion for her adventures and fantasy play. With this vision in mind, Ruth Handler and the Mattel team developed the design and concept for the Ken doll.
They got it right: he quickly became a hit, complementing Barbie’s play world and giving girls an option for representing romantic relationships in their imaginary games.
The First Ken
The first Ken had blonde hair and wore a red bathing suit with a towel over his shoulder. He was marketed as Barbie’s “male friend” and was designed to be her partner.
Some of his main features:
- Hair: The first Ken had blond hair, short and combed back, not a trace of sideburns as dictated by the “good manners” of the time. Hair color and style could vary slightly in different editions.
- Clothing: He wore a red one-piece bathing suit. He had a white towel draped over one of his shoulders.
- Accessories: towel, sunglasses, and beach flip-flops to complement his attire.
- Face: His expression was friendly and smiling. He had eyes painted with a specific color and lips lined.
- Body: He was molded in plastic and had joints in his arms, legs, and head, which allowed him to move and adopt different poses.
- Height: He was approximately 12 inches tall (30.5 centimeters), which made him similar in size to the Barbie doll.
Over the years, Ken has had different looks and styles. He has had a wide variety of hairstyles, eye colors, and skin tones to reflect the diversity and evolving expectations of male beauty in society. In addition to his style, his occupations have also changed.
Ken has had many professions and roles; for example, he has been a doctor, firefighter, pilot, astronaut, chef, athlete, and more. This reflects the idea that men can have different interests and careers.
In 2017, Mattel launched a more diverse line of Ken dolls, including different skin tones, body types, and hairstyles. This initiative sought to promote inclusion and representation in toys.
Allan, Ken’s Buddy
In 1963, Mattel launched Ken’s first friend, Allan Sherwood, introducing them as an additional option for girls who wanted to expand the world of their dolls.
Allan was dark-haired and had a different personality than Ken; he tended to have dark hair and usually came with a shorter, more modern hairstyle compared to Ken. His style could vary in different editions; he could wear formal suits, casual clothes, or swimsuits, just like Ken. His clothes were designed to reflect contemporary men’s fashion trends.
Ken’s friend also had a friendly, smiling expression, similar to Ken’s. He had painted eyes and lined lips, just like other dolls in the Barbie line. Allan was often portrayed as a close friend of Barbie, a romantic partner, a confidant, or a participant in various activities and adventures. His personality could be molded and defined by the creativity of the girls who played with him.
Allan did not take too much of a leading role. Instead, to this day, Ken remains a popular companion to the Barbie doll. His story and evolution reflect the changes in society and gender expectations over time, making him an enduring icon in the toy world.
This story was written in Spanish by Kate Nateras in Cultura Colectiva