Ken's identity crisis solved . . . for now
By Patrick Arden / Metro New York
FEB 10, 2006
FLATIRON DISTRICT - His full name is Ken Carson, but most people know him simply as "Ken."
He'll turn 45 in March, though he looks remarkably young for his age. He's been a pilot, a doctor, a sailor and an Olympic ice skater. Now he's supposed to save an American icon.
U.S. sales of the Barbie doll, the world's most famous toy, dropped by 18 percent last quarter. In an effort to redeem its meal ticket, Mattel turned to her lesser half yesterday, unveiling an updated Ken, which was cast aside two years ago in a well-publicized break-up with Barbie.
"In the two years that they were separated, Ken did a lot of traveling and soul searching," said celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who oversaw Ken's makeover.
As Mattel's publicity machine spins it, a heartbroken Ken went to Europe and the Middle East, learned to cook, studied Buddhism and finally decided he wanted Barbie back.
"Everyone knows how difficult it is to change, especially when you've lived your life a certain way for more than four decades," Bloch said. "But you've got to find yourself before you can find your way back to the one you love."
"This is an adult story line," noted Jeannie Banks Thomas, author of "Naked Barbies, Warrior Joes, and Other Forms of Visible Gender."
Barbie's creator, Ruth Handler, thought the self-esteem of girls could be boosted before puberty by playing with a doll that looked like an adult.
"When she introduced Barbie in 1959, all the male execs freaked out, because this was a doll with breasts," Thomas said. "You can imagine what happened when it came to Ken's groin. Finally they settled on what she called 'Ken's bump' -- there's no there there."
"Barbie has this adult body, so kids can use her to imagine what their adult lives will be like," Thomas said. But Ken proved problematic. "He's really Barbie's accessory."
Ken changed with the fashions -- his hair grew long in the '70s and he became a leather man in the '90s.
"That was Earring Magic Ken," recalled Thomas. "People felt it was a gay Ken."
Looking at the newly revamped doll yesterday, Thomas noted Ken was now sporting what looked like a purse.
"Mattel is probably doing what they find girls are attracted to," she said.
"Ken's body proportions are close to normal. If you're male you have a 1 in 50 chance of looking like Ken, whereas if you're female you have a 1 in 100,000 chance of looking like Barbie. It's good little girls find something closer to normal more appealing. It's nice he's getting his moment in the sun."
[Originally ran with photo by Patrick Arden/Metro] The various looks of Mattel’s Ken doll over the last four decades.