Mattel has recently been pulling out all the stops to ingratiate themselves with woke Millennials and Gen Z-ers, from creating a Barbie based on curve model Ashley Graham to releasing dolls with a broader range of skin tones. These are definitely decisions worth applauding (though it’s hard to say how much they really do to reverse the legacy of blond-haired, blue-eyed, impossibly-proportioned beauty standards the company spent decades shamelessly perpetuating) but their new line of “cool” Ken dolls has certainly taken things in an unexpected direction.
In addition to releasing Barbie’s boyfriend in a wider range of skin tones and body types (which is, again, applaudable) Mattel also took it upon themselves to style various versions of him like caricatures of Brooklynites drawn circa 2013 by someone who has perhaps never actually been to Brooklyn. Which means man buns, Buddy Holly glasses, and skinny jeans. There are the dolls some are (perhaps problematically?) referring to as “Dad Bod Ken,” as well as the ones that the company is billing as “Cactus Cooler,” “Camo Comeback,” “Preppy Check,” and “Hyped on Stripes” Ken. And, yes, in case you were wondering, one of them is wearing some kind of Hawaiian shirt, just like that drunk guy you met last weekend at your friend’s house party. Another is sporting a skinny tie with a short-sleeve button down and slim-leg trousers, much like a dude you might encounter during your morning commute on the L train.
“In the past Ken was really viewed as more of an accessory in Barbie’s world, to support the narrative of whatever was happening with the girls,” Mattel’s Michael Shore tells GQ‘s Caity Weaver in this must-read article about the new and sartorially improved Ken.
That, apparently, is no longer the case. With his ostensibly au courant fashion sense and sexy, racially ambiguous new looks, it seems far more likely today’s Ken is too busy building his Instagram following or planning his annual pilgrimage to Burning Man to maintain a serious relationship. Unless, of course, Barbie has tattoos and a job as a freelance model/ceramicist/urban gardener. Then they might be able to work something out.