Starting now, Mattel is re-imagining the all-American guy. Mattel has spent the better part of six decades teaching children that Barbie and Ken are white; that Barbie and Ken are sculpted like Hellenistic statues, only pornier, despite lacking genitals; that Barbie and Ken have friends—that some of their best imaginary friends are black—but that at the end of the day those friends are not quite A-list superstars like Barbie and Ken. Millennial moms declared Barbie out of sync with their values.He may not be as inspiring as an imaginary female solo homeowner or the first imaginary female president, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a rich imaginary inner life. Suddenly incentivized to embrace au courant inclusivity, the toymaker had two choices: upend the entire Barbie universe by promoting all her friends to equal status or keep Barbie and Ken at the center of it and just make everyone—regardless of race, shape, or hairstyle—Barbie and Ken.These “play patterns” often take the form of standard serial-killer-type behavior: stripping Barbie and Ken naked, styling and re-styling Barbie’s hair.
For decades, he achieved icon status by being a basic, buff, blue-eyed bro. Even if you never played with Ken, his tiny footfall has reverberated through your life; he charges in early in the formative years of the fairer sex, setting an impossible standard for males against which you will be judged forever. Starting today, as part of a wide-ranging relaunch, Ken has cornrows. Over the years, he has blossomed into a sculpted, perma-tanned icon of American masculinity.Ken is the first man—or, technically, eunuch—many little girls will ever see nude.Consequently, he teaches young ladies that men are meant to have bodies like Olympic water-polo players.From the waiting area, I am escorted to a blazing pink conference room, where I learn that, as with Barbie’s religion, the offcial company position is that Ken has no age—and also that he is roughly 18, even though he has held many adult jobs.
He is perpetually dating Barbie but, despite their many nuptial ceremonies, has never married her.
I had to go to the company headquarters if I wanted a look at these new Kens.
And so, borne by the promise that I could spend a few minutes studying the prototypes as long as I did not photograph them nude, I set off for Ken’s native land: California, near the airport.
The design center is where the company’s ultra-confidential toy prototypes are invented before being discreetly sent abroad for manufacturing.
It is Mattel’s version of the Wonka factory, and, accordingly, every outsider is treated with suspicion.
(Per Mattel, all of Ken and Barbie’s weddings are “dream” weddings.) Ken has no children but has been sold alongside a toddler “sibling” for whom he is the only apparent caretaker.