Last month, Ken and his friends received a reality-infused makeover, making the dolls look less like plastic gods and more like the men they’re supposed to emulate. Between three different body types, seven skin colors, and nine hairstyles, Ken is putting down fewer “Come on Barbie, let’s go party” vibes and is instead looking like a guy we might encounter (for better or worse) on Tinder or even at a women’s march.
Ken’s latest evolution might be his most dramatic makeover yet, but it certainly isn’t the most iconic or buzzworthy. Here are some interesting facts about Ken before he got the license to rock a man bun.
12 fabulous facts about the Ken doll
1) Ken’s last name is Carson
The Ken doll was first introduced in 1961 and was named after the son of Ruth and Elliot Handler, the inventors of the Barbie doll (incestuously enough, Barbie was also named after the couple’s daughter :eyes emoji:). According to fansite Keeping Ken, Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. Ken, however, was never given a middle name.
2) The real Ken never had a real job
Ken Handler ended up marrying a woman named Suzie. The couple lived in Manhattan together with their three kids, where Ken wrote music and plays for fun. He died at the age of 50 in 1994 on the afternoon of his daughter’s wedding.
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3) It took Ken 11 years to get “real” hair…
Mod Hair Ken was the first Ken doll to have rooted hair, and his character was true to his name. He came with a stick-on beard, sideburns, and two moustaches. His packaging also emphasized just how comb-able his mane was.
4) And a real beard
Meanwhile, Shaving Fun Ken allowed kids to lather up Ken’s face and “shave” his beard, making it disappear with warm water.
5) Ken’s most common career is “Beach Bum”
Though Ken has had many professions, “Beach Bum” has been reproduced into 12 different versions between 1962 and 2002. Following in a tie for second are “Escort,” and “Tourist,” with 10 boxed dolls each. And at third is “Prince,” with six boxed dolls.
6) In the ’90s, the country went wild when a woman and her daughter discovered a My First Ken doll dressed in Barbie clothes on the shelves of a Toys “R” Us
The Ken doll in question was dressed in a purple tank top with a lace-covered polka-dotted skirt. After Toys “R” Us employees at the Florida store confirmed the box’s seal hadn’t been tampered with, Carina Guillot and her 12-year-old daughter Jocelyn took the doll home. “Cross Dressing Ken,” as the media dubbed the doll, went viral (by ’90s standards) and was featured on The Arsenio Hall Show and The Joan Rivers Show, and in Fortune and Newsweek. Collectors offered Guillot up to $4,000 for the doll, but the family didn’t bite. Meanwhile, Mattel had no explanation for the doll’s dressings other than it being a “production error.”
As it turns out, a Toys “R” Us evening employee admitted to redressing Ken and said he carefully resealed the box as to give the appearance the doll arrived that way; it was a common store prank, the employee explained. The employee was fired four days after confessing.
“We always did crazy things like that,” Ron Zero told the Associated Press at the time. “We’d hang dolls in the aisle or put Ken and Barbie in the Barbie house with Barbie spanking Ken.”
7) Earring Magic Ken is the most profitable Mattel doll in history—but only because he became an unlikely gay icon
The Ken doll, which was released in 1993 as an accessory character to Earring Magic Barbie, came with a purple vest, a pink mesh shirt, a pierced left ear, and two “hoop” accessories—one worn as a pendant, and another attached to Ken’s vest. Mattel’s marketing and communication manager explained the company had surveyed young girls to see if Barbie should get a new boyfriend, or stick with Ken. Girls voiced that they wanted Ken to stay, but thought he should be more cool.
So, as columnist Dan Savage put it for Seattle’s Stranger at the time, Mattel went after what’s “cool” and capitalized off gay culture—or the “homoerotic fashions and imagery” girls watched on MTV, from Madonna’s dancers to raves. The most telling detail? Ken’s “necklace charm holder hoops” looked a lot like cock rings.
“On closer inspection, Ken’s entire Earring Magic outfit turns out to be three-year-old rave wear. A purple faux-leather Gaultier vest, a straight-out-of-International Male purple mesh shirt, black jeans, and shoes. It would seem Mattel’s crack Ken-redesign team spent a weekend in LA or New York dashing from rave to rave, taking notes and Polaroids,” Savage wrote at the time.
While Earring Magic Ken became Mattel’s best-selling Ken doll of all time, much thanks to gay customers purchasing the unintentional gay icon, Mattel discontinued the doll and recalled the rest.
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8) Ken and Barbie actually broke up in 2004
All good things must come to an end. After 43 years, Ken and his beloved Barbie parted ways. If that wasn’t a big enough bummer for Barbie fans, mere months later Barbie began dating an Australian surfer doll named Blaine.
To promote their new Cali Girl doll line, Mattel had Barbie stans vote on Barbie’s next suitor in an online poll. Barbie could get back together with Ken, nature boy Steven, adventurous Steven, Blaine the Aussie, or stay single. After more than a million votes, Blaine won the throne as Barbie’s new beau.
9) However, the dolls got back together again in 2011, just in time for their 50th anniversary
This time, Mattel used Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and YouTube to launch an ad campaign for Ken’s efforts to win Barbie back. Social media accounts for the dolls updated fans on Ken’s grand gestures and Barbie’s indecision with getting back with her longtime boyfriend.
Mattel even launched a web series on Hulu called , where eight men competed to become “the Great American Boyfriend.”
How serendipitous and not totally planned!
10) Last year, a Sacramento bakery was overwhelmed with orders after a cake of a bejeweled Ken in a pink dress went viral
The cake was originally thought to be a transgender Ken or a political cake, but someone who attended the party where it was served said the party host was neither transgender nor attempting to make a political statement.
While some dissenters left negative comments on Freeport Bakery’s Facebook page after it shared an image of the cake, tens more positive comments were left by supporters around the world. After going viral, the bakery began receiving orders for the Ken-specific cake.
Today, Freeport Bakery frequently pays homage to their original Ken cake.
Ken graduated! Congratulations.
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It's a pool party! Ken's ready for a swim.
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Happy 4th! Check out how Caitlyn did the buttercream work on the skirt. It's amazing.
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11) Several men have tried, to varying degrees of success, to become “real-life Ken dolls”
Quentin Dehar, a 24-year-old France TV personality who aspires to be like Ken, broke up with his Barbie-like girlfriend Anastasia Reskoss in February after she dyed her blonde mane brown. The two allegedly began dating in 2013 over their shared interest in the doll couple and even had matching Ken and Barbie cars.
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