After years of people asking for a realistic Barbie doll, the day has finally come when Mattel has introduced some body diversity into the famous toy line, and it is definitely a win. But what about Barbie's long-term boyfriend? Will we be getting a realistic Ken doll? Well, who knows what Mattel's plans might be, but people are certainly wondering if there might be a "dad bod Ken" in the works.
The new, body-positive Barbie dolls, which were announced this week and are already available online, come in a variety of body types and skin tones, and they're a major step forward for a brand that has long been synonymous with unrealistic body standards for girls. After all, until recently, Barbie dolls had proportions that were anatomically impossible, leading people to seek out more healthy alternatives. But now that Barbie is looking a lot more realistic, people have started to wonder: What about Ken?
Ken, Barbie's long-time boyfriend, has been around since 1961, almost as long as Barbie herself. And much like his girlfriend, Ken has always been patterned off a very particular ideal, one that calls to mind the word "dreamy." Ken dolls are tall, muscular, and with a perfect smile and perfect plastic hair.
But since Barbie is changing, people on Twitter wondered if Mattel would also be providing a "dad bod Ken."
Yes, it seems the Internet is more than ready for some body variety with Ken dolls, and it's a valid point. After all, promoting one particular body type to children is never healthy, especially when it remains mostly unchanging year after year — or in the case of Barbie and Ken, generation after generation. And boys do face consequences for our society's unhealthy body standards, just like girls do.
Still, while I would love to see more body diversity in the Ken-doll line up, I think the most important thing for the time being is that Barbie herself has more body diversity. For one thing, Ken's proportions might be unrealistic, but they are at the very least physically possible. If a human woman with Barbie's relative dimensions were to ever truly exist, she wouldn't even be able to stand up. Ken might be an unrealistic ideal, but at least he's a theoretically possible one.
Additionally, Barbie and Ken dolls are primarily marketed to and bought by young girls. In general, boys don't play with Ken, and their exposure to him is relatively minimal — though if young boys like playing with Ken or Barbie, good for them! But Ken is certainly not marketed as the toy for boys, the way Barbie is positioned for girls. And boys seem to be less affected by body image issues in our society in general — which isn't at all to say that male body image issues are less important, just that they're unlikely to be badly affected by a doll that they rarely play with.
So even though the Ken doll isn't promoting the healthiest male body standards right now, I'm not going to be too critical if Mattel doesn't roll out new Ken body types right away, especially as they're still navigating response to the new Barbies. Which definitely should be the priority right now.
Still, body diversity matters, and eventually Mattel really should create a more body-positive line-up for Barbie's boyfriend. Even if Ken might not be contributing to young boys' body image issues in the same way or to the same degree that Barbie can influence young girls, Ken does inform girls' understanding of what an ideal male body is. And in general I support the idea that society is healthier for everyone the more we realize there is no such thing as a single ideal, for men or women.
So in that spirit, bring on the "dad bod Ken," I guess. Or, you know, maybe just the normal-looking Ken. That would be a good start.