Best advice if you’re thinking about dating the world’s most famous doll with the world’s most popular movie? Run, Ken, run!

By Paul Kennedy


I feel for Ken, the poor sap.

It’s not his fault. Not really. There are forces at work in the universe we are powerless against. I can speak with some authority on the subject – being a member of the male species my entire life – when I say that every man, plastic or otherwise, has made a fool of himself over a pretty face.

And Barbie, Ken’s longstanding girlfriend, is most definitely a pretty face. She started life as a teenage fashion model, for crying out loud. Ken was doomed from the start. And it’s only gotten worse.

Today, Barbie is the world’s most famous doll with the world’s most popular movie. Imagine trying to keep up with that as a boyfriend.

While it may be true that Barbie has had a little, um, plastic work done over the years, she still looks marvelous for someone “born” in 1959. Make no mistake about it, this is Barbie’s world and we’re just guests at her fabulous Dreamhouse.

All of which means that Ken, her long-suffering, doofus of a boyfriend is destined to further embarrassment in the Barbie-verse. Too harsh? I don’t think so.

Look no further than Ken and Barbie in their matching golf outfits from 1971. No way that was Ken’s idea. Sure, Barbie looks great in her yellow blouse, plaid skirt and matching plaid cap, turquoise knit knee socks and matching tennis shoes. Sporting and fashionable. That’s Barbie.

Barbie and Ken dolls in matching golf outfits

As for Ken? Please. No self-respecting man – plastic or otherwise – shows up at the local country club in a plaid shirt, red pants, yellow tie(!), plaid brimmed cap and white sneakers unless he’s looking forward to 18 holes of ridicule. I don’t care how pretty or convincing your girlfriend might be, you just don’t do that. No, Ken. Just no.

Do you think for a second G.I. Joe would be caught dead wearing that? Of course not. But then again, G.I. Joe was introduced in 1964 as an “action figure.” Ken was introduced in 1961 as a Barbie “accessory.” Big difference, that.

G.I. Joe was rugged. He was a soldier, a Marine, a sailor, a pilot. He had scuba gear and carried a knife. He came out of the box with a freaking scar on his face. And he went off to war, always going undefeated in untold backyard battles. If G.I. Joe wore a matching outfit, it was khaki green with black boots and dog tags.

Ken came into the world with delicate carpet fuzz hair, red swim trunks and a tag on his wrist that read “Genuine Ken,” so as not to be confused with other slender, boyish looking dolls destined to be made fun of by G.I. Joe and his drinking buddies. Instead of backyard battles, Ken went off to the local rink wearing a lamé ice-dancer outfit that coordinated perfectly with Barbie’s.


Still, Ken had a girlfriend and G.I. Joe did not. That should count for something.

Ken met Barbie in 1961 on the set of his very first commercial. Her career as a fashion model was already well established. As for Ken? He could be anything Barbie – and the millions of little girls around the world – wanted him to be. So yes, from the very start, Ken was compliant. The final frame of the Mattel commercial that introduced Ken to the world shows the pair dressed as bride and groom while a narrator suggests we “see where the romance will lead.”

Ken and Barbie were inseparable. Until they weren’t.

In 2004 – after 43 years of dating! – Barbie dumped Ken. The split was covered in the tabloids with all the rigor of an A-list celebrity breakup. Mattel claimed Barbie and Ken simply wanted to “spend some quality time — apart.” Fear not, Mattel promised, Barbie and Ken would “remain friends.”

No man, plastic or otherwise, wants to “remain friends” with a girlfriend who brushed him aside for someone else. Barbie’s new love? An Australian boogie boarder named Blaine.


Because Barbie and Ken live in the plastic world, where hearts are easily mended, they got back together seven years later – on Valentine’s Day, naturally.

The question is not whether the romance will last – it will – but whether the romance should last?

I know what G.I. Joe would do. He’d get a Barbie tattoo on his chest in the shape of a barbed-wired heart with a knife thrust through it and move on. And let me tell you, Ken, at this point, that’s something any sensible man, plastic or otherwise, should consider.


Editorial Director Paul Kennedy

Paul Kennedy is the Editorial Director of Kovels Antique Trader. You can reach him at

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