Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Feminization of Ken

When I was a little girl, Barbies were kind of my life. Well, toys in general were my life, but Barbies were in that special zone of versatility where anything that could happen to a person could happen to a Barbie. Barbie had lots of fun clothes, tons of shoes, accessories out her cute little wazoo, she had a bunch of friends, and she could drive the pink Barbie Jeep Grand Cherokee even though she always seemed to lose a shoe when she did.

But the best thing Barbie had? A boyfriend. Oh yeah. And not only did Barbie have a boyfriend, but she had options for a boyfriend. There was (these are what I named my Barbies, by the way) Michael, the first Ken doll I ever had. Michael was a blonde, blue-eyed teenage basketball Ken that came with a cool jacket, sneakers, the nylon shorts, and a basket ball. In later years, Michael's head would come off and have to be glued back on, so he never was able to look to the side, but Michael had the glorious status of being my first Ken.

The next I got for my birthday when I was six or so, and I got a Belle and a Beast Barbie set. This Ken doll was *dun dun dun*, our villain, Daniel. Because he had long, "real" hair, and he was ugly. Or at least, nowhere near the Leonardo DiCaprio-like cuteness of Michael. But let's face it, that particular Disney prince never did have the looks like the other ones did, although I have warmed to him more in my adult life.

Next Ken in line was actually named Ken, but he was my sister's first Ken doll. With his hard plastic hair and good looks, he got to be boyfriend to a whole host of desperate Barbies. We had a lot of Barbies, mind you. A LOT of Barbies. I can't even remember how many now. But I can tell you all of them had names, we had an Evil Stepmother/Villainess Barbie, and we even had Skipper and a whole bunch of Kelly's.

And then . . . then we got the real deal. Mr. Hottie himself, the cream of the crop, the Supreme Hunk . . . Facial Hair Ken. *Swoon* This Ken had it all. "Real" but normal guy length brown hair, wonderful blue eyes, he smelled vaguely like Old Spice, and the best part . . . he had facial hair. A beard and mustache that just screamed masculinity. There was a new Ken in town, and he was taking no prisoners.

His name was Kevin, and with his arrival the dating lives of Michael and Ken suddenly became not quite as exciting as they'd been before. They got shuffled off to the side and set with permanent girlfriends, Michael got Melissa until her head popped off and then he got the redhead cowgirl Amber. And Ken got to date the two blonde twins. Daniel dated Martha, the older lady who was our villainess, or she was his mother. Different plot lines, different days.

Kevin was a total dreamboat. His adventures with prettiest-Barbie-of-the-moment were the stuff of legend, and his skills of wooing were incomparable. Romantic dinners in the kitchen of the Barbie house my Dad built with real linoleum floors. Boat rides at sunset in the pink Barbie boat with an attachable sun shade. He was the sexiest, most sought after man alive, the Johnny Depp of the Barbie world. It was a very, very dark day when Kevin's story ended. The boy I had a major crush on came over with his family, and in a fit of tantrum at his younger brother, threw Kevin across the room and broke his leg off. I almost cried. I almost got mad at the boy I had a crush on. It was that bad.

Fast forward about 18 years. I'm a mommy with a Barbie-loving daughter of my own, and the Christmas before last I decided that she needed another Ken doll to go with her three Barbies and lone Ken. Such a momentous day, Sammy's first Ken doll that she would remember, since her first one she got when she was something like two years old. I have never stopped loving Barbies, and I sometimes find myself wishing I could sprawl on the floor with a Barbie and a bag of clothes and shoes and just start off with, "And then let's say Ken came over and asked Barbie on a date."

I went into the Barbie aisle, filled with a familiar sense of glee, getting a big old eyeful of that unearthly hot pink color that is Barbie's and Barbie's alone. I practically pranced down to the dolls, my husband dragging along behind me only because we were stopping at the Legos next. I found the dolls, grinning like a seven year old as I saw the pretty dresses and fluffy hair and sparkly eyes. I looked for the Ken doll I had in mind, Steven, a surfer Ken with brown skin and fuzzy dark hair. It would be so great to have another boy to even out the odds at home.

I looked for him by the beach Barbies, but he wasn't there. A little put out, I decided to keep looking, figuring that if nothing else, another blonde Ken couldn't hurt. I looked and looked. And do you know what I found?

I found Ellen Degeneres wearing flip flops and a pink and plaid black shirt, that is what I found. They were trying to pass off the most ugly boy doll I had ever laid eyes on under the name of Ken, and he was horrible! This Ken doll had a face that was so feminine, it almost passed as Barbie! But it wasn't even a pretty feminine, it was like a woman who'd had WAY too much plastic surgery and her face was going to fall off from all the plastic in it! Which is ironic, since Barbies are made of plastic.

To make matters worse, this "Ken" who would have done better with the label "Drag Queen Ken" all over the box, had the most awful hairstyle since Robert Pattinson in Twilight! They combed the hair on the crown of that doll's head straight up, practically glued it there, and then lopped it off to create this totally bizarre flat plane of hair sticking straight up. And then the rest of it was combed down and likewise practically glued in place.

The worst part? Do you want to know the worst part? HE WAS WEARING PINK!!! Who in their right or wrong mind, would put Ken, the hero of Barbies and little girls everywhere, in PINK?! I was shocked. I was horrified. I stood there in the Barbie aisle at Walmart at eleven o'clock at night mere days before Christmas, and gaped at that horrendously ugly Ken doll. I said, out loud, a number of times, "What did they do to him?!" Pete just kind of stood there and rolled his eyes while I got the attention of a few shoppers that were passing by, clearly not understanding that my childhood was practically being gang-raped in front of my eyes. It was awful.

I bought the stupid doll. I think it was the 23rd of December, so it's not like I had time to do a any more shopping before we were down to the wire. Even so, for the next couple months I kept my eye out for a Ken doll that was actually Ken, not Barbie's weird second cousin Bertha who'd had a sex change. No dice. And I haven't had the heart recently to go Ken hunting again. I just don't think I can handle it if my childhood gets violated like that again.

I think from now on I'll do my Barbie shopping online. Somewhere out there, there has to be a Ken that is more like Kevin was. Handsome, manly, attractive, maybe with facial hair, just anything other than the pink-wearing freak of nature that is shoved reeeeeally far under Sammys' bed right now. And you know what, even if he was in the box with all the other Barbies, Sammy doesn't like him. I think he confuses her, with his what-a-joke hairstyle and "I need more Botox, doctor!" face. Not that I blame her. She has good taste in her fake men.

And someday, I pray that we will have a return of what Ken should be. Because honestly, last time I went to the Barbie aisle, I saw a pale, glittery Edward Cullen doll. And I went home and vomited. Kevin, please come back!