Since the launch of the Barbie Fashionista line last year, Barbie is available in four different shapes (curvy, petite, tall, original) and has many hair styles (curly, straight, long, short, blue, you name it). She’s also got clothing choices that run the gamut from casual to cutting-edge. In all, there are more than a hundred distinct Barbie Fashionistas. Ken, meanwhile, has been stuck in his helmet-haired, surfer-or-prince fashion hell while his girlfriend takes on a multitude of modern looks.
But today is a new day, and Mattel announced that diverse Kens have joined the Fashionista line to represent the modern man. Ken now has three body types: slim, broad, and original. He has seven available skin tones and eight hair colors, plus, mercifully, nine new hair styles (including a man bun!).
And while you’d suspect adults are driving this change (because, come on, someone is having a blast designing hipster Ken), the makeover comes after research with kids, according to Mattel. “If a child sees that Ken doesn’t look like the men around her, she doesn’t get as connected,” says Michael Shore, Ph.D., vice president and head of global consumer insights and foresights at Mattel. “Giving Ken real, clear physical attributes reenergizes the storytelling. Now Ken is a cooler guy.”
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Playing with Barbie and Ken has always been about coming up with narratives, Dr. Shore says, and projecting feelings onto the dolls. It makes sense that if each doll can be a very distinct character, kids might imagine each one doing more interesting things.
And while Ken will forever be Barbie’s plus-one, he’s stepping up his game a bit. “He’s always been a companion,” Shore says, but now, “Ken has his own thing going on.”
Entertainment Editor Jessica Hartshorn, as a child, only had one Ken mixed in with more than a dozen Barbies. Things would have been different if so many diverse Kens had been available!