Mattel Changes “Ken’s” Look

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First off, mad props to Mattel for adding some diversity to Ken, one half of the iconic, eternally chaste couple Barbie & Ken.

Homes has been rocking that plastic, Brylcreemed ’do for pretty near 60 years, and it was, frankly, played out.

A year after the company gave Barbie some different flavor by adding different shapes, styles and colors – but still no Bootylicious Barbie (boo hoo) – it has added different Kens for little girls, or boys, who like their dolls with some real-world realism.

They’ve added 15 new Kens, including a man-bunned one and a cornrowed, brown one.

That should, at first blush, encompass every demographic imaginable, right?

Wrong.

Ken Doll Makeover-2
 

Children of whatever ethnicity would love to have a doll to which they can relate. Native Americans, Asians, Eskimos all have little children who shouldn’t have to settle when they pick out a doll with which to play.

Trust me, kids: There’ll be plenty of time to settle later in life.

You know that super-successful company called Build-a-Bear, where kids can go in and build a teddy bear to their exact specs?

I called Mattel’s corporate HQ to ask if they’d considered a chain of Build-a-Barbie or Konstruct-a-Ken businesses. I left a message telling why I was calling. Maybe that’s why no one has called me back. I also called Toys R’ Us in Durham and was told they won’t get the new Kens in before next month.

As in real life, just adding some cornrows to Ken does not make him a brother. Some of the most wrong-headed dudes I’ve ever met sported cornrows, even dreadlocks down to their sacroiliac, but that didn’t make them any more “woke” – that’s the new term for socially aware – than anyone else.

Why, after a minute or two of conversation, you knew that even though they had a cornrow look, they had a process, ’do-rag mentality.

Mattel should be commended for trying to make its creation more inclusive, even if the idea to do so was borne not after a “come-to-(Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, et al)” meeting, but after a reading of the company’s slumping bottom line. Sales of the Mattel mainstay are faltering, and someone finally realized that not every girl – or, again, boy – wants to find Brad Pitt, cool though he may be, under her or his tree.

Dolls, despite what some may think, are not just child’s play. Read up on the psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth (not Ken) Clark’s research on children and dolls and you’ll see that they impart important messages to children and influence how they feel about themselves.

The other day, long after my interest in dolls should have ended, I found myself looking at the new group of Kens trying to see if they had any to whom I could relate.

Nope. Although the body types were not all uniformly impossibly trim with little tiny feet that were not made for standing, there were still none that had to worry about falling asleep on the beach and being awakened by a group of well-meaning kids trying to push them back into the water with shouts of “Swim, Shamu, swim.”

Remember when writer Dorothy Parker wrote disparagingly of the actress Katherine Hepburn, “Her emotions run the gamut from A to B”?

Thus it is with the new Ken dolls. Their body types run a similarly narrow gamut. Although Mattel lists the available body types as “slim, original and broad,” any difference is almost indiscernible without a microscope. There isn’t a “dad bod” in the group.

Where, for instance, was the balding, 20 pounds – OK, 30 pounds – too heavy Ken, the one who looked as though he found it impossible to pass by JJ Seafood on the way home each day without buying a tub of nanner pudding?

Also, what’s up with that name?

I have several buddies whose government name may be Ken, but few of them go by that. They go by K, Kenneth, Kenny and Blowfly. At least that’s what they were until they got grown, because Blowfly, K and LaKendrick apparently don’t transfer to the corporate suites as well as Ken.

So, if Mattel really wants to get hip, come out with a callipygian Ken doll. Call him LaKendrick. Cornrows are optional.

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