Ken (doll)

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First appearanceMarch 11, 1961; 60 years ago (March 11, 1961)
Created byElliot Handler
In-universe information
Full nameKenneth Carson
OccupationAt least 40 occupations
  • Edna Carson (mother)
  • Kenneth Carson (father)
  • Izzy Carson (sister)
  • Barbie (girlfriend)
Tommy Carson (Brother)

Ken is a doll and fictional character introduced by Mattel in 1961 as the counterpart of Barbie, who was introduced two years earlier. Ken was invented by Elliot Handler.

Ken is from Willows, Wisconsin.[1] Similar to his female counterpart, Ken has a fashionable line of clothing and accessories (although he made his debut wearing only a swim suit).[2] In the Barbie mythos, Ken met Barbie on the set of a TV commercial. He is Barbie's boyfriend, as it is written on every box produced since 1961. Since his debut, Ken has held at over 40 occupations.

Ken and Barbie have been described as two of the most popular dolls in the world.[3]


Superstar Ken[edit]

From 1961 to the debut of Superstar Ken in 1977 Ken had straight arms that didn't bend. His head could only turn left and right. Ken's hair was made of felt in his first year (known to collectors as the "flocked" hair Ken), but this was replaced with a plastic, molded hairstyle when the creators realized that the felt hair fell off when wet.[4] Superstar Ken featured a dimpled smile, a head that could swivel, bent arms, a more muscular physique, jewelry, and underwear permanently molded to his body. The woman who made the Ken doll made it to resemble her husband.

Ken's Friends[edit]

Ken's best friend, Allan Sherwood (Midge's boyfriend, later husband), was introduced in 1964. The first African-American male doll, Brad, was introduced in 1968, as the boyfriend of Barbie's African-American friend, Christie, who was introduced in 1967.[5]

Earring Magic Ken[edit]

In 1993, "Earring Magic Ken" was released. The style of the doll was thought to resemble fashions and accessories worn by some segments of the gay community at the time, and "Earring Magic Ken" subsequently attained a cult following, becoming a collector's item.[6]


In February, 2004, Mattel announced a split for Ken and Barbie, with Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Mattel, saying that Barbie and Ken "feel it's time to spend some quality time – apart...Like other celebrity couples, their Hollywood romance has come to an end", though Arons indicated that the duo would "remain friends".[7]

Barbie and Ken Return[edit]

In February, 2006 however, a revamped version of the Ken doll was launched, though it was stated that their relationship is still purely platonic.[8][9] In 2011, Mattel launched a massive campaign for Ken to win Barbie's affections back.[10] The pair officially reunited in Valentine's Day 2011.[11]

Name Origin[edit]

Like Barbie, Ken is named after one of Ruth Handler's children, Ken Handler, who died in 1994 of a brain tumor.[12]

Sugar Daddy Ken[edit]

In October 2009, Mattel announced a new Palm Beach line which included a "Sugar's Daddy Ken" doll aimed for adult collectors. The said line officially debuted in the spring of 2010. The line proved to be controversial, because of Ken's suggestive-sounding name. The doll had a more mature appearance and came with a West Highland Terrier puppy. Mattel defended the doll's name, saying that the puppy's name is "Sugar", thus making Ken "Sugar's Daddy".[13]

New Looks[edit]

In 2021, Mattel announced 15 new looks for Ken. This included looks with different skin tones, body shapes and hair styles. Barbie underwent a similar makeover in 2020. Outside of this change, Ken hasn't changed much since he was introduced 56+ years ago.[14]


Ken's body proportions have been described as unrealistic by scholarly studies (his chest is estimated to be about 27.5% too large for a representative human male).[15] Unrealistic body proportions in Barbie dolls, including Ken's, have been connected to some eating disorders in children.[16][17] Another controversy has also centered around the visibility (or lack of it) of Ken's male genitalia.[18]

Media appearances[edit]

Ken appeared in the 2010 Pixar film Toy Story 3, voiced by Michael Keaton. He was one of the henchmen of the film's villain Lotso.[19]

In 2011, Mattel introduced Japan Ken, the first Ken doll to be included in the Dolls of the World collection, which was formerly a Barbie-only line. The Japan Ken doll features a new face sculpt.[20]

In Mattel's official Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse web series, Ken's personality was greatly expounded on.[citation needed]


Ken's personal name is Kenneth Sean Carson. His given name comes from Elliot Handler's son. In the 1960s Random House books, his surname is Carson. According to Mattel, his middle name is Sean.[citation needed]


  • "Barbie and Ken: History." Olsen, Eric. Blog Critics Magazine, 15 February 2004.[21] 15 February 2004.
  • Berg-Cross, Linda (April 1996). "How do Barbie and Ken Measure Up?". Psychotherapy Letter. 8 (4): 3.
  • Mattel History.[5] 2001 Mattel Inc.


  1. ^ "Ken Doll Turns 50, Looks His Age". 10 March 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  2. ^ "Ken doll turns 60: How Barbie's Ken has evolved over the years".
  3. ^ Norton, Kevin I.; Olds, Timothy S.; Olive, Scott; Dank, Stephen (1996-02-01). "Ken and Barbie at life size". Sex Roles. 34 (3): 287–294. doi:10.1007/BF01544300. ISSN 1573-2762. S2CID 143568530.
  4. ^ "Keeping Ken 101". Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  5. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-11-15. Retrieved 2016-01-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "The Man Behind The Doll presents Earring Magic Ken". 1993-07-01. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  7. ^ "Barbie and Ken: History". Archived from the original on 2006-02-14. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  8. ^ – It's splitsville for Barbie and Ken – Feb. 12, 2004 Archived November 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "CNN – Madeover Ken hopes to win back Barbie – Feb 10, 2006". CNN. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  10. ^ STRANSKY, TANNER (14 Feb 2011). "Valentine's Day Surprise! Barbie and Ken are officially back together". Entertainment Weekly's
  11. ^ Kavilanz, Parija (2011-02-14). "Barbie and Ken: Back together on Valentine's Day". CNN.
  12. ^ "Barbie creator Handler, 85, dies". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  13. ^ "ABC News | Business | 'Sugar Daddy Ken' Doll Raises Eyebrows". ABC News. 2009-10-30. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  14. ^ Press, Joseph Pisani | Associated (20 June 2017). "Barbie's companion Ken gets new looks: Man bun, beefy bod". Retrieved 2021-07-26.
  15. ^ Baghurst, Timothy; Hollander, Daniel B.; Nardella, Beth; Haff, G. Gregory (2006-03-01). "Change in sociocultural ideal male physique: An examination of past and present action figures". Body Image. 3 (1): 87–91. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2005.11.001. ISSN 1740-1445. PMID 18089212.
  16. ^ Brownell, Kelly D.; Napolitano, Melissa A. (1995). "Distorting reality for children: Body size proportions of Barbie and Ken dolls". International Journal of Eating Disorders. 18 (3): 295–298. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(199511)18:3<295::AID-EAT2260180313>3.0.CO;2-R. ISSN 1098-108X. PMID 8556027.
  17. ^ Dijker, Anton J.M. (2008-03-01). "Why Barbie feels heavier than Ken: The influence of size-based expectancies and social cues on the illusory perception of weight". Cognition. 106 (3): 1109–1125. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2007.05.009. ISSN 0010-0277. PMID 17599820. S2CID 26233026.
  18. ^ MacDougall, J. Paige (2003). "Transnational Commodities as Local Cultural Icons: Barbie Dolls in Mexico". The Journal of Popular Culture. 37 (2): 257–275. doi:10.1111/1540-5931.00067. ISSN 1540-5931.
  19. ^ "The Actors: 'Toy Story 3's' Michael Keaton". Los Angeles Times. 2010-05-02. Retrieved 2021-09-13.
  20. ^ "Japan Ken Doll". Mattel. 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  21. ^ "Barbie and Ken: History – Blogcritics Culture". Retrieved 2010-08-16.[dead link][self-published source?]

External links[edit]