When I was younger, I loved Barbies. Hated dolls, loved Barbies. I think as long as they were smaller than me and had implied daddy issues, it was much less intimidating. Much like writing (or The Sims), they provided a fun way to act out a personal fantasy (at this age, having friends), and I think the non-threatening demeanor of Barbie was also helped when I discovered that I could pop her head off with little to no effort. It turned into a standard reaction while acting them out. “Skipper, you stole my shoes!” *head pops off*
But I never owned a Ken doll. Why? Because I didn’t ask for one. I went my whole childhood wishing I had a Ken doll and it’s nobody’s fault but my own. Why I didn’t ask is kind of complicated and disturbing.
See, when you’re in the Barbie-playing age, you’re also very curious and exploratory. Weather it’s your own body or that of a 7-inch doll, you’re interested in acting out new scenarios. My childhood best friend Brianna had dozens of dolls, several of which were Ken, and his genital androgyny never stopped us from acting out scenarios that still scare me. We were curious, and every child has stayed up a little later than they should to see what’s on cable past 9pm. A young girl learns.
I wanted a Ken doll partly so I could mix up the Barbie scenario of “Hey sis, let’s have tea” because girl talk still makes me sick, but I still had my morbid curiosity. So I never asked for one because I didn’t want my parents to think that I would be making them a true, consummated couple; it’s a strange thing to self-slut-shame a 6-year-old, but I thought everyone was as gross as I was. I think I always hoped that my parents would just get me one for Christmas just because, but it never happened.
Much like my Ken, my Dad never got a G.I. Joe when he was a kid, despite asking several times. So one Christmas, my Mum bought him a G.I. Joe as a sort of joke; my eyes lit up. There was a male doll in the house. A suitor! Barbie would be so pleased!
You can see where this is going.
I waited an appropriate amount of time before I swiped him from my Dad’s desk. I’m not sure what the overall opinion was of the missing hero, but I think the 40-year-old man who owned the doll didn’t make much of a fuss from it. I was able to keep him as a prisoner of war for quite some time.
Barbie had finally found love. They would go on dates, he’d ask her to dances, they’d even sit in the Jeep and get a little handsy. Sure he was the stoic type, with a permanent scowl and a bleeding gash across his face, but you love who you love. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t the same; Ken had those baby blue eyes and cutting edge style, while Joe’s buzz cut, boots and full-gear camouflage just didn’t match Barbie’s panache.
Without owning any Ken dolls, I of course didn’t have any Ken clothing, so a makeover wasn’t really in the cards. How does one dress a former military man? It was the 90s, so the camo pants could stay, but it was some oversized, off-brand Barbie clothing that turned the pair into a true 21st-century couple.
My parents were cleaning my room when G.I. Jospehine had her coming out party. I suddenly realized that my fear of asking for a Ken doll was completely unfounded when compared to the horror of what I had done. I was worried about explaining why I stole the doll, but strangely the question never came up. After all, the former Private was found barefoot in cargo pants, with a polka dot & denim jacket so tight that its deep V-neck just grazed his nipples, exposing his rock-hard abs, while a vivacious red lipstick highlighted his gashed and scowling face. Like he could be unhappy while looking this fabulous.
Kids, if you’re worried that your parents will think you’re a sicko for wanting boy and girl Barbie dolls, they’re not exactly going to think you’re perfectly balanced when you gender-swap the Real American Hero. Just ask for Ken.
I wish I could say Joe was my only victim, but my Sailor Venus doll looked a bit butch too, earning her a haircut and a special guest spot in the V-neck coat rotation – breasts be damned.