It’s hard to imagine, but at the time of Barbie’s debut in 1959, the cause of so many body image woes was actually meant as a stab at counterculture. Invented by Ruth Handler, wife of Mattel, Inc.’s President, Barbie was the first real “adult” doll. At that time, most girls were weaned on dolls modeled after infants, a preparation tool for motherhood. But Barbie’s years as a forwardthinking icon quickly became archaic. There are few toys as ridiculed for advocating “perfection” as the Barbie doll.
Photographer Dina Goldstein is the latest to take Barbie and her longtime beau Ken to task, shooting a new series that pulls back the curtain on the couple’s picture perfect life. Similar to her “Fallen Princesses” series, a similar photographic satire examining the lives of Disney Princesses, Goldstein depicts Ken and Barbie amidst an identity crisis. As she puts in the the exhibition notes:
“‘In the Dollhouse’ examines the less than perfect life of B and K. B is a super doll, the most successful doll in the world. Her partner K is grappling with his sexuality and finds himself in a loveless marriage. He struggles with his position in the household and faces his lack of authenticity”
Besides assumptions that could be made for the perpetually swank Ken, there is precedence for his murky sexual orientation. In 1993, Mattel introduced “Earring Magic Ken,” which updated the traditional brown-haired Ken with blonde highlights, a lavender vest with mesh trimmings, a necklace with a circular charm and an earring in its left ear. The idea was to make Ken feel cooler to the kids of the ’90s. But “Earring Magic Ken” went on to be dubbed “Queer Ken,” becoming a favorite kitsch gift of the gay community. Before being yanked from shelves, the doll became the biggest-selling Ken doll in the company’s history.
See select shots from Goldstein’s “In the Dollhouse” below:
Matt Patches is a writer and reporter living in New York City. His work has been featured on Vulture, Time Out New York, and The Hollywood Reporter. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Operation Kino.
Images via Dina Goldstein