XXX! Sex Secrets Of Barbie And Ken

As everyone has always suspected on some level, America's favorite fashion doll Barbie has a seriously sordid past.

It's common knowledge that the iconic Mattel toy was based on a German sex doll, but according to the new book Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel, that's not the only taint [Hee hee. -Ed.] in the material girl's past. If Barbie's always seemed suspiciously like a male fantasy, it might be because Jack Ryan, the designer who popularized her, was a "full-blown seventies-style swinger" with "a manic need for sexual gratification" from a parade of hired "Barbie clones," including the bombshell who gave Talking Barbie her voice. Says one friend,

"When Jack talked about creating Barbie . . . it was like listening to somebody talk about a sexual episode, almost like listening to a sexual pervert . . ."

Of course, Mattel founders Ruth and Elliot Handler were somewhat more wholesome; as pop culture known, Barbie and Ken were named for their two kids. The book says that young Ken "grew up embarrassed and humiliated by having an anatomically incorrect boy doll named after him . . . [with] no hint of genitalia." Ken, a closeted homosexual who went on to marry and have a family, died of AIDS in 1994; his sister Barbie seems to have borne up under the weight of being an international sex symbol, albeit reluctantly.

To those of us who loved Barbie, none of this will exactly come as a shock: part of Barbie's appeal was always the taint of the forbidden and adult, a grown-up femme fatale in a world of baby dolls. A child is never Barbie's mom; it's a different, less straightforward relationship. Feminists who've criticized the doll as an unrealistic example of femininity may feel vindicated by the knowledge that she was designed as a sex object by a man whose attitude towards women seems to have been less than, ahem, respectful. And yet, it can't be denied that kids love Barbie, in part because she gives them a certain power over a mini adult. (Or a reason to wreak havoc.) Freud would doubtless have a lot to say about the basic appeal of sexuality; as Ken Handler could probably have told him, a doll is never just a doll.

Sex Secrets Of Barbie And Ken [New York Post]

Earlier: It's Barbie, Bitch