Gays say earring on Ken makes him a doll for them


He was the talk of the summer party circuit, from San Francisco to New York, looking a little out of style -- but cute just the same -- with his highlighted hair and lavender vest, his earring and silver-ring necklace.

Now, Barbie's longtime boyfriend is being called out of the dollhouse closet: Ken's new look, it seems, has all the earmarks of gay fashion.

Gay men were wearing earrings 10 years ago. Lavender is a color long associated with the gay community. The necklace resembles a device available in sex shops.

And after more than 30 years of dating Barbie, Ken remains a bachelor.

The result? Gay men are snapping up "Earring Magic Ken" and calling him one of their own.

"He's a campy, funny thing to have," says Bill Hartley of Tustin, Calif. "He's standing on my mantel, which is a place of worship."

While Mattel has no problem with Ken's newfound audience, this was not the plan, according to company spokeswoman Donna Gibbs.

The new Ken -- part of the Earring Magic line of Barbie dolls -- was intended as "a fun, wholesome toy for young girls and not designed for any audience."

Men wearing earrings is a mainstream practice, Ms. Gibbs says. Young girls prefer lavender clothing on their dolls (along with light blue and pink).

And, as for Ken's single status, well, it's bad news for Barbie.

"I don't think Barbie and Ken will ever get married," Ms. Gibbs says. "A girl's play pattern is to act out the dolls' getting married. If we officially married them, it would kill a major play pattern."

Despite the hubbub, Keith Clark-Epley of Laguna Beach, Calif., sees the new Ken as another attempt by the straight community to emulate gay fashion.

"It's an uptight heterosexual male doll following gay fashion and who is still behind the times," he says.

Not only that, calling the new Ken a "gay doll" is dangerous, he says, because it serves to reinforce a stereotype.

Says Jack Herzberg, also of Laguna Beach: "For [Mattel] to choose a lavender-colored vest is either an incredible inside joke or an incredible coincidence."

Then, he paused.

"Maybe I'll get one for Christmas."

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