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Spoiler alert: The article contains references to the movie!

@barbiethemovie Heard everyone was feelin’ the Ken-rgy ✨ #BarbieTheMovie ♬ original sound – Barbie Movie

I did the whole shebang: I dressed up head-to-toe in pink, put my hair together in her signature sleek-back high ponytail, and went to see the Barbie movie with a group of girlfriends. I’m a Barbie Girl.

While the world of Barbieland may be familiar if not heart-warming to a girl growing up with the dolls, the same wouldn’t necessarily ring true for the boys. In a surprising take on the world’s most famous leggy-blonde, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie doesn’t miss acknowledging the less exciting, almost forgettable companion: the Ken doll.

I speak to Harold Cheng, illustrator and UX designer on his take of the movie’s not-so-subtle quips about Ken. The 35-year-old has been married for 6 years, and carefully designs his schedule to balance Work and Play, in order to fulfil a commitment to his wife to be home for dinners and quality time after every workday.


Image source: Harold Cheng

“Barbie has a great day every day, but Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.”

In the movie, we’re first introduced to Ken whose motivation for staying in shape and keeping his job as “Beach” is in hopes for Barbie to finally see him as a man deserving of her love and affection. As the movie progresses and Ken discovers the potentials of his powers from the Real World, the motivations soon turn dark.

While Harold’s relationship to his wife Sylvie thankfully doesn’t emulate the movie, he’s learnt a lot about how he takes to her throughout their 6-year marriage.

“As an illustrator, I used to draw a lot of comics that played on the whole ‘shrewish wife’ trope you often see in shows like the Simpsons or Family Guy. You know, the kind where the husband’s just trying to have fun, but his wife spoils it by being ‘the adult’.

As a man, I saw it as a joke, but to Sylvie, it painted women in a bad light. It was as if women who were no fun were to be feared, which is never a good basis for any relationship.”

Image source: Respawn Comic

Having these important discussions highlighted a lot of his biases, especially when it came to how women operate within the culture.

“That said, gender stereotypes have been around for so long and are sometimes so deeply ingrained, that sometimes, the only fair thing to expect is progress. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it, in my opinion anyway.”

Image source: Harold Cheng

“Here I’m just a dude and you know what? That’s enough.”

How often do we come across campaigners fighting for Men’s Rights? When was the last time you heard a man speak up about the disparities of the Gender Wage Gap, most prominently alive in the United States? When given the same set of tasks which require the same degree of skill sets, women still get the losing end of the stick and give more than they receive.

At home, while women of today have a much stronger hold on their finances, independence and ultimately “power” to have a voice, there are domestic norms that linger close by: when will you settle down, have children and raise a family?

When asked what pressures he receives as a man, Harold shares honestly, “While I think there’s definitely a cultural element to this, a lot of the pressure boils down to whether or not something affects my personal idea of how I ‘should’ be as a man.

Like most people, there have been times I’ve considered giving up a stable job to pursue a passion, like comics or art, but it’s usually only a matter of time before I ask myself, ”Will this mean that I can’t provide for my wife, like a man ‘should’?”

Image source: Harold Cheng

“I’m trained to stand confidently here.”

Throughout history, the man’s role has been paved so clearly: make the dough, make the family happy and make sure you’re seen as the head of the house. What does it mean to be “man enough”?

In Harold’s case, his journey into discovering who he needed to be as a man came with age. Growing up with mainstream media where the man is portrayed to, “always be able to fix that faulty bulb, always provide, and never, ever be the little spoon,” he’s found that he would rather be vulnerable enough to be secure with his needs.

“If being unapologetically a man means wearing pink, buying flowers for myself or shrieking and hopping on a chair while I yell for Sylvie to kill the cockroach, then that’s the path I should take. After all, if liking a certain color is enough to take away your ‘man’ card, then did you really have it in the first place?”

@barbiethemovie Now entering the Kendom #BarbieTheMovie The official score by @Mark Ronson ♬ Ken Makes a Discovery score – Barbie Movie

In the movie, while his plans to overthrow Barbieland didn’t last for too long, Ken ultimately discovered that his patriarchy wasn’t doing anything to prove his existence. In the end, he realised that albeit being Barbie and Ken, simply existing as Ken, was Kenough.

Top Image: Barbie the movie