The time has come to immerse ourselves wholly and unflinchingly in Barbie Land, to abandon all ties to reality and live forever in front of a two-dimensional backdrop. In other words, the Barbie movie is here.
The movie’s writer and director Greta Gerwig, along with her partner Noah Baumbach, pulled from a vast network of Barbie–adjacent characters, many of them also named Barbie, to fill their plastic world. While I trust they selected the ones necessary to tell their story, not all of them made the cut, and even those who did don’t get as much air time as, say, Margot Robbie’s feet.
Mattel has plans to spin pretty much its entire inventory into movies, but you can only stuff so many sentient plastic toys in one film, and I have a feeling the time has come and gone for these lesser-known characters to get their due time in the Hollywood limelight. Here’s a guide to the distant cousins, friends of friends, and ex-boyfriends that make Barbie Land tick.
While I was under the impression that Barbie was a mononymous stage name, like Cher or Beyoncé, she was born Barbara Millicent Roberts. Snooze. (Ken has a full name too, while we’re here: Kenneth Sean Carson.) Growing up in a made-up town called Willows, Wisconsin, Barbie has no physical doll parents to speak of, though George and Margaret Roberts appear as her mother and father in various books and TV series.
The first and still most recognizable family member Mattel created was Skipper, who arrived in 1964 as Barbie’s 8-year-old younger sister and gets a few mentions in the movie. According to Barbie lore, some vocal members of the public wanted the original Barbie character to have children, and while Mattel thought that would make her feel too old and domestic, they added a child to her life by way of a little sister. Ten years later, the company introduced a truly weird “Growing Up Skipper” doll in an attempt to age the doll up: You could rotate her arm to watch her go through puberty in real time, growing an inch and developing little boobs. (You may or may not see a real-life demo of this at some point in the near future, should you happen to wander into a movie theater.) From then on, Skipper was consistently molded to look like a teenager. In 2009, she got a spunky-purple hair streak (she’s since been manufactured with blue and red streaks, too) and became a “tech-savvy” teen who loves gadgets. Okay!!
Barbie has had some other siblings, including twins Tutti and Todd, child dolls with bendy bodies who were discontinued in the ’90s. Stacie later became Todd’s twin sister. There is also the Roberts’ youngest sister, Chelsea, who’s around 7 years old. Both Stacie and Chelsea went by Kelly at some point in their doll lives, which is thoroughly confusing, but just know they’re Stacie and Chelsea now.
The extended family
Only a few other blood relatives were actually sold as dolls, including two of Barbie’s cousins, siblings Max and Marie Roberts, who were introduced in a 2013 animated movie and then made into plastic. Her cousin Francie was marketed in the ’60s and ’70s, followed later by a cousin named Jazzie.
There are a handful of relatives from other books and videos who never became dolls: Aunts Millicent, Marlene, Lillian, and Adele; Uncle Claude; Cousin Kristen; and Grandmother Rawlins.
Though there are several Barbies with the same name, a woman has to have some friends who are not … herself. First and foremost, we have Midge. Ah, Midge. Decades of fraught gender politics wrapped into one wonky-looking doll.
Mattel rolled out the first Midge doll in 1963, four years after Barbie made her debut. The company had already made tweaks to the original doll in response to public concerns that she looked too sexy and mature for a kid toy. Midge, apparently, was one such desexualized antidote: the same size as Barbie, meaning they could share clothes, but with a rounder face and freckles — apparently two major turn-offs. Anyway, Midge was Barbie’s first best friend, but she was discontinued after a few years and replaced with PJ, who looked more like Barbie. I guess people wanted their dolls to look hot after all?
Midge reemerged in the late ’80s as California Dream Midge, as if she had retreated for a decades-long meditation session and suddenly surfaced on the beach, soul restored and polka-dot knee pads strapped on. Several other iterations followed, including Cool Times Midge (for some reason obsessed with popcorn) and then — guess what! — Wedding Day Midge. Yes, someone proposed to the unsexy Barbie doll! Good for her. That someone was Ken’s friend Allan; we’ll get to him in a minute.
Married Midge got more outfits and activities, and in 2003 things took a wild turn: She got pregnant. She and Alan (who by this point was spelling his name with one L, do not ask me why) suddenly came as a “Happy Family” set with one young child and one baby in utero. Their newborn daughter Nikki was sold as a plastic baby magnetically attached to the inside of Midge’s pregnant stomach, which kids could pull off and take out, essentially performing a doll C-section to welcome baby Nikki to the family. Needless to say, this particular feature caused a lot of controversy, though not for the reasons you might think. (This was 2003, not 2023.) Some customers took issue with how young Midge was, arguing that the doll promoted teen pregnancy even though the character’s age was technically never established. Others merely found the entire concept inappropriate, and still others were upset that Midge didn’t have a wedding ring, which Mattel eventually added. The “Happy Family” set was sold as a Black family, too, and at some point, there were even Grandma and Grandpa dolls (presumably Midge’s parents).
Midge’s next revamp came in 2013 when she was reintroduced on a Barbie web series as a quirky teenager, the “Happy Family” backstory wiped completely. A doll version of her web series character was also released. One final Midge came earlier this year with Mattel’s 60th anniversary edition, a gussied-up recreation of the original doll’s look. She makes an appearance in her pregnant form in the movie, where she’s portrayed by Emerald Fennell. Long live Midge.
None of Barbie’s other friends have quite such a controversial background. Christie, her first Black friend, arrived in 1968 and disappeared in 2005. Another early Black Barbie doll, Nikki, launched in 1996 as Skipper’s first Black friend and then moved into the Barbie BFF spot when Christie was discontinued. There was also Becky, a teenager from the ’90s who used a wheelchair that users discovered couldn’t fit through the doors of the Barbie Dream House. Other girlies who’ve weaved in and out of Barbie’s group chat include: Teresa Rivera, Raquelle, Grace, Stacey (a “mod” British friend), PJ, Steffie, Cara, Whitney, Miko (Barbie’s first Asian friend, a Hawaiian doll whose head sculpt was originally used for “Oriental Barbie”), and a few dozen others. The Hearts, a sort of conservative-looking family who live next door to Barbie, also got their own line of dolls.
Because she, unlike Ken, is a fully fleshed-out woman with a life and a past, Barbie even has an ex-boyfriend: Blaine Gordon, an Aussie who was released in 2004 to date Barbie while she was briefly broken up with Ken. Look at this guy. Prime rebound material.
Special mention: Tanner. Even high-powered career women have to clean up after others, an important lesson Barbie doll customers learned in 2006 when Barbie got a puppy named Tanner. In staunch pursuit of unfiltered realism, Mattel gave this good (?) boy tiny little plastic poops that came out of his butt when you pressed down on his tail. The dog was recalled, though not because it grossed people out to have fake poop on their kids’ bedroom carpet. Apparently, a magnet in Barbie’s pooper scooper kept popping off, posing a choking hazard for small children. (Does this mean the poops were big enough not to be a choking hazard?) Anyway, let this be a warning to dog-owning women everywhere: Do not scoop poop with a magnet.
Even accessories have friends. Despite his profound lack of purpose in Barbie, Ken is allowed to have one (1) friend, as a treat: Allan (played spectacularly by Michael Cera). The doll was Ken’s first friend, introduced in 1964 and romantically linked to Midge, who’d arrived a year earlier. Imagine being a character created for a character created for a character. How tangential can you get?? Allan is actually named after Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler’s son-in-law, which is one way to get famous. He enjoyed a two-year run before being discontinued, and in classic Mattel style, was revived briefly in 1991 so that Midge could get married. As you may recall, they eventually had a magnetic plastic baby, as one does when you are ready to settle down in the suburbs of Barbie Land.
Outside the movie, Ken has a bevy of himbo sidekicks, none of whom have last names: Brad, Curtis, Todd, Steven, Derek, and Kurt. There’s also his little brother, Tommy; and his nemesis (!!) Ryan, a brother of Barbie’s friend Raquelle who has a crush on Barbie and got a man bun in 2017. Fight! Fight! Fight!
Other notable Kens and Barbies
Obviously, Gerwig used the many iterations of our main two doll characters — the thinking woman’s Adam and Eve, if you will — as the movie’s main source material. There are endless Barbies and Kens out there, and surely Gerwig has access to a cavernous top-secret archive deep inside the Mattel factory that can only be unlocked with a high-heel-shaped key. Because neither you nor I have that key, I can only tell you what I have found online, where the extent of the Barbie universe appears to be meticulously cataloged. Here are the most notable of the bunch:
Totally Hair Barbie. This doll has incredible hair. It goes all the way down to her toes, and it’s crimped. What more could you ask for? Margot Robbie seems to have referenced her during a Mexico City stop on the Barbie press tour, though she did not manage to find a wig that extends to her incredibly accomplished feet. I guess she didn’t want hair that doubles as a cape? Thankfully, Miss Totally Hair shows up for a split second in-movie with the correct tress length.
Lounge Kitties Barbie. What in the Furry is going on here? This line of sultry catsuit-wearing Barbies hails from the early aughts. Her “Purrrfect paws,” “manicured claws,” “luxurious faux fur,” and “fluffy tail” are highlighted on the back of the box, which claims that every Lounge Kitty doll has “a jungle heart and city smarts.” Do you think she went to the Jellicle Ball?
Birds Barbie. Barbie and Ken have both taken on an endless parade of cultural characters — Little Red Riding Hood, Juliet and Romeo, Marie Antoinette, Elvis and Priscilla, Elton John, Charlie’s Angels, Twilight, Star Wars, Star Trek, Scooby Doo — but my personal favorite is Hitchcock Barbie, which answers a question no one asked: What if a hot doll was suddenly and violently attacked by crows? She wears the same outfit Tippi Hedren wore in The Birds and comes with messy hair and three plastic crows pecking at her torso. Cinéma vérité!
George Washington Barbie. The shiniest powdered wig in all the British colonies:
Video Girl Barbie. Mattel does not have a great track record in terms of respecting the physical limitations of human anatomy, but embedding an LCD screen into a Barbie doll’s back is really crossing the line. This 2010 doll had a camera lens hidden in her cleavage-grazing necklace, which recorded video you could then play back on her zebra-print sweatshirt-slash-camcorder. She also came with a USB so you could upload your POV footage onto a laptop and add music on the Barbie website. Probably to discourage A24 girlies from nurturing their dreams, the FBI expressed concerns that the camera could be used to film child pornography. Is this why there are so few female directors? Thankfully, Gerwig did not let the U.S. government deter her from giving Video Girl Barbie some airtime.
Teen Talk Barbie. This chatty girl gets some split-second screen time in the movie but garnered a lot more discourse upon her release.
The 1992 collection of four dolls came equipped with a voice box that cycled through four phrases each. Finally, a speaking woman! We were making so much progress in the ’90s. Teen Talk Barbie said things like, “I love to shop, don’t you?”, “Wanna have a pizza party?”, “You’re my best friend,” “Meet me at the mall,” and “Do you have a crush on anyone?” Also, unfortunately for Mattel: “Math class is tough!” The company was slammed for discouraging girls from doing math and science, and it eventually removed that phrase from its cycle. Which is a shame, because math class is tough for some of us. And that’s fine!
Earring Magic Ken. Following a 1990 survey where customers asked Mattel to make Ken look “cooler,” the company accidentally whipped up an intensely homoerotic fever dream: a mesh-teed, one-earringed bleach-blond rave boy wearing a necklace that looked alarmingly like a cock ring. There are conflicting rumors on whether or not the suits at Mattel were aware that their doll looked gay as hell, but Earring Magic remains seared in the collective cultural memory as a queer icon. Long may he party.
Glitter Beach Ken. Someone at Mattel was on a journey of self-discovery in the early ’90s, because around the same time as Earring Magic Ken, another scantily clad femme dude was circulating: Glitter Beach Ken, who came with an impressively tiny crop top, sparkly snakeskin shorts, and a giant, pink surfer pendant. Behold:
Palm Springs Sugar Daddy Ken. In 2009, Mattel released a collection of special-edition dolls to celebrate Barbie’s 50th anniversary. For $82, collectors could get their hands on “Palm Beach Sugar Daddy Ken,” a stately-looking gent wearing crisp-white pants, a minty-green damask jacket, and a baby-pink Oxford shirt. Also his swoop of coiffed hair was gray. Anti-ageism Ken? According to a Mattel spokeswoman, his name is a reference to his tiny, white dog named Sugar, though the company stressed at the time that this particular collection was designed for adult collectors. Look at that suave, well-hydrated fella. Woof woof!