Carolyn Cox at The Mary Sue has a terrific essay about “Dadbod” Ken. Not only is she good on the specific issue, but she handles how to talk about the ways in which patriarchy in fact oppresses men, without losing sight of the more destructive oppression of women. She writes:
As Maddy wrote in reference to the “Hot Ryu” meme last September, there’s a difference between sexual objectification and sexiness, and in this instance I’d argue that Barbie represents the former, and Ken the latter. Ken’s body is less political than Barbie’s, because men’s bodies aren’t as politicized as women’s. As such, I think certain expectations are placed on women as a direct result of Barbie and other unrealistic portrayals in media, but that might be less true for men and Ken. I’d argue that women and girls see Ken dolls as a blank slate on which to project the personality traits they expect from a husband–despite, not because of, Ken’s bizarro proportions. Again, men do deserve better Kens and more inclusive representation in general–but the reason why Barbie’s new designs are such a milestone, is that overall women’s bodies are more fetishized by society, and less diversely depicted in media, than men’s are.
One reason the inclusive Barbies are so important to women, and why some men conflate that importance with “weakness,” is that men are taught they have value beyond their looks (for proof of that, just look at the IMDB page for any movie, and check out the ages of the male actors vs. the women). Society values women by our weight and the health of our perishable cells; and I’m willing to bet the same men who dismiss that statement as pessimistic weakness are the same men who constantly reinforce for women that we are what we look like.
The new Barbie bodies matter. Sure, it’s be nice to see more realistic Ken dolls too, but my self-worth has never been solely linked to my conformity to an impossible plastic beauty standard.
Go read the whole essay.