Toy of the Week: Roller Skating Ken (Mattel, 1981)

Growing up as a girl in the 1980’s, Barbie and her friends were a major portion of my childhood. Barbie was (and still is) present at birthday parties, on Christmas morning, every Saturday morning, after school, and throughout the day on Nickelodeon. 

As iconic as Barbie is, this article is about her long time significant other, Ken. Also, it’s about a specific model of Ken doll from a specific time period in our popular culture and the outfit and accessories that were included in the doll’s packaging.

Why did I choose this toy? 

1. I saw the promotional picture of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken roller skating (or more likely roller blading)  in my Twitter feed. 

2. Roller Skating Ken was one of three Barbie gifts I received for my fourth birthday, along with Malibu Barbie and Malibu Skipper. 

3. I’ve been thinking about roller skating since the first volume of Stranger Things 4 dropped in back at the end of May. 

4. I’ve also written about my own experiences with roller skating before, mostly during Skate Nights at my local roller rink, Sparkles. 

When was this toy produced? 

The original Ken Doll character was introduced in 1961 as Barbie’s boyfriend. 

Roller Skating Ken was produced and sold by Mattel in 1980/1981 and my fourth birthday was in 1981. His face mold and painted on blond hairstyle were similar to that of Superstar Ken. 

Was there a Cartoon? 

No and I haven’t even found evidence of a commercial for Roller Skating Barbie and Ken. I think even back then there were more dolls produced than Mattel could advertise. Most likely, the bulk of their advertising went to the Malibu and Superstar lines. 

Was there a villain? 

Not that I know of. Barbie storylines appear to have been more focused on the positive side, emphasizing friendship, fun, and a world of possibilities for young girls. Both in terms of career choices and fun past times. 

What could be more fun than a date at the local roller rink? Especially when the “Couple Skate” sign lights up? 

When/Where did I acquire this toy? 

As mentioned above, I received three dolls from the Barbie line as gifts for my fourth birthday: Malibu Barbie, Malibu Skipper, and Roller Skating Ken. 

For some reason, I somehow wound up with two Roller Skating Ken dolls.  I don’t remember why I would have had two of them. I don’t remember if two of my relatives gave me the same doll at the same time or if my mom bought me a replacement at a later time because something happened with the original. 

Back in those days, it was frighteningly easy for a kid to remove the doll’s limbs. All you had to do was bend their arms back to change their tops or take off their pants and their arms and/or legs would pop right off. 

It added an interesting coordination challenge to what other wise seemed like a fairly easy toy. It took years of practice to be able to change one of my original dolls without their arms or legs popping out, but when they did, I had also learned to pop them back in. 

By contrast, the modern articulated dolls are a pleasure to work with. They’re not only easier to dress, I can also pose the new dolls and take pictures of them to post on social media. 

Do I still have this toy or any of its accessories? 

Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my three original dolls anymore. They all both ended up with sticky limbs and shortly before  I graduated from high school, we cleaned out my closet and they they all had to go away. Thankfully, Looks #5 and #9 were available to help out (along with their friend from the BMR1959 line, seen here in another vintage Ken fashion).

Roller Skating Ken and more Kens

Did anything about this toy surprise me? 

Yes, I was delighted to find that I still had at least one pair of the red satin socks, one intact roller skate, and one roller skate bag. I was even happier to find that I could get the vintage Kens’ clothes on my modern male dolls. Unfortunately, I found the other red satin sock after I took the picture of the three male dolls together.

I also posed a few pictures with a couple of different Barbie dolls wearing the second jacket/shirt/ and shorts set. In both cases, I had to take some liberty with the female doll’s footwear, but I wanted to show both a standard size Barbie and a modern “tall” Barbie with the current “Ken” body type. 

Roller Skating Ken and Barbie

From Barbie’s introduction in the late 1950’s through the present day, no matter what was going on, children have always had Barbie. Barbie has evolved over the decades to reflect the world and include more of it. 

Along with Barbie, “Ken” has also evolved, participating in a number of careers and portraying a number of different characters from popular culture. 

Miss a week? Check out all the toys featured in Toy of the Week

About Karen Flieger 75 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.

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