Barbie and Ken split up after 43 years

NEW YORK — Barbie and Ken have gone the way of J.Lo and Ben.

After much public speculation about Ken's sexual orientation and Barbie's busy schedule (she does, after all, have 90 careers), the pair have decided to split.

"After 43 years of dating, Barbie and Ken have drifted apart," said Russell Arons, vice president of marketing at Barbie and Ken's parent company, Mattel. "There are a lot of successful career women out there who don't want to get tied down."

Mattel says Barbie, born in 1959, will reclaim her identity as a California girl with a "carefree and independent look."

Maybe Barbie got bored with Ken. Maybe she realized she didn't need a man to be happy. Maybe Ken came out of the closet. But perhaps, marketing experts say, Mattel wanted to shed a doll that may have been an unprofitable drag on the Barbie name.

"This pretend-boyfriend thing probably just wasn't helping sales anymore," suggested John Lister, chairman of Lister Butler Consulting, a Manhattan-based brand identity firm.

Arons disputed that version of the story. "The breakup of Barbie and Ken has nothing to do with Ken's sales," she said. "They've been strong all along."

She added that Ken will remain on shelves. Arons hinted that Barbie by fall will have her eye on a new Mattel character, an Australian beach boy named Blaine.

Mattel indeed may be feeling pressure to freshen up the Barbie icon. With sales of $3.6 billion in 2003, Barbie ranks as the top-selling doll brand in the world.

But competitors are catching up, and Mattel has been scrambling to develop alternatives to offerings including MGA Entertainment's Bratz line of hip-hop dolls targeted at girls ages 9 to 12. Mattel recently launched the "My Scene" line of Barbie dolls to compete with Bratz.