Barbie and Ken. They’re a pairing just about as classic as salt and pepper. When one is mentioned, the other immediately comes to mind.
However, considering that Ken is traditionally thought of as Barbie’s love interest, this enmeshment with Barbie is problematic. As is explored during the recently released Barbie movie, Ken lacks a sense of purpose outside of his relationship with Barbie.
After attempting to discover himself in a series of problematic ways, Ken breaks down and admits that he just doesn’t know who he is without Barbie. As he puts it, “It’s Barbie and Ken. There is no just Ken.”
While obviously fictional, the relationship between Barbie and Ken does posit a belief common in some romantic relationships: “I am nothing without my partner.” Unfortunately, this belief could have dangerous consequences, especially if it’s held by a person who uses abuse in their relationship.
For instance, the person using abuse may physically restrain their partner to prevent them from leaving or insist that they can’t talk to their friends about the relationship. Some of these controlling behaviors may be rooted in a fear of abandonment.
“If you look at a healthy relationship, a person maintains who they are outside of their partner,” explains Mary Jane McCarthy, a counselor at JBWS’ Jersey Center for Non-Violence. “It’s good to have things to do as a couple but it’s good to maintain things you enjoy outside of your partner.”
Throughout the movie, Ken’s focus is earning Barbie’s attention. Without it, he doesn’t know who he is and falls into some deeply problematic behaviors.
“It’s good to have a partner who is going to encourage your interests, friendships, and hobbies,” explains Mary Jane. “That way you’re able to build an identity and purpose outside of your romantic relationship.”
Just as Ken discovers at the movie’s end, we don’t need another person to complete us. We’re already Kenough on our own.