As any little girl can tell you, there isn’t just one Barbie. Sure, when we think of Barbie we often think of the blonde living in Malibu who splits her time between her jobs as an astronaut, President of the United States, and fashionista. But Mattel has released endless variations of Barbie over the years—and plenty of Kens too.
And Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated Barbie movie is chock-full of Mattel dolls. Margot Robbie is Barbie…and so is Issa Rae…and so is Dua Lipa, just to name a few. And Ryan Gosling’s Ken seems to be competing for Barbie’s affections with Simu Liu’s Ken and Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Ken and other various rivals.
But Barbieland isn’t just home to Barbies and Kens. It’s filled with other, slightly less famous Mattel dolls whose jobs have been largely to double date with Barbie and Ken and, on occasion, share their clothes. When Warner Bros. released the character posters for Gerwig’s film (out July 21), die-hard doll fans spotted two obscure dolls who were once mired in controversy, Midge and Allan. Played by Emerald Fennell and Michael Cera, Midge and Allan are Barbie and Ken’s best friends who made headlines after they got pregnant. Here’s everything you need to know.
Midge’s origin story
Midge was introduced in 1963 as Barbie’s bestie. Apparently, Barbie was getting some heat for being “too sexy” at the time, so Midge was designed to be less sensual to combat the criticism—tough beat for Midge. What exactly made Midge more innocent looking was unclear. She had a rounder face and bangs and wore less eye makeup but otherwise looked pretty much the same as Barbie. In ads, Midge seems to third wheel on Barbie and Ken’s dates a lot. Again, not great to be Midge.
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Midge was retired in the ’60s, but she made a comeback in the ’80s. “California Dream” Midge wore a vest and looked like she walked off the set of Saved by the Bell. “Cool Times” Midge had voluminous ’80s hair and an electric blue earrings.
Allan’s origin story
Like Midge, Allan’s time in the limelight was shortlived. Launched in 1964 as “Ken’s buddy” Allan was around to offer emotional support and play Best Man at Barbie and Ken’s wedding. The big selling point was the two male dolls could share clothes. Mattel retired Allan after just a few years—but that’s marriage for you. Your old friends just sort of fall away.
Midge and Al(l)an’s wedding
Midge got married in the ’90s in a Princess Di-esque dress to…you guessed it…Allan! Well, actually, she got married to Alan. Mattel dropped one of the Ls in the interning years. Barbie was a bridesmaid, obviously.
The Midge pregnancy controversy
Then in 2002, Midge got pregnant, which caused a bit of a stir. Technically, this was actually Midge’s second baby. She and Alan already had a three-year-old boy at home.
Mattel announced that Midge was expecting a baby girl and released a version of the doll that allowed you to pop off Midge’s pregnant belly and find a baby curled up inside it. The company argued the doll could be a totally not awkward teaching tool for families—though we should note that that’s not how babies actually emerge from human bodies.
Some Wal-Mart customers were reportedly none-too-pleased with the pregnant doll. Apparently they thought it promoted teen pregnancy, which is odd because Midge was a married adult, but whatever. Wal-Mart pulled Midge from its shelves, and Mattel produced a version with a flat belly and baby on the outside of her body. The new Alan came with a stroller.
Alan and Midge basically disappeared after that—no doubt to enjoy their family in privacy after the pregnancy media circus. Midge reappeared in 2012 on the Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse animated show: Mattel started selling new Midge dolls in conjunction with the show’s release. And Alan was never seen again…until Gerwig’s movie.
Delightfully, Fennell’s Midge appears to be pregnant in the upcoming film, a nod at deep Barbie lore.
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Write to Eliana Dockterman at email@example.com