While it’s true that Barbie doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to promoting female empowerment — she once declared that math class was tough — the doll of impossible physical standards has been making serious strides in the last few years to correct her earlier blunders. Her most recent step in a more inclusive and empowering direction was unveiled yesterday in the form of hijab-wearing Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
The first American woman to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab and one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2016, Muhammad’s Barbie is the latest in the Mattel brand’s Shero collection and the first ever to wear the traditional head covering. She joins a lineup of dolls based on real-life icons that launched in 2015 to “inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere.” The collection includes Barbies modelled after Selma director Ava DuVernay, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, plus-size model Ashley Graham and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, among others.
Muhammad, who says she was moved to tears when Mattel approached her about creating a Barbie based on her, felt getting every detail correct was imperative. That included the thickness of the fabric used for the hijab and her body type.
“When I was a kid, I remember people commenting on the size of my thighs,” Muhammad said to The New Yorker. “Then I got involved in sports, and I came to appreciate my body.”
“Through playing with Barbie, I was able to imagine and dream about who I could become,” Muhammad said in a statement to Bustle. “I love that my relationship with Barbie has come full circle. Now, I have my own doll wearing a hijab that the next generation of girls can use to play out their own dreams.”
The doll was presented to her Monday at the Glamour Women of the Year Live Summit by fellow Barbie Shero Graham.
“Barbie is celebrating Ibtihaj not only for her accolades as an Olympian but for embracing what makes her stand out,” Sejal Shah Miller, vice-president of global marketing for Barbie, said in a statement. “Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented, and by honouring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything.”
Muhammad’s Barbie will be available for purchase in fall 2018.