I loved playing Barbies when I was a little girl. (And truth be told, I’d still probably play with Barbies if we had some around our house.) I never really thought about it when I was a kid, but I suppose I related to my Barbies. I had fair skin, blue eyes, and reddish-blonde hair. I didn’t think much about the unrealistic body dimensions until I was much older (props to Mattel, by the way, for improving upon that), but the thought that,“Hey, these dolls don’t look like me or represent me” was something that honestly never entered my mind. Because most of the dolls on the market (Barbie and otherwise) looked like me.
But for millions of little girls all over the world, the same cannot be said — and that’s something Mattel has heard loud and clear. This week, the brand unveiled a brand-new hijab-wearing Barbie doll at Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit, modeled after Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad who won a Bronze Medal in fencing in last year’s summer games.
Muhammad is the first American woman to wear the Islamic headscarf while competing at the Olympics. And now, she’ll make another first with her very own Barbie, who sports full fencing gear (to include a mask and saber), training shoes, and of course, the hijab. Muhammad admits this is pretty much “a childhood dream come true” — especially for a little girl who once fashioned hijabs out of tissue paper for her Barbies to make them look more like her and her sister.
“When I think about my own journey, me being a Muslim girl involved in the sport of fencing, there were people who made me feel like I didn’t belong,” Muhammad said. “For all those people who didn’t believe in me, this Barbie doll is for you.”
Mattel has taken criticism in the past for creating dolls that don’t promote a positive (or even a realistic) body image for young girls. And while I’m sure there are those who would still argue the brand has a long way to go, it’s certainly made great strides in the last few years — from Presidential Barbie to Game Developer Barbie. And I for one applaud how far they’ve come.
And so does Muhammad.
“Today I’m proud to know that little girls who wear hijab, and, just as powerfully, those who don’t, can play with a Barbie who chooses to wear a headscarf,” she shared at the Glamour Awards.
Mattel reports that it’s planning to release a range of new figures next year, modeled after more inspirational women. If this is any sign of where things are heading in girls’ toys, I honestly can’t wait to see what’s next.