Ibtihaj Muhammed, the first American Olympian to wear a hijab whilst competing, has now become the first hijab-wearing Barbie doll.
She joins the likes of model Ashley Graham, fellow Olympian Gabby Douglas and film director Ava DuVernay in Mattel’s Shero’s collection. The Shero Barbies are based on ‘female heroes who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere’. Graham, who is breaking boundaries in the fashion industry by proving size doesn’t define beauty, presented Muhammed with her smaller, yet equally inspiring self at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit.
The world is needing sheroes now more than ever. For Muslim girls, Muhammed’s doll is especially important considering the rising number of Islamophobic incidents across the UK and US. The Tell MAMA Project, which tackles Islamophobia in the UK, reports that the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes on the streets rose by 47% in 2016. Muhammed’s doll is not just a revolutionary advocate for women, she is a revolutionary advocate for Islam, religious tolerance, human rights and equality.
Muhammed has gained Shero status, but girls all over the globe have gained a choice.
They have gained another possibility. When I was three, I wanted to be a palaeontologist. Whilst the other girls would be cradling their Baby Annabelle’s, I would be pushing my baby dinosaur in a pram, sat with my reptilian toys watching Barney the Dinosaur. Barbie, Bratz and the other ‘girl’ toys would strut onto my TV in the ad-breaks, staring down at me through their pink-rimmed sunglasses, flashing their white smiles lined with fuchsia pink lipstick and swinging their hot-pink handbags. I wasn’t a ‘pink’ girl and I didn’t want to be a ‘pink’ girl, yet the images on the screen were telling me this was what I should be. I would watch the Barbie adverts and hear the slogan ‘Be who you wanna be’, except I wouldn’t see anyone that I wanted to be. I could only see the skinny, pretty, smiling, white girl. And I didn’t want to be her, I wanted to be more, but I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t given a choice.
In the face of sexual harassment, Mattel’s identifiable figures are vital in showing that every girl and every woman can be a shero (meaning she hero).
Today, Barbie is giving girls a choice. In Mattel’s ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ advert, which features five girls roleplaying their dream jobs (including a palaeontologist!), young girls see the slogan ‘You can be anything’…but they also believe it. With the new, revolutionary Barbies, girls believe that they can be palaeontologists, business executives, vets, professors, presidential candidates and hijab-wearing Muslim Olympic champions. The possibilities are endless and they are reachable. By reaching for Muhammed’s Shero doll, a girl is reaching for her future. She is reaching for everything that Islam stands for, she is reaching for Olympic medals, and she is reaching because she believes she can. The new release of this doll has offered new opportunities for young children and is the beginning of a hopefully, more representative future for our younger generations.