There are few children’s toys which are as recognizable as Barbie. Launched in 1959, the doll has been a toy of choice for children around the world, and its maker Mattel has claimed that three Barbies are sold every second.
The first incarnation of Barbie portrayed her as an impossibly beautiful stick-thin white woman, and this was how the majority of Barbies remained until the doll came under fire for creating unrealistic body expectations. As a result of public criticizm, Barbie has had a number of different incarnations over the past few decades to make her more inclusive, and Barbies have been created with varying body proportions and made racially diverse. However, until now, Barbie has not been portrayed as being religiously diverse. This is why the doll was banned in the Middle Eastern country of Saudi Arabia in 2003. She did not conform to Islamic ideals, and her “revealing clothes and shameful postures” were described as “a symbol of decadence to the perverted West.” In a bid to appeal to children of all backgrounds, Mattel has created a hijab-wearing Barbie. The doll was launched on Monday of this week and was created in honor of American fencer and Olympic bronze medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad. The athlete reportedly cried when she discovered that a Barbie doll was going to be modelled on her. Ibtihaj made history at the Rio Olympics last year by becoming the first athlete to represent the United States wearing a hijab. Even in 1959, one of Barbie’s marketing ploys was selling the doll on the premise that it would encourage children to realize that they could “become anything”, even though the initial incarnation of Barbie had an impossible-to-achieve body. Ibtihaj had a few requests when she discovered that Mattel were creating a doll in her honor. She wanted her Barbie to wear eyeliner, have an athletic frame, and, naturally, wear a hijab. “It’s something I wear like I wear a shirt or I wear pants,” she said in reference to the religious garment. Hijabs are traditionally worn by Muslim women when they are around adult men outside their immediate family. This is done to protect their privacy and modesty. The hijab-wearing Barbie will be available for purchase in 2018, and she is a part of Mattel’s “Shero” line which honors women like Ibtihaj “who break boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls.” Despite representing another positive step by the company to create toys all children can relate to, hijab-wearing Barbie has come under considerable fire as some people regard the hijab as a sign of perceived female oppression in the East. This is what some incredibly ignorant and Islamophobic Twitter users had to say about hijab-wearing Barbie: Others were critical of the fact that Mattel hasn’t made other religiously diverse dolls: Thankfully, not all Twitter users were against hijab-wearing Barbie, and Mattel’s decision to model her on Ibtihaj. We spoke to a Muslim woman who grew up in the West about hijab-wearing Barbie. She revealed that there is already a hijab-wearing doll available for Muslim girls in the East, so Mattel’s decision to create a hijab-wearing Barbie simply represents an opportunity for Muslim children in the West to be included by a major brand in this part of the world. “I’m neutral about it,” the 27-year-old Muslim woman said. “I don’t need to have everything look like me because at the end of the day we are all human beings, and we all have the same experiences. Playing with Barbies has always been part of the experience growing up. I loved normal Barbie.” “I support the people who say that they want to have a nice role model for their children,” she added. “So I might understand that if you’re coming from a very religious background, but because I’m more flexible, I don’t necessarily have to have a veiled Barbie. I was raised with normal Barbies.” Ibtihaj, however, explained how much the hijab-wearing Barbie meant to her as a Muslim woman living in the West: “I had so many moments as an athlete, where I didn’t feel included, where I was often in spaces where there was a lack of representation. So to be in this moment, as a US Olympian, to have Mattel, such a global brand, diversify their toy line to include a Barbie doll that wears a hijab is very moving to me.” Regardless of your opinion on the hijab-wearing Barbie, it’s clear that for some children unrealistic body expectations can be damaging. These women turned to plastic surgery in an attempt to look like the original doll: We hope that hijab-wearing Barbie is enjoyed by children who want to play with her. After all, a toy should not be used as an excuse for people to vent their Islamophic views.
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