For the first time ever, toy maker Mattel has issued a Barbie doll wearing a hijab, in honor of Olympic athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad, NBC News is reporting.
Beginning in 2015, the Barbie “Shero” Program (“Shero” being a portmanteau of the words “she” and “hero”) has honored women who have pushed boundaries, challenged gender norms, and inspired young girls to be the best they can be. As MTV News reported at the time, the first round of “Shero” Barbies honored such women as country music artist Trisha Yearwood and Broadway actress Kristin Chenoweth.
The latest entry in the Shero series honors U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Ibtihaj, who took bronze in women’s team foil in the 2016 Summer Olympics, was the first female American Olympian to compete while wearing the traditional Muslim head covering. She is also the first Muslim American athlete to win a medal in the Olympics.
At the time, as Ibtihaj explained to the Daily Beast, she felt it was her duty to wear her hijab in solidarity with other Muslim women, particularly in the U.S.
“I’m not a novelty, I’m not special in any way, I’m a woman who wears hijab.”
In her honor, her Shero doll features her in her fencing uniform, helmet in hand, proudly wearing her hijab.
Thank you @Mattel for announcing me as the newest member of the @Barbie #Shero family! I’m proud to know that little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear hijab! This is a childhood dream come true???????? #shero pic.twitter.com/py7nbtb2KD
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) November 13, 2017
Sejal Shah Miller, vice president of global marketing for Barbie, praised Ibtihaj for representing Muslim girls in a public and visible way.
“Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented, and by honoring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything.”
In her own statement, made available via Bustle, Ibtihaj described her days playing with Barbie dolls as a little girl.
“Through playing with Barbie, I was able to imagine and dream about who I could become. 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 hijab — that is, the traditional Muslim head covering that leaves the face exposed — has become a lightning rod for criticism, both in the West and even in some Muslim countries. While in some Muslim countries women are required to wear the hijab (or garments that cover even more of their heads than does the hijab), some Western countries, such as France, have outright banned women from wearing face-covering garments in public.
And in countries where Muslim women have the freedom to wear the hijab or not wear it, it still remains controversial. Some Muslim women consider it an ancient and patriarchal tradition that subjugates women, while others prefer to wear it in honor of Islamic ideals of modesty.
[Featured Image by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images]