BY: JENNA CALDWELL
International toy manufacturer Mattel will be introducing its first-ever hijab-wearing character to Barbie's (arguably) diverse line of dolls. Set for public release in fall 2018, the latest character is based on Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American athlete to compete wearing the headscarf.
Mattel wants this new Barbie to be an "inspiration for countless little girls who never saw themselves represented in sports and culture." It is a part of Barbie's new "Shero" campaign, a blending of the words she and hero. This latest line of dolls is intended to honor boundary-breaking women across the globe and inspire the next generation to follow suit.
Other "Sheroes" include model Ashley Graham, actress/singer Zendaya, Olympian Gabby Douglas, ballerina Misty Copeland and Selma director Ava DuVernay.
Barbie confirmed the news on Monday, after an unveiling ceremony at Glamour magazine's Women of the Year summit.
"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, said Muhammad. "So to be in this moment, as a U.S. 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," she said Monday night, the Associated Press reported.
Muhammad worked alongside Mattel to design the Barbie and said her resemblance to the doll, which sports a fencing uniform and carries a sabre, is uncanny.
"I know that as an athlete I have larger legs â€” these strong legs that we use, especially fencers, to propel ourselves into lunges â€” and it was important for me to have my doll be as close to my likeness as possible," she said.
The design team made sure the Barbie even included Muhammed's signature eyeliner. Muhammed told PeopleStyle she thinks of her eyeliner as a "shield of power" which she wears everywhere from the grocery store to the Olympic games.
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 ðŸ˜ðŸ’˜ #shero pic.twitter.com/py7nbtb2KD— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) November 13, 2017
While many expressed enormous glee after Mattel's announcement, not everyone was pleased. Far-right political commentator Ann Coulter distastefully joked on Twitter: "ISIS Ken sold separately." Twitter user Amy Mek, a self-described psychotherapist and Trump supporter, used the announcement to accuse Muhammad of anti-Semitism.
Activist Simran Jeet Singh also took to Twitter to comment on the timing of the release. The news about the doll came as GQ magazine named Black activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick "Citizen of the Year." Unlike Coulter or Mek, who tweeted hatefully about the news, Singh followed their criticism with a call for positive change: "Let's elect diverse minorities to help lead this country. Let's do this America. The future is ours."
Barbie is not the first toy company to produce a hijab-wearing doll. Tired of waiting for mainstream companies to diversify their products, designers like Haneefah Adam, who introduced the "Hijarbie" in 2016, have gained tremendous support.
As toy companies continue to diversify their products, children will become exposed more to cultures and identities unlike their own, hopefully growing up to bridge gaps of intolerance between today's societal groups.