MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Mattel recently honored Maplewood native Ibtihaj Muhammad, the Columbia High School graduate and Olympian, with a Barbie doll modeled after her. In addition to looking like the world-renowned and top-ranked fencer, this new Barbie doll is the first to wear a hijab.
Muhammad made headlines in 2016 when, in addition to her fencing prowess, which earned her a bronze medal at the Olympics, she became the first Olympian to represent the United States while wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf.
The doll was unveiled Nov. 13 at the Glamour Women of the Year LIVE Summit in Brooklyn, the latest in the Barbie “Shero” line that recognizes women who break boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls. At the event, Muhammad was presented with her look-alike Barbie by last year’s Shero, Ashley Graham, a body activist and model.
“Through playing with Barbie, I was able to imagine and dream about who I could become,” Muhammad said in a press release. “I love that my relationship with Barbie has come full circle, and now I have my own doll wearing a hijab that the next generation of girls can use to play out their own dreams.”
Mattel and Glamour chose to honor Muhammad not just for her fencing skills, but for her boundary-breaking clothing line, Louella, which creates fashion-forward clothing for those who wish to dress modestly.
“Barbie is celebrating Ibtihaj not only for her accolades as an Olympian, but for embracing what makes her stand out,” Sejal Shah Miller, vice president of global marketing for Barbie, said in the release. “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.”
“Ibtihaj Muhammad has challenged every stereotype — which to me is the definition of a modern American woman,” Cindi Leive, Glamour editor in chief, said in the release. “Last year, she was the first athlete from the U.S to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, and today we are thrilled to celebrate Ibtihaj as the first hijab-wearing Barbie. She will play a tremendous role in ensuring that girls of the future see themselves represented fully and beautifully in our culture.”
For Muhammad, that is the most thrilling part of her new Barbie.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have any options of dolls that looked like me, but today we’re changing that. It is such a big moment, not just for me, but for little girls everywhere,” Muhammad said while at Mattel’s Barbie development center. “When I think about my own journey, me being a Muslim involved in the sport of fencing, there were people who made me feel like I didn’t belong. For all those people who didn’t believe in me, this Barbie doll is for you.”
At the unveiling, Muhammad was both overjoyed and touched by the doll’s appearance. She and Graham joked about their Barbies having thicker legs, which promotes body acceptance. Muhammad called her doll’s legs “Olympic-medal thick.”
Also, with a huge smile on her face, Muhammad called the unveiling a “perfect hijab moment.”
Muhammad told the crowd that Barbie dolls had played a major role in her life when she was younger, allowing her and her sisters to stretch their creativity and play with one another. According to Muhammad, when she played with Barbies, she was able to imagine herself as an emergency room doctor, or a busy mom, or even a racecar driver in pink Barbie Corvette.
“Barbie dolls always allowed my sisters and I to play out different adventures with our big imaginations,” she said. “My mom wanted us to play with dolls that looked like us, so she would only buy us Barbies of color. This was a way we could see and celebrate the beauty of our brown skin, even as conventional standards of beauty that we saw in the media ran counter to that. I would even sew little tiny hijabs on my Barbie dolls.
“Today I’m proud to know that little girls who wear hijabs — and, just as powerfully, those who don’t — can play with a Barbie who chooses to wear a headscarf,” she continued. “She’s a Barbie who is strong enough to wield a giant saber and dedicated enough to spend years working her way to an Olympic medal. And she loves fashion. That’s not just Barbie. That’s me. That’s all of us.”
The doll will be available for purchase in 2018. Muhammad said she can’t wait to give one to her 2-year-old niece.
Photos Courtesy of Getty on behalf of Glamour