has done it again — modelled after Olympic Fencing champion , the latest Barbie released by Mattel Inc. wears a ! The doll, designed in her likeness, also comes with a full fencing gear — mask, sabre, and training shoes. Mattel has had a decades-long history of manufacturing Barbies of unattainable beauty standards — blue-eyed, blonde-haired, white-skinned, slim figures — that misrepresented the struggles of every-day women. But lately, the company has been trying to appease its critics by manufacturing dolls of diverse racial identities, ethnicities, and body-types. This hijab-clad, athletic Barbie is the latest addition to their inclusive strategy. And people have welcomed it, not just in the US, but globally. Who wouldn’t want a Barbie to look like themselves, after all?
Ibtihaj Mohammed, the first woman to play an Olympic sport wearing a hijab, was thoroughly joyed to release the Barbie at Glamour’s Woman of the Year Summit in New York. “It was a childhood dream come true,” she said, on her Instagram page. However, the reactions on social media were mixed — it sparked the age-old Western debate on Twitter about whether hijab was a symbol of oppression or not. So, we decided to speak to a few Hyderabadis to give us some interesting insights about this latest move. And they contend that the release of Hijabi-Barbie is not a matter of reinforcing oppression but a matter of representation and inclusivity.
“Little girls have been admiring Barbie since forever — Barbie dolls have a lot of influence on them,” says Afza Tamkanat, celebrated Hyderabadi artist now based out of Sydney. “I think it’s a great move. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of career-oriented Barbies in the market — like doctors, astronauts, and other professionals. But lately, I’ve also been seeing Barbies that have different skin-tones, hair-types, and body-types. It shows people that it’s okay to be different.” She adds that this way, young girls will not only learn to accept themselves but also women from other communities. “For the longest time, Barbies have been blond, white and perfect. The kind of inclusivity that Barbie is employing will let children know about different cultures and communities,” she says.
Syeda Falak, a Karate champion based in Hyderabad, thinks that Mattel’s inclusivity is a positive change, especially for athletic Muslim women. “Releasing a hijab-clad Barbie modelled after a woman achiever is very encouraging. Women in hijab play many sports and they need more recognition. Also, it might encourage hijabi women to enter the field of sports. Moreover, Barbies should not just be eye-candies — they should be sensible. That’s the message we want to send our children,” she says, adding, “There are several talented hijab-clad women who play sport and that is the idea that needs to be normalised.”
“I don’t know if I can comment on the religious aspect of it, but personally, as a woman, I think it’s a positive thing,” says Priyanka Aeley, acclaimed Hyderabadi artist. “Athletic women portray the stronger side of womanhood, I think. We break our boundaries to compete with men. If Barbie is trying to integrate tradition with women empowerment, I think it’s a great idea.” She maintains that in a modern society like ours, differences are important.
However, we also heard a few voices that were not too quick in celebrating Mattel’s move. Thayyiba Jinan, football player and ex-student at University of Hyderabad, comments, “I think it’s just another marketing strategy by Mattel — trying to reach out to everyone through an attempt at inclusion. This is a possible way to portray their company as colour and culture neutral. But honestly, how many girls in America are going to pick up a black hijabi doll over a white blond? But then again, if this means having to walk past an aisle of coloured hijabi-dolls then let it be, I would say. It would be a reminder of
existence and tolerance.”
“This might seem like a gesture of inclusion. But what lies beneath the celebration of this gesture is a statement that Muslims, Africans, Asians are essentially different from the West —that we are abnormal. And they are making money of our differences,” furthers Shaheen Ibrahim, a video content creator at Iridium Interactive, Banjara Hills.
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