Big news for Barbie! The first of the iconic Mattel dolls to wear a hijab debuted on Monday, inspired by the U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Muhammad and her pint-size plastic doppelg?nger are both trailblazers: The former was the first American athlete to wear a hijab while competing at the Olympic Games, where she won a bronze medal last year. The Barbie doll made in her image sports a fencing outfit and is part of Mattel’s Sheroes line, which also includes a Barbie inspired by Olympian Gabby Douglas and dolls modeled after Ava DuVernay, Ashley Graham, Misty Copeland, and country singer Trisha Yearwood.
Muhammad was very involved in the design of both the Barbie and the hijab (lead Barbie designer Robert Best had never tied one on either a doll or human woman before), and she requested thick fabric, like a real hijab, to make sure it wasn’t see-through, as well as a stronger frame than Barbie traditionally has. “I think that having strong legs helped me win a medal at the Olympic Games, so I wanted my legs to be larger, more athletic legs, toned legs,” Muhammad said. She also wanted the doll to have her signature cat-eye eyeliner, in addition to her fencing helmet, saber, and Nike shoes.
Earlier this year, Barbie’s main man, Ken, got a much-needed update, with Mattel making more body types, skin tones, clothing, and hairstyles available. But Barbie has always been the more extreme archetype for women and a fraught focus of feminine stereotypes. (Remember those charts that showed how Barbie’s tiny waist was anatomically impossible? Who among us didn’t rebel at least once by chopping off her Barbie’s long blonde hair?) “Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented,” Barbie’s vice president of global marketing said in a statement. “And by honoring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything.” It will certainly help push young women to think bigger about their own futures if they can play with dolls that have life-size aspirations.