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Barbie makes history in a Hijab

Mattel’s iconic Barbie doll has had plenty of looks over the years, and now her latest is making history. The newest addition to Barbie’s “Shero” line, which celebrates inspirational women and provides children with all-important female role models, is modelled on Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad — complete with hijab.

Muhammad calls this “a childhood dream come true,” and is “proud to know that little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear a hijab.” Other high-profile women who have been welcomed into the ‘Shero’ family include filmmaker Ava DuVernay and gymnast Gabby Douglas.

“We use this line to create a halo over the brand,” says Lisa McKnight, SVP of Barbie brand strategy at Mattel. She calls Muhammad the “trifecta,” as somebody “who has broken boundaries and inspires girls, and played with Barbies as a girl herself.”

With gendered toys often accused of being reductive when it comes to girls’ interests, diversity and visibility are no longer just nice-to-haves when it comes to showing kids what they can achieve — they’re essential. LEGO recently honoured the historically underrepresented women in STEM fields with a trio of dioramas depicting the achievements of NASA’s female scientists and astronauts. Barbie’s ‘Sheroes’ are on the same mission, and including Ibtihaj Muhammad in this line means that for the first time, young Muslim girls will be able to see themselves in the most famous doll of all time.

Using such a popular, beloved toy to showcase diversity is a socially beneficial and necessary move, and one that stands to positively impact Mattel’s bottom line. Young Muslims are recognised as one of the most powerful contemporary consumer groups, and brands are fast coming around to the fact that better serving women and girls is critical to their success. The ‘Shero’ line currently accounts for five per cent of all Barbie sales. If Mattel continues with its efforts to make this collection ever more inclusive, we can expect that number to grow.

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