On Monday, Mattel announced the release of a new Barbie doll modeled on champion American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Muhammad became the first American to compete at the Olympics while wearing a hijab at the 2016 games, where she took home a bronze medal. In addition to her fencing career, Muhammad also created the clothing line Louella, which offers modest, contemporary options.
Muhammad’s doll is part of the Shero collection, which creates dolls modeled after inspirational woman, and will be the first hijab-wearing Barbie. Billboard spoke with Muhammad, 31, prior to the doll’s release about the process of seeing herself miniaturized, her lifelong love of dolls and why athletes and Barbies have more in common that you might believe.
How did you feel when Mattel first reached out to you about the idea?
To be approached by Barbie for their Shero campaign that they have was a dream come true for me. To find out that my doll was going into production just added a whole other layer of tears. I was very excited about this moment.
What was the process like?
I essentially worked with the team just in developing the content for the Barbie itself. So, my fencing uniform, what shoes I would wear. It was really important for me to tie in my own body type in the doll. I worked really closely with the team to make sure that it was close to my likeness. It’s custom body made for me. I wanted the doll to have larger legs. I’ve always had larger legs, or that was what I was told as a kid, and I’ve grown to appreciate the size of my legs and the strength of my legs as an athlete so I wanted that to come through in my doll. I worked with them on the hair color, the hair length. I wear eyeliner even when I compete, a strong winged eyeliner, so that’s a part of my doll. And working with the hijab. This is Barbie’s first doll with a hijab so I’m really excited about that.
How did they capture the fencing equipment on such a miniature scale?
I visited Mattel a little while back and got a tour of their factory and got to see the entire process. My Nike sneakers that I wear, my fencing mask, it is insane how far we’ve come technologically and how they’re able to come up with this. It’s amazing. The likeness is uncanny, even the fencing kit itself. The mask is amazing, the sneakers. It’s very cool and very lifelike.
Why was this something that you wanted to be a part of? Why was this an important collaboration to you?
I played with Barbies for such a long time and I just remember imagining myself in these different roles as a kid through playing with dolls. I would imagine that a lot of people don’t believe that athletes and Barbies maybe have that much in common but I think that we have more in common that one may think. That’s a message that my parents have been pushing to me and my siblings from a young age, that we can be whoever we want or do whatever we want with hard work. I think that this messaging is also a common thread through Barbie and that we can inspire girls to become anything they want to be. That’s one thing that I was able to achieve as a kid in role playing and playing with dolls.
Do you think that more traditional brands have a responsibility to become more inclusive and more representative of America?
I think so. I think that that would be a good business decision by any brand, to push inclusiveness and to want to have, when we’re talking about dolls, have dolls come in a variety of skin tones and hair colors and look as different as each of us do.
What do you think the response will be to the unveiling of your doll?
I believe that people are going to be over the moon, especially within the Muslim community. I know when I played with dolls my mom made an effort to buy myself and my sisters dolls that were brown, dolls of color, because she wanted us to have these images within our household that represented us and made us feel included. I think that that’s hard to do for girls in particular of color when we see these images that are perpetuated through the media, whether that be in television or even in print. So to have a doll out, that will be available in 2018, that’s not just a doll of a woman of a color but also to have a Muslim Barbie that has the hijab I think is revolutionary.