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Critical Analysis of A new look for Barbie

Iqra Ayaz

Fatima Jinnah Women University

Department of Gender Studies

Author Note
This critique is being written on an article by Rafia Zakaria in
(the daily) DAWN on November 22nd, 2107/


Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy

and her article A New Look for Barbie was published in a well know daily names as
DAWN after the company Mattel unveiled their new series of barbie dolls which they
termed as Barbie Shero Series. This new Hijabi doll was made to honor US Olympic
fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. The doll is modeled after Ibtihaj Muhammad, the US
fencer who became the first Olympic athlete to compete while wearing a hijab. The
doll will be part of Barbies Sheroes line.

Other dolls in the line include ballerina Misty Copeland, gymnast Gabby
Douglas, and director Ava DuVernay, so the Ibtihaj doll will be in very good company.
The doll was revealed at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Muhammads
doll is dressed in a white fencing outfit and includes a helmet and sword. The likeness
is striking, as the doll even has Muhammads characteristic winged eyeliner. With
Americans squabbling over who gets to be a shero and if a shero can ever wear a
hijab, and whether everyone who wears a hijab is interested in violent jihad, it is easy
to forget that in Muslim-majority countries the debate may have different parameters
as there are various and numerous difficulties and complexities in the Muslim world
when it comes to women and Hijab. The writer also addressed this launching of new
design of Barbie for those who think that this move is mere an effort to promote

Critical Analysis

The article explains as how this act done by a corporation in America influenced
the people of America and Ibtijaj herself who is a Muslim girl and how she felt getting
this privilege by the Barbie designing corporation. The writer addressed her readers as
how this move is very unlikely to get acknowledgment and importance around the
world among the Muslim community where American companies are known for
manufacturing bombs and American Media and Trump administration is so much
involved in Islamophobia politics. Rafia also addressed that this move of Barbie
manufacturing company can also be taken as a feminist act by some of the people in
America and other parts of the world too.

The writer mentioned Ann Coulter, conservative talk show host and avid Trump
supporter, wasted no time labelling Hijabi Barbie Jihadi Barbie, drawing, like many
others in the Trump camp, an indelible connection between all and any aspects of
Muslim religious identity. Per that political calculation, all Hijabi women and frankly
all Muslims are jihadis bent on eliminating American freedoms. Predictably,
the other side of America, the millions more that oppose Trump and the politics
of Islamphobia that have led to his election, were quick to celebrate the latest Barbie
shero and her hijab.

The writer explained as how a Hijab wearing Barbie doll would be unreal in
those parts of the world where such issues are much more complicated like whether
Muslim women have the freedom to forego the hijab, whether it is possible to be a
good Muslim woman and not cover ones hair or, conversely, whether all women who
cover their hair are automatically good and moral Muslim women. The pressure and in
some countries the actual law pushes in the other direction, requiring and enforcing
modesty and punishing detractors with social and sexual harassment, public ostracism,
implications of moral laxity. This seems pretty much sensible as in the Muslim
majority countries like Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the
Muslim women are bound to wear Hijab by law. However, in democracies like Islamic
Republic of Pakistan, wearing hijab is a common trend among women but the ones
who go otherwise are not bound by the law of state to wear it.

In real world there is another constraint when it comes to the debate of either
wearing hijab or going otherwise, only those who have been subjected to it, made to
feel like lesser Muslims, have had their character and their faith questioned and judged
by unknown and strange others, can know how intrusive and hurtful it can be. But none
of the people in the Muslim world, not the evangelists prescribing the hijab nor the
non-wearing faithful who have irked them, are particularly important to the debate as it
pertains to a Barbie doll. But whether it is possible to be a good Muslim woman and
not cover ones hair or, conversely, whether all women who cover their hair are
automatically good and moral Muslim women.

The writer explains that in real world there are way more swerve and bigger
problems that a plastic Barbie doll cannot address or any such doing by an American
company cannot be enough to oppose the mass opposition the Muslim women are
facing today in western countries and in America.

Rafia says that in a world wracked by war and displacement, where children
starve and wash ashore dead, the promise of a doll, let alone a very expensive one,
whether or not she wears a hijab, is not anything within the realm of possibility. Where
these millions are concerned, American corporations are known for many things, their
drilling for oil, their manufacture of bombs, their on-again off-again donations of
humanitarian supplies but not really for their plastic dolls. Even Ibtihaj herself is
sensitive to these realities, emphasizing in her statement how she had worked with
Mattel to ensure that the Hijabi Barbies legs were thicker because as an athlete her
legs are stronger and thicker than the usual Barbie legs.

Weather or not the Hijabi barbie shows solidarity with the Muslim women
wearing Hijab or others, this piece of literature is a fine work on overall analysis of this
rebranding move by an American firm that used to design barbies which represented a
grotesque exaggeration of female dimensions, one that feminist critics noted
inculcated very negative ideas about female bodies among the girls who played with
them. Add to this the fact that the dolls, until relatively recently, sold a white and
Caucasian ideal of beauty, blonde hair and blue eyes, and you had a doll that basically
told young girls who did not fit the stereotype to think of themselves as less beautiful.


The article addressed the pros and cons of Barbies new look and its impact on
young Muslim girls who wear Hijab when they go to school and colleges. It also
mentioned that the ones taking this new design of Barbie as symbol of feminism should
understand the fact that supporting the working women such as athletes and sporting
ladies may influence the Muslim women to stand for themselves.

The case of Barbie is more complicated: can a corporations efforts to rebrand a

product that promoted narrow concepts of beauty and what women could do, to bolster
its profits, be considered a feminist act? Are Muslim women in such desperate need to
be acknowledged as strong and beautiful that they must clamour to congratulate Mattel?
This is a statement that can be evaluated in many different ways and methods but we
would mainly remain to our subject that the Muslim women either wearing Hijab or
not can not be represented by mere a Hijabi Barbie.