Hijab Olympic Fencer Makes History with Her Own Barbie Doll
By Mario Habashy/Arab American Contributing Writer
Mattel made headlines this week when they announced that the latest Barbie will be modeled after the Muslim-American Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. This is unarguably a giant leap forward into a more progressive, inclusive society.
Ibtihaj gained stardom during the 2016 Olympic games in which she was the first woman to wear a hijab while representing the United States. Her confidence and genuinely kind persona helped her attain tens of thousands of loyal supporters across the globe after her Olympic debut.
During the Olympic games, Ibtihaj walked out with an aura of unstoppable confidence. However, it was not always this way. In 2012, Ibtihaj said that she “could have easily walked away from the sport” after a hand injury that prevented her from making the Olympic team that year. It would have been a tragedy had Ibtihaj decided to quit on fencing because in the Olympic games she didn’t disappoint. Ibtihaj walked away as an Olympic bronze medalist alongside Team USA. In doing so, she made history once again as the first female Muslim-American to win an Olympic medal.
Ibtihaj grew up in a conservative home to parents, Eugene and Denise Muhammad. It was at the age of 13 when Ibtihaj first began to fence. A few years of training later, she would set foot into the Manhattan fencing boot camp hosted by Peter Westbrook. This was one of the defining locations for Ibtihaj’s development in competitive fencing.
The concealed nature of the fencing attire made Ibtihaj’s parents very comfortable with Ibtihaj’s pursuit. Fencing bridged the gap between Ibtihaj’s devout Islamic beliefs and her athletic strive. While most sports would have required Ibtihaj to expose a substantial amount of her skin, fencing allowed her to conceal almost all her body, which Ibtihaj claims “liberated” her.
Although fencing placed a heavy burden on her parents as trips all across New Jersey and New York became a common occurrence, Ibtihaj’s mom continued to be supportive and inspired her daughter by taking an unorthodox approach and reciting to Ibtihaj: “Don’t waste my money.”
Through all her success, Ibtihaj was not fortunate enough to escape the evils of prejudice. In fact, she once shared a photo of a man in New York who asked her if she “was going to blow something up.” This unapologetic comment is one of many cruel behaviors that hijabed women, like Ibtihaj, have to experience on a regular basis. This atrocious behavior is exactly what Ibtihaj attempted to rid the world of as she stood proudly with her hijab on the fencing strip.
Ibtihaj is an inspiration for all Americans. She didn’t back down and succumb to the confining stereotypes, and she didn’t let society define her. Instead, she used her unique position to bolster the cries of diversity. No race, creed, or ethnicity should define an individual, and this is empirically shown in the life of Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Mattel took note of Ibtihaj’s courage and was set to make history. After their initial meeting with Ibtihaj, Mattel wasted no time. Just one year after meeting with Mattel, Ibtihaj’s own Barbie doll will be going into mass production. Ibtihaj said that this news “was a dream come true.” In competing for a spot on Team USA and overall in the sport of fencing, Ibtihaj sought to bring diversity to the table and this Barbie doll is one of the many signs of her success.
It is important to note that Mattel placed all their chips on their request to Ibtihaj. The company embraced Ibtihaj’s full input on the Barbie doll’s design by giving her freedom on every measurement of the doll’s body. In creating a custom doll with all the nuances of Ibtihaj’s body, Mattel showed the world that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
Brands should “push inclusiveness,” said Ibtihaj. She believes that her deal with Mattel is one that ought to be modeled by other brands with a wide range of cultures in the coming future.
For now, we have witnessed that Mattel is progressive in thought. More parents will be able to empower their daughters by providing them with a doll that shares their aesthetic features. The inevitable success of Mattel’s move will prompt other large companies to follow the example set this week.