Ibtihaj Muhammad should be used to making history by now.
She’s already been the first sabre fencer to compete for the United States in the Olympics while wearing a hijab, and she’s also the first Muslim woman to win a medal, taking home the bronze as part of Team USA.
Because of this, Mattel is making history, too, by creating the first hijab-wearing Barbie doll ever.
Muhammad has always loved being active, but struggled to find a sport she could participate in while maintaining proper attire for a Muslim woman.
She started epee fencing at 13 before finally switching to sabre. She graduated from Duke University in 2007, and has been part of the United States National Fencing Team since 2010.
In 2014, she launched a clothing line — Louella — that creates modest active wear and fashionable clothing.
She represented Team USA in the sport of fencing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. After earning her bronze medal, she lost in the second round of the individual sabre competition to Cecilia Berder of France.
In spite of the early loss, she still became a media darling — both for her tenacity in the ring and for the fact that she is the first woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States.
Muhammad is also the first Muslim-American woman to earn an Olympic medal for the U.S.
2017 was a momentous year both for Muhammad and for Mattel. The toy company announced they were modeling a Barbie after Muhammad — complete with her signature sabre and her hijab.
The new doll is part of the Barbie “Shero” program that recognizes women who “break boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls.”
Other women who have been included in the Shero program include director Ava DuVernay, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and dancer Misty Copeland.
This new Barbie is especially important for young Muslim women who may feel like they can’t compete in sports because of their religion or their desire to dress modestly or wear hair coverings or hijab.
Muhammad mentioned receiving some criticism during an Olympic interview for saying she didn’t feel safe in the U.S. as a Muslim, and described her home country as a dangerous place, especially during the 2016 presidential race.
Representation in the media has been hard to come by for people of color, as well as women — fewer than one-quarter of speaking roles in Hollywood blockbusters went to people of color in 2015, and women made up fewer than a third of the main characters in movies in 2016.
— CNN International (@cnni) November 20, 2017
For children who are learning how to process the world around them, seeing themselves represented in the media can be essential.
Instead of seeing cookie-cutter Barbie dolls on the shelf, Muslim women can now walk into the Barbie aisle and see a doll that looks like them.
It may seem small to some, but this representation is crucial in building confidence and identity for future generations of young Muslim women.
The Ibtihaj Muhammad Barbie doll may be the first Mattel doll wearing a hijab, but with amazing women like this Olympic fencer to look up to, we can bet it won’t be the last.
Her triumphs in both Olympic competitions and in life are just beginning, and we can likely look forward to more progress and success in the future from Ibtiahaj Muhammad and groundbreakers like her.