The first hijab-wearing Barbie doll has been released in honor of a Muslim woman who was the first Muslim to wear Islamic headgear while competing as a fencer at the Olympics last year. Ibtihaj Muhammad won a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro last year but said that a doll in her likeness is a "childhood dream come true."

Toymaker Mattel, which makes the iconic doll, is planning to release a new range of dolls to be released in 2018 that will be modeled on celebrity women as part of its “Shero” line. The Barbie designed in Muhammad’s likeness is equipped with fencing gear, including a mask and sabre, and wears training shoes in addition to the hijab around her head.

"When I think about my own journey, me being a Muslim girl involved in the sport of fencing, there were people who made me feel like I didn't belong," Muhammad said. "For all those people who didn't believe in me, this Barbie doll is for you." Muhammad said that as a child in New Jersey she made tiny hijabs as a child out of tissues to wrap around the heads of her Barbie dolls so they would resemble her and her sisters.

Muhammad said she hoped hijab Barbie will inspire girls "to embrace what makes them unique."

"Today I'm proud to know that little girls who wear hijab and, just as powerfully, those who don't can play with a Barbie who chooses to wear a headscarf," she said. "She's a Barbie who is strong enough to wield a giant sabre and dedicated enough to spend years working her way to an Olympic medal."

Muhammad added, "I'm proud to know that little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear hijab! This is a childhood dream come true," Muhammad said in a tweet. The hijab Barbie was announced at Glamour's Women of the Year summit. The doll will go on sale in 2018.

Having hit a sales slump with its Barbie dolls, which were introduced in 1959, Mattel is seeking to make its dolls more diverse. Mattel reported that sales for Barbie dolls were down in the most recent quarter by 6 percent compared to 2016. Introduced in 2015, the Shero line includes dolls featuring Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, model Ashley Graham, ballerina Misty Copeland, director Ava DuVernay and actress Zendaya.

Last year, Mattel began offering Barbie dolls in tall, petite, and curvy versions. Likewise, Barbie’s ever-present companion, Ken, is now available in three body types and seven skin tones. "Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented, and by honoring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything," Sejal Shah Miller, Barbie's vice president of global marketing, said in a statement.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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