By Quraisha Dawood
Over the last few months, our beloved 57 year old Barbie has gone under the knife, emerging in all shapes, sizes and colours in order to pacify society’s tantrums for culturally appropriate toys. For most of her life she has portrayed an image of the ideal woman, with long blonde tresses, perennially perky breasts and a mind for whichever career she chose to pursue, but now it seems she has begun to mellow as she approaches menopause. She has realised that she must reflect the identities of her global following and so she has been made over in different ”skin” tones, dress codes and altered heights. She must be commended for bowing to the consumer, whose voice has been heard loud and clear through social media. However, this time round I fear that she may have gone too far.
Covering her golden locks with the Islamic headdress, Hijarbie has exploded onto the Instagram runway, gathering much applause for making the hijab fashionable while representing the Muslim global population. At a time when the veil is often equated with oppression and attached to terrorism, she exudes self-confidence and class in her mysterious new garb. Hijarbie, the brainchild of Haneefa Adam (24) from Nigeria, is hoped to inspire Muslim children through this unapologetic representation of their culture and religion. Even though Hijarbie is modelled after a Caucasian Barbie, Adam says she would love to include Barbies of all shades, if she could only find a black doll in Nigeria¹. For attracting much interest in the hijab from non-Muslim women across the globe, Adam has indeed crossed boundaries and challenged the stereotype of the oppressed, shy hijabi (veiled woman). Twitter is aflutter with non-Muslim women ‘obsessed’ with hijab, many deeming it ‘fashion-forward.’
But Hijarbie does have her critics. Many detractors have reduced the hijab to ‘garbage bags,’ asking why anyone would pander terrorists. ‘What’s next? Ken with a suicide vest?’ one tweet reads, prompting another argument over whether Hijarbie could be used to transport explosives:
This paranoia and sarcasm brought on by a piece of cloth may seem alarming, but this is not the first time Barbie’s rendezvous with religion has created a stir. In 2014, a Barbie depicting the Virgin Mary received major backlash for bringing blasphemy to such a sacred figure². One must ask, where does one draw the line when catering for all identities? At what point do we start offending people rather than creating unity?
Personally, I wonder if the children playing with these dolls really care about race or religion, or if parents are unnecessarily concerned with body image – who is really going to buy a fat Barbie? Surely any doll can be a hijabi if a child wants to make her wear a hijab. As a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, I first welcomed the refreshing idea of a mini-me. But something just did not feel right. Something was missing. That’s when it hit me. I realised that in Islam, hijab is inextricably linked with haya (modesty). It is meant to protect a woman’s dignity and shield her shape from unwanted leers. Like a diamond, a woman’s beauty is reserved only for those who cherish her. While recent trends have seen the hijab become more fashionable and accessorised, it is now becoming clear that hijab and haya are breaking up in a very public way. Rather than allowing a woman comfort, safety and confidence, the hijab is now attracting attention by being portrayed as sexy and figure-hugging , thus defeating the entire purpose of the hijab.
I am by no means a preacher, but as a woman who has come a long way in understanding the hijab, I admit that the Hijarbie has started a new, interesting conversation around cultural appropriation. For example, has it perhaps taken the fashionable element of the hijab too far? Models strut across the runway in 2016 Christian Siriano strapless dresses, wearing hijab, or like Dolce and Gabbana, produce a cloak and scarf with their branding, calling it a ‘sexy silhouette.’ I wonder just how far the modest hijab can be interpreted as sexy, without mocking Islam.
While this is a world where it may seem like anything goes, Hijarbie and these members of her culturally inappropriate army need to understand the difference between the sacred and the profane before ISIS or IDF Barbie comes into our homes on her military tanker, having us believe that war is the new sexy.