MUSLIM WORLD: Barbie’s 50th anniversary Islamic makeover

Share via

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

From Barbie Beach to Pilot Barbie to Hard Rock Barbie, the glamorous and iconic doll has undergone many makeovers since her creation 50 years ago, but none of her previous outfits has probably stirred as much buzz as her latest Islamic look.

It’s Barbie in a burka, as it’s been dubbed by the yellow press.

Wearing the traditional Islamic dress with a mesh eyehole, she went under the hammer along with 500 other Barbie dolls dressed in unique outfits at an auction in Florence, Italy, at the renowned auction house Sotheby’s to raise funds for Save the Children.


The auction, held in late November, was part of the celebrations put on for Barbie this year as she celebrated her 50th anniversary.

In her new look, Barbie also appeared in a line of stylish turquoise, lime-green, orange-colored burkas and regular head-covering Muslim veil, known as hijab.

The set of multicultural Barbies, including the burka-clad one, was dressed by the Italian designer Eliana Lorena in a project backed by Barbie’s owner, Mattel.

Opinion has been divided on Burka Barbie.

Fan Angela Ellis, who has a collection of more than 250 Barbie dolls, thought it was a good idea to introduce a veiled Barbie. That way, children living in conservative Islamic countries would have a doll they could identify with.

“Bring it on, Burka Barbie,’ Britain’s the Sun newspaper quoted her as saying. ‘This is really important for girls, wherever they are from, they should have the opportunity to play with a Barbie that they feel represents them.”

But not everyone shared such excitement over Barbie’s new conservative Islamic look.

Critics such as Barbara Kay in Canada slammed Barbie’s Muslim dress as a “symbol of oppression” and ripped Ellis’ commentary in an article recently published in Canada’s the National Post newspaper.

“I have seen some pretty tawdry advertising campaigns in my time, but I must say this one takes the cake for insensitivity. What’s next in dolls that are ‘important for girls’ to play with? ‘Illiterate Barbie’? ‘Forced-Marriage Barbie’?’ she wrote.


Instead, Kay branded Burka Barbie a “mockery of disempowered women” who, she said, have been “stripped of human dignity.’

She felt the doll had no place in Mattel’s line of “diversity” Barbies.

“There can be no parallel between these travesties of multiculturalism and other ‘diversity’ Barbies -- brown Barbies, native-dress Barbies, pilot Barbies -- avatars that reflect the natural appearance and truly traditional garb and career choices of free women,” she wrote.

The Barbie also has managed to stir the pot in the blogosphere.

Responding to a post on the blog Kabobfest, which argues that ‘it’s kinda somewhat cool’ of Mattel to put out a veiled Barbie, one commentator sarcastically suggested the Barbie makers introduce a line of “neocon pro-freedom Barbies’ to balance out Burka Barbie.

Burka Barbie is not the first Islamic-styled doll for girls.

Back in 2003, the United Arab Emirates-based company Newboy launched the Muslim doll Fulla, resulting in some fierce competition for Barbie.

Unlike the skimpy and revealing outfits of blond and blue-eyed Barbie, dark-eyed Fulla wears more modest clothes and hairdos, to the delight of the authorities in conservative Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran who previously targeted the original Barbie in crackdowns.

In 2003, Saudi Arabia called Barbie a “symbol of decadence to the perverted West” and banned the doll. Last year, Barbie came under fire in Iran when Iranian prosecutor Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi said the dolls were “destructive culturally and a social danger.”


Barbie’s veiled rival has become a smash hit in the Middle East, with more than 1.5 million dolls sold in the first two years of its making.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos, from top: Barbie received an Islamic makeover for her 50th anniversary. Italy’s Eliana Lorena designed the 500 Barbie dolls, including Burka Barbie, that recently were auctioned in Italy. Credit: Caters. Barbie’s veiled rival Fulla has become a bestseller in the Arab world. Credit: AFP