Friday, December 18, 2009

Burka Barbie

Barbie has had more than 80 careers -- everything from a rock star to a paleontologist to a presidential candidate.

A friend forwarded me a recent article – Muslim Wold: Barbie’s 50th Anniversary Islamic Makeover. According to the article:

“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.“
I paused to collect my thoughts – so many were running through my brain – both about Barbies and Burkas. Barbie is actually a central character in my novel, SHOOTING KABUL. She is the beloved doll of Mariam, my protagonist, Fadi’s, younger sister. Mariam, like me, grew up playing with Barbie, impervious to all the body image controversies she is associated with. Part of the fun was dressing her up. Now the burka -- The whole subject of women covering is a loaded issue – it is seen as a sign of oppression, especially by those in the west. (Though on the counter side, Naomi Wolf would argue that women in the West are oppressed by body images as well – it isn’t easy being told you need to be a size zero and in a bikini.) But for me, at the end of the day, it is about CHOICE. Plain and simple. Women should have a choice to do what they want with their bodies – cover it up or wear a bikini. If Barbie wants to wear a bikini, she should, and if she feels the need to conserve her modesty, the burka should be her choice of fashion.
Of course, the auction drew controversy – sigh, wasn’t that expected?
Pro: 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.”
Con: 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.
Barbie’s choice is at issue, and at the end of the day, she should be able to wear whatever she wants to…. Oh, and Happy Birthday.

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