Chicago, IL

American Girl making strides in representation

TKhan

According to the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) press release, they are happy to share a win for inclusivity and representation, cornerstones of CAIR-Chicago's mission. CAIR-Chicago is one of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group,

The press release states how American Girl, owned by Mattel, Inc., has launched an official Eid outfit for 18-inch dolls following a push by Chicago-based activist Yasmina Blackburn.

Blackburn was a longtime associate of CAIR-Chicago and she first wrote a letter to the president of American Girl in 2009 "asking for Muslim representation in the doll line for her daughter who was 8 years old at the time. The company responded that they had no plans to incorporate Muslim holidays into their line, though they had products for Christmas and Hannukah. After reaching out again in 2020 asking the company to reconsider creating Muslim themed products in keeping with their public policies on inclusion and diversity, American Girl committed to incorporating Muslim representation in their line and worked with Blackburn who helped design the Eid doll outfit. Blackburn also edited the accompanying short story for cultural accuracy" according to the press release.

“I am thrilled to work with American Girl in making their products more inclusive,” said Blackburn, “especially celebrating Muslim holidays and traditions. I worked closely with the designers to ensure the first outfit was typical of an American Muslim girl and not feeding Oriental stereotypes. I’m very happy with the results and for future Muslim items to come out of the AG line. It’s important for kids to feel that their holidays are recognized at school and in the public sphere as well as on toy shelves. I am grateful to Mattel for their positive response and collaboration, my mother and daughter for their support, and CAIR-Chicago for its inspiration of my activism.”

“This signals a great shift in the public eye regarding what it means to be an American girl,” CAIR-Chicago Communications Coordinator Saadia Pervaiz said. “Growing up, I had no access to dolls that looked like me, let alone celebrated what I celebrated. With this clothing line, now young girls are able to see themselves reflected in their toys. Their peers will also be exposed to the multi-faceted American girl experience, which promotes acceptance in the long run.”

The Eid outfit can be purchased on the American Girl website for a limited time. This also is valuable for other moms.

"My three year old daughter loves to play with dolls, and as a hijabi mother I always feel a little uneasy, knowing how this could subliminally affect not only her standard of beauty, but her standard of normalcy as well. Will she develop hesitancy towards the hijab if her doll friends are not wearing one? Even though there are already hijabi dolls on the market, mostly manufactured by Muslims, I think it’s great that American Girl is including them as well, to kind of mainstream the ‘face of a headscarf’ to show that just as hijabis are Americans, Americans are hijabis too, and for the hijab to become a standard of beauty and normalcy in America as well. This is a small step on America’s path towards inclusiveness, for Muslims to start feeling included rather than just accepted," says Alisa Selim, a mother of three from Oak Lawn, IL.

However, others feel differently.

"As a mom with a child who will be growing up in America, it’s certainly nice that my daughter will be able to participate in having an American Girl doll that looks like her if she chooses to. I suppose it speaks to a wider acceptance of Muslims as part of the American cultural landscape. On the other hand, I’m hesitant to celebrate this as a grand milestone because American Girl is a corporation, and corporations are profit-maximizing entities, and I don’t know if the fact that they figured out that Muslims have money is all that special or important an achievement," says Dr. Nuha Mulk, a mother, from Evanston, IL.

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I write about culture, politics, parenting, religion, and health. My work has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Vox and Prism Reports among others.

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