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The Veiled Barbie.

The NYT reports about the stunning success of a hijab wearing Barbiesque doll in the Middle East. Introduced in late 2003, the doll carrying the brand „Fulla“ is reportedly available in „every corner store“. For those who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford the doll there is Fulla-branded chewing gum.

It’s an interesting development – as the paper reports, other companies, including Mattel, the owner of the Barbie brand, have product lines of veiled dolls marketed in Islamic countries, yet no foreign company was able to claim the cultural authenticity, that seems to have allowed Fulla to succeed to the extent she has.

Some seem to see this as a consequence of the growing cultural influence of conservative Islam in the Middle East, indicating that such a venture would not have succeeded 10 years ago, and that the doll serves well to perpetuate the importance of the veil –

„My friends and I loved Barbie more than anything,“ she said. „But maybe it’s good that girls have Fulla now. If the girls put scarves on their dolls when they’re young, it might make it easier when their time comes. Sometimes it is difficult for girls to put on the hijab. They feel it is the end of childhood.“ „Fulla shows girls that the hijab is a normal part of a woman’s life,“ Ms. Ghayeh continued. She gestured behind her, at a pair of excited little girls examining a rack of Fulla-branded Frisbees and pool toys. „Now the girls only want Fulla.“

Not that I think it is appropriate to deny any woman the right to wear (or not wear) whatever she deems appropriate for whichever reason. However, while possible, it is unlikely that Fulla’s success is not at least partly related to recent geopolitical shifts in the Arab world – a region filled with peoples which are seemingly desperately trying reinvent their identities by reuniting their cultural and religious heritage with the world around them. So, while I’m sure that Fulla’s success will cause some concern among those hoping for the continously growing amount of young Arabs to achieve that, we know by now that it is usually a difficult and rather violent process. So I’m not sure Fulla isn’t actually a positive development.

Too bad that she will lead a rather lonely life – despite the fact that the company producing the doll is apparently called „NewBoy, Inc.“, there are no plans for a young handsome Arab Ken-doll.

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