A doll of Islamic values!
A girl named Ruth meets a boy named Elliot; they fell in love, married and raised two children named Barbie and Ken. It was in early 30’s. In mid 40’s they owned a company that made wooden photo frames. Elliot used the scrapes of frames to build doll-furniture. This was the beginning of their toy business. Later, during early 50’s Ruth Handler purchased a German Lilli doll; she was made of plastic, with long ponytail hairs, with large wardrobe; she was a fashioned after Bid – a famous cartoon character in the West German newsletter then. Lilli inspired Ruth to build the Barbie doll. In 1959, Barbie made its way to New York toy show, and was generously appreciated. From then there was no turning back. Within ten years, it made the fortune of $500 millions.
It became a phenomenal success story across the globe, except the Persian Gulf countries. Barbie underwent many changes that varied from her looks to the contents of hers wardrobe. But in essence it remained a western product, and thence alien to the traditional Muslim world, where women were ‘not an object of display’ and carried themselves behind ‘abaya’. So a team of 50 researchers – artists, animators, and psychologist – came together to understand the Arab phenomena. It took 18 months for them to design a doll that would suit the traditions and prejudices of Muslim world. This new kin of Barbie was named after a flower – Fulla.
Fulla’s face has a “kind look, the Arab look, She has Arab values, not those of Barbie the American” opines Fawaz Abidin, head of marketing for Fulla at Damascus-based New Boy, the doll’s maker. Fulla has dark eyes, contrastingly different from Barbie’s blue twins. She comes with two sets of clothing. Form-fitting, revealing outfits are sported at home, while items that cover the arms, legs, neck and often the hair are donned in public. Fulla’s complexion is olive to Barbie’s peaches-and-cream, her hair is much thicker than Barbie’s blonde mane and her face fuller than that of the typical American, but otherwise she is much the same.
The key is “Arab”; they are capitalizing on the traditions of Islam. To young girls, a doll is like a friend. And by veiling the doll, in a way, they are teaching young girls to succumb to the age old traditions of abaya. Although some have different thoughts: “Fulla shows girls that the hijab is a normal part of a woman’s life,” says Mahfouz. Two years ago, Saudi Arabia had banned Barbie for her revealing clothes and shameful postures.
There is no such thing as a single “Arab look”, but Fulla’s button nose, bow mouth and svelte figure testify to the internationalisation of Western standards of beauty over indigenous ideas of beauty. Few would contest that broader features and heavier figures are more the norm among Arab women.
Ghada Said, a financial analyst in her twenties, although she has no children, says she would definitely buy a Fulla for her daughters. “It expresses something about the Arab world, because most girls are veiled these days,” Yet Said herself does not wear a veil and says she would want her own daughters to make up their own minds on the issue. “I don’t think that the doll tells little girls that they should be veiled, because they already see that most women in their families and around them are veiled.” Mahfouz and Ghada have a same say, but at least, Ghada prefers to offer her children a non-partisan option to hijab.
But the question is: do those young girls have a free air to think unbiased? With their doll – donned in hijab – as their intimate friends, would they ever be able to overcome this long-bestowed tyranny of “Purdah”? Would they ever be free from this curse?