When Barbie told 19-year-old Yara Shahidi that the company wanted to gift her a one-of-a-kind “shero” doll made in her likeness, the Grown-ish actress was stunned.
“It’s really surreal just because this was never within my realm of possibility. I never thought, ‘Oh yeah, one day I’ll have my own doll’ or anything like that,” says Shahidi, who went from starring on the hit series Black-ish to its spin-off Grown-ish.
Shahidi is one of 20 role models from 18 countries being honored by Barbie as it marks both its 60th anniversary and International Women’s Day. The sheroes, as Barbie calls them, include German track cyclist Kristina Vogel, French director Lisa Azuelos, and Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka.
“It really amplifies and reaffirms this idea that we can excel in whatever field,” says Shahidi.
Barbie is touting this year’s group of sheroes as the “most diverse lineup” honored by the brand since the program launched in 2015. While customers can’t buy the role model dolls, they can choose from the Barbie Career 60th Anniversary , which includes an astronaut, firefighter, and pilot.
For every Barbie sold through March 11 in certain U.S. states, Mattel will donate $1 (up to $250,000) to the Barbie Dream Gap Project Fund, a new initiative that supports organizations “leveling the playing field for girls.”
Shahidi believes it’s important to see dolls that represent a wide range of female professionals because it shows kids what girls and women can achieve.
She says her parents intentionally introduced her to dolls, books, and TV characters that both reaffirmed her black female experience and demonstrated that anything is possible. Eventually, Shahidi learned other children didn’t get the opportunity to see role models that looked like them.
“When I realized that not everyone got the same privileges of seeing themselves reflected in the most tangible and the most metaphoric senses, it became really important to me to see what I could do in sharing the resources I’ve had, that have made such an impact,” says Shahidi.
Barbie and Shahidi worked together to design the doll, which included finding the right hair texture and skin tone.
“It was a really cool process of figuring out what makes this Barbie look like me,” says Shahidi. “What do I feel makes Yara Yara?”
One of the most recognizable features of Shahidi’s Barbie is its colorful “Vote” t-shirt. Proceeds from sales of the life-size, limited-edition tee go to Eighteen x 18, her voting initiative. Shahidi wears the shirt so often she jokes she’s become one with it.
On Friday morning, Shahidi helped Barbie turn the lights on the Empire State building in New York pink as a way to mark International Women’s Day. The brand also debuted new Facebook and Snapchat filters that let a user choose from several firsts, like being the first woman to run a four-minute mile, the first female lunar explorer, or the first female United Nations secretary general.
To girls who are dreaming about being the first in something, Shahidi says, “We’re particularly lucky to be born now because there’s generations of people who are waiting on us to accomplish all the amazing things we want to do.”