Aisha Iqbal: If you object to a boxing black Barbie, then perhaps you're suffering from white privilege

When I was about eight years old my daddy bought me a doll.

Leeds's double Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams with a one-off first ever "boxer Barbie", which was  unveiled for International Women's Day. PHOTO: Mattel/PA Wire
Leeds's double Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams with a one-off first ever "boxer Barbie", which was unveiled for International Women's Day. PHOTO: Mattel/PA Wire

It was perfectly formed and white of skin and blonde of hair.

I loved that little doll, because my daddy had bought it for me.

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To me, it was the most beautiful thing in the world, even though it didn’t seem - even to my young mind - to come from a world I was familiar with.

I played with it for a while but then, for some reason I didn’t really know or understand, I ripped my doll’s little dress off, grabbed my mum’s needle and thread box and some rags, and set about making her a little ‘shalwar kameez’, an Asian outfit like those that I had watched my mum and all my aunties wearing my whole life.

I’d never seen a doll with brown skin or black hair or wearing a shalwar kameez.

I don’t even think it ever occurred to me that dolls could look anything other than white and blonde and perfect. But I guess somewhere in my little girl head, I wished they could.

My doll phase didn’t last long, and I soon swapped them for my favourite ever ‘toy’ - my typewriter!

It was this week’s news of a new ‘boxing Barbie’ in the likeness of Nicola Adams that reminded me of my brief period of plastic play.

As marketing ploys go, it’s a doll of an idea - as far as some people are concerned, at least.

The Nicola doll was unveiled ahead of International Women’s Day today (Thursday).

She was among 14 inspiring international women in various fields handed the unusual tribute.

Others included a snowboarder, a conservationist, a renowned chef and an actress and philanthropist.

A separate historic figures range, meanwhile, included the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, aviator Amelia Earhart and pioneering mathematician Katherine Johnson.

An impressive range of women, it can’t be denied.

Of course it’s not the first time the toy makers have broken with the traditional blonde and perfect doll - with its big bust, narrow waist and impossible to achieve body ideal - and have adapted the original to feature different races and body shapes. We have clearly moved on a lot from the 1980s, when my own doll drama unfolded -

But although our Nicola herself is delighted with the honour, the arrival of her plastic avatar has riled some people who say it’s a regressive move to tell girls that they have to play with dolls.

They may have a point. The idea of gendered toys itself - ‘girls play with dolls and boys with cars’ seems so last millennium.

However I fear the critics are missing the real point entirely and are speaking - well minded though they may be - from a position of white privilege.

Nicola is a black, lesbian boxer hailing from inner city Leeds. She is beautiful and talented and self made.

And she says herself that she would have loved to have had the chance to play with a Barbie a little more like her own new likeness when she was younger,

As long as the earth keeps spinning, little girls - and boys - will play with dolls.

Yes, I know the word ‘doll’ itself has been hijacked over time and can have sexist undertones.

But we can claim it back - and the ‘boxing Barbie’ is a knockout start.

I would certainly rather any child of mine - girl or boy - played with a Nicola Adams doll than a ‘blonde bimbo’ one.

But I guess that’s another essential point here.

It shouldn’t really matter what toys we adults want children to play with.

The clue is in the word ‘play’.

Toys should be about wonder and curiosity and inspiration and playfulness and a little bit of mischief.

They should be about allowing children to learn about the world - and about themselves.

They should be about giving children confidence to know they have choices in life - and about giving them a sense of belonging.

But above all, they should be about allowing children to be children.