At just 19 years old, Yara Shahidi has already proven she’s a force to be reckoned with. From rallying her peers to get informed and registered to vote to exploring important issues affecting young people on her show Grown-ish, the actress/activist is always looking to expand the conversation—and the people having it.
It’s that thoughtful outspokenness and authenticity that make Yara an inspiring role model not only to young girls, but people of all ages. So when it came time for Barbie to select its new round of “Shero” dolls, a line meant to empower girls, the young actress was the perfect fit.
Celebrating both its 60th anniversary and International Women’s Month, Barbie made a doll to honor Shahidi along with model and activist Adwoa Aboah, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, and more. The new collection of dolls, the brand’s largest and most diverse yet, coincides with the launch of the Barbie Dream Gap Project, a global initiative that helps girls reach their full potential.
In honor of getting her own Barbie, BAZAAR.com sat down with Yara to talk the importance of her doll’s outfit, her favorite memories of the iconic toy, and how she’s preparing for the 2020 election.
Harper’s BAZAAR: How did you feel seeing your Barbie for the first time?
Yara Shahidi: What was so exciting is that, one, it looks like me! And two, there’s so many things about it that are just so Yara, from the ‘Vote’ t-shirt to my hair—we actually have the same baby hairs today—to the makeup and eyebrows. To see something that accurately portrays who I am is very cool.
HB: Did you pick what your Barbie is wearing?
YS: Yes, I did. I live in suits, it’s one of my favorite looks. I love wearing a suit, and so this was actually designed off of one that I wore a while back. Then my ‘Vote’ t-shirt I’m always wearing. It’s a t-shirt and a suit, I feel so fancy.
HB: And it’s so cute with the sneakers.
YS: Right, but more than that, it’s what I feel most comfortable in too. Even though it seems like ‘formal wear’ to be in what I view as my daily uniform.
HB: Are there any women in particular that haven’t been made into Barbies yet that you would like to see as a Barbie someday?
YS: Ooh, that’s a good question! Now I’m really questioning my Barbie history and whose Barbies I’ve seen…I would love a Naomi Campbell doll, I would love a Grace Jones doll.
HB: She was incredible closing the Zendaya x Tommy Hilfiger show. You were there, right?
YS: Yes! You see where my mind’s going. This is a hard one, if I think of any more I’m gonna circle back then.
HB: Do you have any early childhood memories of Barbie that stick out specifically to you?
YS: What’s really funny is that I have memories both playing with Barbies and shooting with Mattel when I was younger. I didn’t even realize how full circle it was until my cousin reached out and had been like, ‘remember when we were on set together for the So In Style dolls?’
I was also talking about how intentional my parents were with what toys were brought into the house, in what they reflected and represented. Even my memories with Barbies were usually traveling through history, so I would place my Barbie in ancient Greece.
HB: My Barbies always had such intricate back stories.
YS: Oh my goodness, such intricate back stories! Me and my brother would play ‘people games,’ that’s what we called them. We’d choose a time period and stick with it and tell a story. I remember it ranged from ancient Greece to the sixties, and we’d travel everywhere. Our Barbies would be gladiators and teachers.
I think my most creative back story was my Barbie worked at a bubble factory, but her secret mission was to take over, what was it? It was something really funny where she had a secret plot to overthrow the evil forces that were working against her in the bubble factory.
HB: Who are some of the women that inspire you the most today?
YS: There are so many. What’s very cool is I can genuinely turn to so many of the women that are in this [Barbie] collection of people who have inspired me. I mean, Adwoa (Aboah) is incredible and I’ve been so fortunate to not only work alongside her, but to be in conversation with her. She’s somebody I admire. Ava Duvernay is another person who is constantly paving ways and demonstrating how it’s done in terms of having people rise with you. Lena Waithe, for that matter, is also incredible. The list really goes on and on.
I love this idea that it’s both about being a role model, but how accessible the term is and how personal it can be. It’s not about the couple people that are on a platform, but whoever that you’ve found who inspires you on a daily basis.
HB: Your Barbie is wearing a Vote t-shirt and the 2020 election, which is coming up, is the first presidential election you can vote in. How are you approaching the election and working towards that?
YS: That’s actually a process I’m trying to figure out right now, and of course with Eighteen x 18, it’s really important to not only try to figure it out for ourselves, but then [how to] disseminate that information. This year has really reminded me the importance of doing our research. I mean, if 2016 wasn’t a reminder, when we look at midterms and all of the amazing voices that were elected to represent us because of how adamant we were about voting at midterms. It’s especially important when you look at the power the president has, of course to create change, but I think what has been emphasized to me as of late, is the power to erase change.
It means it’s extremely important that we’re looking at all of the candidates. Next year we’ll have a plethora of options, but when we’re looking at all the candidates, looking at the people who not only want to maintain change, but genuinely have your best interest in mind. Also when we look at the political sphere, it’s aligning with this ever growing social sphere of what my generation cares about, what my generation looks like even, how we take on identity and what that means to us. It’s also important to have a relationship with the people in government who are genuinely willing to learn.
HB: How do you find time to keep yourself educated and follow along with all the news without losing your sanity?
YS: One thing is that I’m always asking friends what they do, because I know that as much as I think I have a perfected system, there’s always a new source, always a new person, always a new perspective. That’s been a nice way of expanding my repertoire slowly and what I’m intaking and learning about. It’s been important for me to learn about the spaces I’m not as well-versed in in terms of environmentalism and what that means. It does have sociopolitical impact. It does have socio culture.
A new word that I learned is ‘racio-visual,’ I like that combo of words. That’s been important to me, figuring out ways in which I expand my realm of knowledge. Because as much as I know and am into the social justice pieces of our politics, there’s a ton that I’m unaware of. My daily practice has been finding time to listen to NPR—spend 15 minutes just listening to what’s happening because it’s really easy, especially as our personal lives become busy, to forget about what’s happening around you. I don’t think that’s any fault of the person themselves, but just the fact of how politics have been positioned. So many people have been intentionally excluded that it seems like something that only happens to you and around you. There hasn’t been much of an infrastructure in which you can engage with politics on a daily basis in a way that feels applicable to your life. So many times it’s been like you vote, and then what? What happens?
When we think about policies, so many times we think about it in the theoretical versus the actual humans that it’s affecting. That’s been really important to me, and then a lot of reading on the effects of policies. I’ve been learning a lot as of late. I’ve always wanted to go to a space of thought leadership, like a think tank, but that was really solidified for me when I was reading this set of books on how social research has reinforced policies that have been extremely detrimental to communities because they’re given to administrations with such little context, such little incentive to do the best thing. It’s been interesting to look at that kind of connection in a way that I never really knew about before.