Laverne Cox Gets Her Own Barbie Before Her Birthday — and Calls It a 'Full-Circle' Moment

The star says she was "very involved" in every step of the design process as Mattel brought her Barbie to life

Barbie x Laverne Cox Laverne Cox Barbie Doll
Photo: Elizabeth Braunstein/Mattel

Laverne Cox is a Barbie girl!

The iconic brand is celebrating the actress, producer, writer and activist by launching a doll in her likeness, in honor of her impact as an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

Cox, who turns 50 on Sunday, tells PEOPLE that inspiring a doll in Mattel's legendary lineup feels "surreal."

"I can't believe it. I love her outfit," Cox says with a laugh. "What excites me most about her being out in the world is that trans young people can see her and maybe get to purchase her and play with her, and know that there's a Barbie made by Mattel, for the first time, in the likeness of a trans person."

As the doll debuts amid a tense political climate for transgender rights, the Inventing Anna actress says that her Barbie represents so much more than a toy.

"I think in an environment where trans children have been used as a political football, when over 250 pieces of anti-trans legislation have been introduced in state legislatures all over the country in 2022 alone, and access to gender-affirming healthcare has been denied by policies signed into law in my home state of Alabama, in Arkansas and other states... That in this environment where trans kids are being attacked, that this can also be a celebration of transness, and also a space for them to dream, understand and be reminded that trans is beautiful," she says. "That there's hope and possibility for them to be themselves."

Barbie x Laverne Cox

The star says she was "very involved" in every step of the design process as Mattel brought her Barbie to life. Like Cox herself, the doll oozes glamour in an oxblood corset and tulle skirt, worn over a silver bodysuit with sky-high heeled boots. Plus, her hair and makeup are camera-ready.

"I was like, 'Can we make her look more like me? And more African American?'" Cox recalls of feedback she gave to the creative team. "And we had a conversation about highlights and lowlights because I'm blonde most of the time now, but I'm a Black girl, so I need a dark root. And we had a whole conversation about how they can't do that, but they could do dark low lights."

Just as stylish as her real-life counterpart, the doll's layered look is ready-made for mix and match play — which, of course, was Cox's idea.

"I wanted her to wear multiple outfits, but that wasn't cost effective. You want the doll to be affordable. So I was like, 'What if she had one outfit that could peel off and become multiple outfits?'" she says. "So that's what we designed and came up with."

Barbie x Laverne Cox

In a statement shared with PEOPLE, Lisa McKnight, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, says the brand "couldn't be more excited" to partner with the four-time Emmy nominated actress and Emmy-winning producer. Cox made history as the first transgender woman of color to have a leading role in a scripted TV show on Orange Is the New Black, which aired on Netflix from 2013 to 2019.

"We are proud to highlight the importance of inclusion and acceptance at every age and to recognize Laverne's significant impact on culture with a Tribute Collection Barbie," McKnight says.

When reflecting on her childhood, the memory of Barbie brings a tear to Cox's eye. The star says she was not allowed to play with them as a child.

"I begged my mother for a Barbie doll and she said no because I was assigned male at birth," Cox explains. "And when I was in my 30s, I was in therapy and telling my therapist that I was denied the opportunity to play with Barbie dolls. And my therapist said, 'It's never too late to have a happy childhood, and what you should do for your inner child is go out and buy yourself a Barbie doll.' "

The actress did just that — and felt truly moved.

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"I played with my Barbie, and I told my mom what my therapist had said. And that first Christmas after that, my mom sent me a Barbie doll," she reveals. "And she's been sending me Barbies for Christmas and for my birthday."

Saying that she "bawled" when she unboxed the first doll from her mom, Cox says it's still emotional to think about.

Barbie x Laverne Cox

"I'm just so grateful that I've been able to be in this process. It's a process of reclaiming my inner child, healing her, giving her what she didn't have the first go-round. Giving those things to her now. And Barbie is a very tangible part of that," she shares. "So to be turning 50 years old and be transgender and have a Barbie in my life, that feels just like a full-circle kind of healing moment."

Ahead of her next turn around the sun, Cox says she'll keep moving towards the light — citing her Barbie doll as the ultimate birthday gift.

"I said to my therapist, 'I want to turn 50 and I want to let go of the shame. I want to let go of the trauma. I want to let go of all that stuff. I don't want to be burdened by it anymore. I want to move into this next phase of more healing and better healing and more enlightenment.

"And Barbie has become a symbol of that, in so many ways, that that's healing. And I'm so grateful to Mattel for this moment, just for my own, just for my own personal healing," Cox tells PEOPLE. "And I hope it'll be healing for all the people who encounter the Laverne Cox Tribute Barbie."

The Laverne Cox Barbie is available now at major retailers and, retailing for $39.99.

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