Why IKEA’s shark toy Blahaj is a celebrated trans icon

A Blahaj shark plushie photoshopped infront of a trans gradient.

To most people, it’s a simple shark toy. But to trans people, IKEA’s Blahaj is a symbol and signifier of the transgender community.

The polyester plushie, which is available online or in store for £22 ($28), has been a symbol of trans rights since about 2017. Its significance started on Tumblr, when users across the social media site began sharing memes of the shark.

Initially, the memes were of the shark doing various things or being in odd places but as the number of them grew, more and more they began to be associated with transgender people.

The memes migrated on to other social media sites and began to dominate image search results when looking up blahaj.

Since then, it has essentially become the mascot for trans rights and a signifier of support for the transgender community.

Speaking to Newsweek in 2002, transgender TikTok star Fiadh said: “It’s a weird sense of trans solidarity. The fact that it’s become a huge internet sensation for trans people gives us something to connect with others about.

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“Things that help us connect with other trans people online are important because for a lot of trans folks the only way to be able to connect with people like us is through the internet.”

The shark toy has forged such as strong link with the LGBTQ+ community that it was even featured in an IKEA advert supporting same-sex marriage, following the Swiss government’s equality vote in 2021.

The advert depicts Blahaj cuddling IKEA’s polar bear, Snuttig, along with text that translates as “the bed for everyone”.

A sub-Reddit dedicated to Blahaj has gained 103,000 members, staying true to the original meme with images showing the shark doing silly things.

Why Blahaj of all the plushies that IKEA offers was chosen will never quite be understood but, like many memes and signifiers of the community, it has become a mainstay mascot for trans people everywhere.

Blahaj has 132 five-star reviews, many of them odes to the shark and everything it has done for the community.

“Oh my dear Blahaj,” one reviewer wrote. “The days waiting for him were pure agony, but when I got him, something changed, I reached enlightenment, Valhalla, and was in pure bliss.

“He is Blahaj, he is beauty and he is mine, at last. My family thinks I have an unhealthy obsession with him and even if I did, it is rightly so. He is the most inspiring creature I have ever met. Ever since I opened that plastic, clear bag, I knew he was perfect.”

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