The Mexico Barbie Project: The fine line between cultural representation and stereotypes

Mexico Barbie, part Mattel’s “Dolls of the World” line, does not sit well with some sections of the US’s Hispanic community. Others, however, refuse to make a deal out of it. The case highlights the thin line that sometimes separates cultural representation and ethnic stereotypes.

The recent controversy surrounding Mexico Barbie serves as an interesting case study for any company looking to shape their product around specific traditions. It highlights the challenge of accurately representing a nation’s culture without falling into the trap of confining it to offensive stereotypes.

Mexico Barbie, part of Mattel’s “Dolls of the World” collection, is aimed at teaching young girls about “ethnic and cultural differences of people around the world,” as tweeted by Mattel. Dressed in a traditional Mexican folk dress with a Chihuahua, Mexico Barbie has been perceived by critics as an exhaustive stereotype, which in no way accurately represent the Mexican spirit and traditions.

An alternative solution for the Mexico Barbie has been offered by Adriana Velez, a blogger from Café Mom’s The Stir, who suggested a doll dressed in “a white blouse with colourful embroidery and a woven shawl” with braided hair “woven through with ribbons” – which truly mirrors the image of a traditional Mexican woman. She believes that the current doll does not inspire pride for Mexican girls about their heritage. Moreover, the doll’s representation “talks down to them” via its faulty ethnic tourism.

Jason Ruiz, a professor of American Studies at Notre Dame University takes a different turn on suggestions, implying that a more educative element would be to create multicultural characters that have rich stories which girls can relate to. He believes that the current Mexico Doll overlaps with the representation of Mexicans in the stereotypical pop culture. It portrays Mexicans as colourful, feisty and lively people – preconceptions they still fight against.

Effectively shaping a product around specific traditions, in many ways, goes hand-in-hand with commercial localisation strategies. The stringent issue we need to ponder is: what pitfalls does one need to be weary of when localising a product or a website for a foreign audience? It is an important responsibility that can generate various reactions. However, risks can be diminished by paying careful consideration to the inherited cultural sensibilities, the cultural challenges faced by nationals living outside of their native country, the pop culture preconceptions that have with time become offensive, among others.

At Today Translations, our network of linguists are not only accredited specialist translators but also natives of the target country, who understand the current cultural, social and political challenges. Any professional translation company should make sure a product does not trigger negative reactions. To get in touch with us, email us at [email protected] or call us at +44 (0) 207 397 2770 .