[Written By: Shamso Abdirahman]
For this year’s International Women’s Day, Mattel announced their Inspiring Women collection with a series of 17 dolls commemorating iconic women throughout history. One of the figures being the influential Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Whilst it is a very pretty Barbie, it essentially bears no resemblance to her and so Mattel’s tribute to Frida Kahlo falls flat.
The ‘frida’ doll dons the famous flower crown, braided hair and red-fringed shawl, but you’d have to squint to make out the unibrow Kahlo boldly wore. The plastic Frida has no upper lip hair (or any facial hair at that), its slim upright form gives no clue to the real Frida’s disabled body; and the doll is questionably fairer in complexion.
Truth is, the ‘mother of the selfie’ embraced her striking appearance as testament to her rejection of oppressive western beauty ideals; the same ones which Barbie upholds to this day. What could have been the Toy Company’s moment to squash years of criticism over its leading doll’s eurocentric and unrealistic beauty standards, saw them instead showcase a white-washed, palatable reimagining of a brown woman. In her many surreal self-portraits, Frida Kahlo enhanced her dark facial hairs and also drew herself in a wheelchair. Kahlo documented her disability; having been born with spina bifida and suffered serious physical injuries as a teenager from a bus accident. She did anything but conceal any part of her physicality and Mattel’s depiction of her erases the identity she unapologetically drew and celebrated.
For a long time mainstream culture has romanticised Frida Kahlo’s legacy of anti-establishment; making her the epitome of the ‘rebel woman’. The popularity of her image is obvious, with her face now plastered on everything from posters and jewellery to classic Halloween get-ups. The irony of the commodification of a women whose politics labelled capitalism as a societal ill must also be mentioned. (Urban Outfitters is yet to sell ‘Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick’- slogan T’s).
Kahlo’s family have issued a statement against the Doll, stating they never gave Mattel permission and as a result would be taking “necessary measures”. Mattel responded saying they have legally obtained the rights from the Frida Kahlo Corporation.
Salma Hayek, who earned an Oscar nod for her portrayal of the artist in the 2002 biopic Frida took to her Instagram to call out the toy company’s insensitive move: “#FridaKahlo never tried to be or look like anyone else. She celebrated her uniqueness. How could they turn her into a Barbie(?)”
Hayek’s words ring true for anyone who has taken the time and care to understand Frida Kahlo’s art which explored the complexities of the female form and identity. For many her art and image promotes the notion of accepting one’s self; flaws and all. Mattel chose Frida Kahlo as one of their role models because ‘Her extraordinary life and art continue to influence and inspire others to follow their dreams and paint their own realities.’ Yet, this Barbie iteration insults the artist’s sentiments of non-conformity and risks ignoring the enduring power of her legacy.