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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 




 


 

 

 

 

 

FRIDA KAHLO – BARBIE  OR BARBADA?
By Emily Peña Murphey

 

 

 

Well, I guess I saw this coming when a few months back I chanced on an ad for a children's picture book about Frida Kahlo, featuring a very cutesy, Disney-fied image of her on the cover. If there's one popular figure I thought our culture could never succeed in sanitizing, it would be la Frida! But come to find out that it's actually happened now in an even worse way: that she's been incarnated as a Barbie doll! ¡Increíble! Apparently this has been made possible by the rights to her image have been sold by a member of her family.

There's been a lot of complaint about this in the media, I'm glad to say, but of course most of it has focused on the doll's appearance, which strongly resembles that of Salma Hayek, the Mexican-born Spanish-Lebanese actress who portrayed Frida on film. It was actually a decent movie, I thought, though it seems to have produced most or all of the images of the artist that most Norteamericanos have encountered. For example, few or none who have spoken out about the appearance of the doll seem aware that Frida Kahlo had not only the infamous unplucked "unibrow" (a dumb expression!) omitted in the Barbie version, but also a very visible black mustache, of which the openly androgynous Frida was very proud. The doll's standard Barbie skin tone and inauthentic "Mexican" clothing are hardly worthy of mention.

Would it have been asking too much of these designers to have looked at a few of Frida's numerous close-up photographs or her many self-portraits; or to have read, say, the Wikipedia article about her life? Perhaps to have done so would have given the project too much depth and authenticity for the American consumer. It might also have forced the manufacturers to confront some aspects of their subject which might prove too controversial or unsettling for even many 'feminist" potential purchasers of sexualized plastic figurines.But then, Americans would always prefer to be passive recipients of superficial bits of reality doled out to them by mass media than to actively engage in research that might lead to some deeper truth!

So (though none of these points are at all objectionable to this blogger) here for readers are few seemingly lesser-known fun facts about Frida for those who want to use her as raw material for a prettified and wholesome Latina "icon:"

She is generally believed to have been bisexual, though her primary love was her philandering husband, the muralist Diego Rivera

Her pelvis and reproductive organs were horribly mutilated in a traumatizing accident she experienced as a teenager, as the result of which...

She endured disability and chronic pain for most of her adult life, resulting in her eventually losing one of her legs to amputation

She was a Communist who reportedly went so far as to have a love affair with Leon Trotsky

In later life, she was arguably an alcoholic and/or prescription drug addict

She was fond of profanity and off-color humor--and eccentric or outrageous behavior in general

As an expression of her suffering, imagery of blood, woundedness, maiming, and death were frequent themes of her art work.

A pretty picture for your little girls?  (Lots of "teachable moments" there!)


Most scholars of Kahlo's life and art agree that what is most significant about her legacy is not her facial hair or her exotic clothing and hairstyle, but her ability to transcend her difficult existence and transform it into a life filled with creativity and meaning. But this reality can't be conveyed by means of something as concrete and superficial as a stylized mannequin.


So in closing, I might suggest that the manufactures of Frida Barbie develop a few accessories to go with the doll and lend her a bit more verisimilitude, as follow.

Crutches, a wheelchair and an old-fashioned, wooden prosthetic leg

A phial of sugar-pill faux opiate medications, with instructions for use printed in Spanish

A "baby" doll in the form of a miscarried fetus

A back brace and plaster-cast corset

A man's suit for purposes of occasional cross-dressing

A sugar Muertos skull bearing the name "Diego" on its forehead

And--most importantly--an artist's canvas, palette, brushes, and paints.


Empowered, ¡Sí!  Pretty and conventional, ¡No!

 

 

About the Author:

Emily

Emily Peña Murphey is a retired psychotherapist with training in psychology, social work, and Jungian psychoanalysis. She has family roots in the Río Grande valley and the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and sings and plays the traditional music of both regions. She uses writing to explore her identity as a mixed Latin/Anglo-American, and has published short fiction in several online journals. Her current projects include a collection of short stories and a trilogy of trans-border novels. She lives in Philadelphia.

 

 







 

 

 

     
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