About a week ago, Mattel announced they were about to launch a brand new line of Barbie dolls titles “Inspiring Women” right in time for International Women’s Day. Amongst these dolls, which include the likes of Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson, Patti Jenkins and more, was Frida Kahlo.
The intention, of course, is to empower young women by teaching them about women throughout history that have done astounding things, from art to math to sports. Each doll comes with a short biography of sorts so little girls know exactly who their doll is and what they did. Additionally, Mattel intends to expand this line to include even more notable women. I completely understand the intention and I actually like the concept. I’d even go as far as saying that this is a great idea – except of the Frida doll. Even though Frida is inspiring, this product goes completely against who she was.
This doll is problematic on several fronts.
First of all, Mattel did not seek out the permission of Frida Kahlo’s estate to reproduce her image like this. Kahlo’s great-niece Mara de Anda Romeo said Mattel doesn’t have the rights to use Kahlo’s image and has already called for the doll to at least be redesigned. The doll, in short, simply does not look like Frida. Which brings us to the next reason this doll is problematic. Through her lawyer, Romero established that this doll (pictured below) is not nearly Frida-like enough.[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="768"] Frida Kahlo doll side by side with the real Frida[/caption]
Kahlo is most famous for her surrealist self portraits that portray her as she truly felt and represent the great deal of pain she felt nearly constantly. Besides, Kahlo was pictured often. Because of this, it is obvious Mattel did not care enough to portray Frida as she was, or at least they did not care enough to do the minimum amount of research about her.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="620"] A photograph of Frida Kahlo from a Victoria & Albert Museum exhibit on the artist. Photograph: Nickolas Muray /V&A/PA[/caption]
One of Frida’s most iconic features was her unibrow, which Mattel completely disregarded, succeeding in westernizing her beauty. Frida considered herself her own muse and painted almost exclusively self portraits, so, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why Mattel would completely erase the beauty she was so proud of, like her eyebrow and slight hair on her upper lip. In fact, most of her facial features aren’t completely accurate, portraying her as something she was not. Even the way she dresses is wrong, not quite capturing the tehuana style she usually wore.
In fact, actor Salma Hayek, who portrayed Frida in the 2002 film of the same name, posted this on her instagram regarding this doll:
The caption reads: “#fridakahlo never tried to be or look like anyone else. She celebrated her uniqueness. How could they turn her into a Barbie” then saying the same thing in spanish, using Frida’s nickname in Mexico ‘Friducha’. This caption is followed by two thumbs down emojis and the phrase “#body image”
Although many people in Mexico and the rest of the world are eager to buy this doll, it is clear that this does not honor her life, legacy or memory.
Besides, Frida Kahlo would completely resent the fact that she was turned into a doll for her ideology. Kahlo was a communist, quoted saying that “Marxism will heal the sick” and even going as far as having communist Leon Trotsky as a guest in her home and maybe even engaging in an affair with him.
Turning her into a mass produced, white-feminist commodity is completely against everything she stood for.