Salma Hayek has weighed in on the Frida Kahlo Barbie controversy

Posted by
Emily Reynolds

News this International Women’s Day that toy company Mattel would be including Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in a new ‘Inspiring Women’ collection received a mixed response.

Some fans were thrilled that their favourite artist would be represented in tiny Barbie form – while others felt that the use of her image by the company was counter everything she stood for.

And now actress Salma Hayek has weighed in on the subject – and it doesn’t look like she’s particularly happy about it. 

Writing on Instagram, Hayek said that “Frida Kahlo never tried to be or look like anyone else. She celebrated her uniqueness. How could they turn her into a Barbie?”. 

Hayek famously played the Mexican artist in the 2002 film Frida – a film she has recently revealed was the site of bullying and abuse from producer Harvey Weinstein. Writing about the experience for the New York Times, Hayek said that Kahlo had been “one of the forces that gave me the determination to pursue my career”. 

Hayek as Kahlo in a press shot for the the 2002 biopic Frida

“She had the courage to express herself while disregarding scepticism,” she wrote. “My greatest ambition was to tell her story. It became my mission to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and to show my native Mexico in a way that combated stereotypes.

“The Weinstein empire, which was then Miramax, had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking — a haven for artists who were complex and defiant. It was everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be.” 

Kahlo’s work was complex and often deeply personal

Many fans have also pointed out that the Barbie doesn’t capture Kahlo’s distinctive image – her famous monobrow is barely there, for example, the doll’s eyes are light, and it is not wearing the Tehuana-style dresses that Kahlo frequently wore. 

Kahlo’s great-nice, Mara de Anda Romeo, says that she wants Mattel to change the appearance of the doll.

After lodging a complaint with the company, Romeo said that Kahlo’s family would “talk to [Mattel] about regularising the appearance of the doll, its characteristics, the history the doll should have to match what the artist really was,” she said.

“I would have liked the doll to have traits more like Frida’s, not this doll with light-coloured eyes.”

Others pointed out that Kahlo’s image being used by Barbie was especially ironic considering her staunch communist views. The artist was a lifelong member of the Mexican Communist Party, which she joined when she was twenty, and much of her work features communist imagery. After her death in 1954, Kahlo’s body was even laid in state underneath a Communist flag.

In happier news, an exhibition of Kahlo’s belongings is set to open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London later this year, shedding a light on the internal life of the artist – and on the make up she wore. 

’Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up’ will feature clothes, make up, jewellery and more – all of which had remained sealed in her house for fifty years after the death of her partner and collaborator Diego Rivera. 

Two items will be particularly interesting to those who admired Kahlo’s style – her favourite lipstick, Everything’s Rosy by Revlon, and an eyebrow pencil, also by Revlon, that she used to accentuate her distinctive monobrow. 

Plaster corsets, which Kahlo had to wear to support her back, will also go on display, many of them decorated by Kahlo herself. One corset, The Guardian reports, features a hammer and sickle; another has a small painting of a foetus on it, “presumably because she was unable to have children”. 

“This is the real material evidence of the way Kahlo constructed her identity,” Claire Wilcox, senior curator of fashion at the V&A, told The Guardian. 

“It’s so powerful and very exciting that these objects were saved.” 

Images: Rex Features