“La belleza y la fealdad son un espejismo, porque los demás terminan viendo nuestro interior.”
Translation: “Beauty and ugliness are a mirage, because others end up seeing our interior.”
Frida Kahlo was an beacon of female strength and unconventional artistry in Mexico long before fourth-wave feminism picked her up and culturally appropriated her as one of their ‘inclusive’ icons. Born in post-colonial Mexico, she faced physical disability after having Polio as a child, and then further after a trolley accident as a teenager which left her bedridden for months and wheelchair bound even longer, scarred forever. Her marriage to Diego Rivera was abusive and volatile, and she carried that emotional reckoning into her artistic voice.
“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams or nightmares, I painted my own reality.”
Frida Kahlo fought through physical and emotional trauma, to be enough just for herself just as she was. She painted herself as she felt, as what she saw in the mirror, as the self she chose to accept. She created art based on her views of herself and the world she lived in, and none of it fit the mold of societal beauty standards or modesty. She explored and question the establishment, gender, class, race, and herself.
“The most important thing for everyone in Gringolandia is to have ambition and become 'somebody,' and frankly, I don't have the least ambition to become anybody.”
Frida Kahlo didn’t paint to become anyone’s icon. She painted to feel, to express, to reach out. She left her works to us as a reminder of what she saw in herself and in humanity. She left her ART. This generation has raised Frida to the verge of idolatry, simultaneously putting ideas of her as a person above her work and blurring what she actually stood for as a woman and feminist by whitewashing and airbrushing her--by culturally appropriating Frida.
Frida Barbie? Frida Yoga? Frida with no unibrow, with ‘perfect’ European features and no scars? I saw these images all in one day and could almost see Frida rolling over in her grave at the idea of seeing herself portrayed as such. This is not how she gave herself to us, and it’s an adulteration of her legacy to dilute her in this way.
She was not white. She was not flawless or smooth. She was not a spiritual yogi or rosé queen. Mezcal and cigarettes, more like. Frida Kahlo was troubled, dark, and imperfect. Her magic was in her art, in her raw and vulnerable expression of introspection and vision. Her power was in her challenge of what the establishment demanded of a woman, and how she stood toe to toe with her demons and caged them in paint so that she could be free of their weight. We would do well to honor her as she would’ve expected, not by painting her as this superhuman beauty queen, but as a woman - imperfect and multi-dimensional, magical and strong.
“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”
To read more about the appropriation of Mexican culture, see our post on Dia de Muertos.