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Bisexual, disabled, communist, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo — known most for her surrealist self-portraits incorporating vibrant symbols of feminism and Mexican folk culture — recently had her likeness turned into a Barbie doll by the Mattel toy company. The Frida Kahlo Barbie doll is part of the iconic toy’s Inspiring Women series — released yesterday on International Woman’s Day — which also includes 17 other female role models including aviator Amelia Earhart and black NASA physicist Katherine Johnson.
However, Kahlo’s great-niece Mara de Anda Romeo has said Mattel doesn’t have the rights to use Kahlo’s image and argues that the doll doesn’t really look like Kahlo. She’s asking Mattel to re-design the doll.
A Mattel statement said that the toy company legally secured the rights to Kahlo’s image nearly a decade ago through Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corporation, “which owns all the rights.” The statement added that, “The Frida Kahlo Corporation actively participated in the process of designing the doll.”
However, a statement from the Kahlo family said, “Mrs Mara Romeo, great-niece of Frida Kahlo, is the sole owner of the rights of the image of the illustrious Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.”
Pablo Sangri, a lawyer for Romeo said, “We will talk to [Mattel] about regularizing this situation, and by regularizing I mean talking about the appearance of the doll, its characteristics, the history the doll should have to match what the artist really was.”
The physical characteristics missing from the Barbie doll include Kahlo’s heavy-set, nearly unified eyebrows; “the elaborate Tehuana-style dresses the artist wore”; and a right leg that was thinner and shorter than her left due to childhood polio.
Legal battles and physical characteristics aside, the real-life Kahlo was extraordinary.
Expelled from school for disobedience and sexually abused at her subsequent school, she showed great promise as an aspiring doctor and political intellectual. At age 18, an iron rail went through her pelvis in a nearly fatal bus accident, shattering three vertebrae — she experienced pain and illness for the remainder of her life as a result.
Confined for months to a bed, she had a mirror installed overhead so that she could see herself while she painted. Thus started her iconic, dream-like self-portraits embodying different forms of strength and trauma.
She married wealthy, artist and self-proclaimed womanizer Diego Rivera, and the two had more or less an open marriage that eventually culminated in a divorce. She had to wear supporting corsets and, when her leg was amputated near her death, a stylishly decorated wooden prosthetic.