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Attempt to honor Frida Kahlo as a Barbie doll draws fire

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Real and fake Frida: A Barbie doll tribute to the late artist has drawn criticism. Photos, from left: Getty and Mattel


Mattel on Tuesday introduced a line of Barbie dolls meant to honor 17 accomplished historic and contemporary women.

The “Inspiring Women” collection offers Barbies in the likenesses of Amelia Earhart, snowboarding champion Chloe Kim and pro golfer Lorena Ochoa.

It’s the Frida Kahlo Barbie that may be the most problematic.

Mattel launched Frida Barbie “for being an icon of struggle and perseverance.”

But Kahlo’s family and heirs “have not granted any authorization for the use of the image of Frida Kahlo in a Barbie doll,” said Mara de Anda, great-niece of the painter.

It may be a valuable collector’s item if it’s pulled from the shelves.

“We (Mara de Anda and her mother, Mara Romeo), learned through social networks of this announcement. My lawyers will contact Mattel because they can not market that doll without our authorization,” said de Anda.

Kahlo’s likeness is licensed through the Florida-based Frida Kahlo Corp., which apparently was not  approached by Mattel. The company has authorized Frida Kahlo-branded merchandise, apparel and even restaurants.

The company licensed a different doll in 2005. Made of vinyl and porcelain, and 50 centimeters high, that doll was distributed in Mexico, the United States, Canada, Germany, France and Spain. It generated a strong international debate and Guadalupe Rivera Marín, daughter of Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, harshly criticized the product.

Critics take issue with the execution of the doll, as well.

“… looking at the Frida Kahlo doll, there are two things that stand out to me missing: where is her unibrow and where is her mustache?” demands the Princess Weekes at The Mary Sue.

The authorized doll from 2005 has a unibrow.

“The Glam!Frida is a trend I’ve seen a lot of as the Frida Renaissance has been happening in non-Latinx pop culture, and what makes it unsettling is that all of it completely ignores what Frida stood for in terms of her own self-expression. It ignores the fact that she was a woman never at ease with her own body, that she lived a life in constant pain, and was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and that as a communist, who was not really a fan of American capitalism, this is not the legacy she’d want in many ways.”

In her lifetime, Frida Kahlo expressed her support for the communist revolution and her aversion to certain practices of capitalist countries, especially “the United States and England.”

Allure magazine called the Frida doll “disappointing.”

“Though her contributions to art and culture were what truly made Kahlo such a significant historical figure, her striking and beautiful refusal to give in to certain sexist societal pressures were also noteworthy — and most depictions of the artist prominently feature a unibrow and upper lip hair to honor that,” said Rosemary Donahue. “Kahlo’s doll doppelgänger … seems to have just a few hairs above her nose at the brow line, making her look more or less like so many other Barbies.”

Heidi Stevens at the Chicago Tribune noted that, below the neck, the dolls reinforce the same old Barbie body image.

“Seriously, Mattel. I love the idea — paying tribute to heroines of art, aviation and mathematics in honor of International Women’s Day. I just wish they weren’t skeletal,” said Stevens.

{ Previously: Frida Kahlo mural irritates city officials }

A top Mattel executive explained the company’s good intentions in a press release.

“As a brand that inspires the limitless potential in girls, Barbie will be honoring its largest line up of role models timed to International Women’s Day because we know that you can’t be what you can’t see,” said Lisa McKnight, Barbie division senior vice president and general manager.

Sources: Diario de Yucatán, Chicago Tribune, Allure, The Mary Sue

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