Mattel’s “Inspiring Woman” Barbie range, launched on International Woman’s Day last week, was met with some backlash for its inclusion of Mexican artist, subversive, trailblazer and indeed all-round inspiring woman, Frida Kahlo.
First, the artist’s family opposed it, with Kahlo’s great niece, Mara Romeo, telling AFP in a statement “Mattel does not have the proper authorisation to use the image of Frida Kahlo.” Romeo was also unhappy with Kahlo’s signature traits being erased, with no sign of her famous uni-brow or her dark-coloured eyes. “I would have liked the doll to have traits more like Frida’s, not this doll with light-coloured eyes… it should be a doll that represents everything my aunty represented, her strength.”
And now actress Salma Hayek, who famously portrayed Kahlo in the 2002 biopic Frida, is also unhappy with the Barbie-fication of the Mexican icon.
“Frida Kahlo never tried to be or look like anyone else. She celebrated her uniqueness. How could they turn her into a Barbie,” she wrote in English and Spanish on Instagram.
For a woman who bucked conventions of beauty, there’s something irksome about Mattel erasing those features like her eyebrows and upper lip hair, and all in the name of feminism. A number of people took to Twitter to point out the problem of Kahlo's features being changed to fit in with Western beauty standards.
Others pointed out the irony that Kahlo, a card-carrying Communist, may not be happy with a company selling a doll in her image for $29.99.
Mattel has also drawn criticism for being ableist, for not portraying Kahlo’s disability. Born with spina bifida, a congenital illness affecting, leg and spine development, the artist contracted polio as a child. A bus accident as a teenager also left her with serious injuries.
While Kahlo’s family has questioned the use of Frida’s image, Mattel state they worked with the Frida Kahlo Corporation, which has legitimate ownership of the rights. "Mattel has worked in close partnership with the Frida Kahlo Corporation, the owner of all rights related to the name and identity of Frida Kahlo, on the creation of this doll," it said in a statement.
Other women immortalised in the collection include Bindi Irwin, US snowboarder Chloe Kim and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.