Frida Kahlo as a style icon is funny to me. I’ve never thought of her as fashionable. She was, however, known for being unapologetic about her heritage at a time when Mexicans were unpopular in America. In fact, it is not much different now than it was then. Ever since Donald Trump suggested building a wall, anti-Mexican sentiment that was often hushed has once again being exposed. The issue of race is so complicated in America, something that has become increasingly apparent in recent years with the abundance of murders and attacks on, basically, anyone who isn’t white.
Frida Kahlo, besides being a talented artist, was known for not liking white people. Despite this, she speaks to a lot of women, including white women, for her uncompromising nature. She painted herself in natural dress when women were shunning that look. She let her eyebrows grow into a monobrow, even though that is thought of extremely unfeminine. Was she a feminist because she did what she wanted or have we painted her as a feminist hero without her making any true statements? This is something I’ve wanted to explore.
I have always been drawn to her artwork because I find it visually appealing. On top of that, everyone knows Frida Kahlo as her image is iconic. I can understand why she is hailed as a style icon because her look is unique. However, there is more to the woman than that. For example, a famous painting of hers at the MoMA in New York explores her familial background. It has two sets of grandparents on each side, one white and German and the others Mexican, then her parents, then her. It is important that she chose to identify with her Mexican roots instead of the white side of her family. There is another self portrait that she did with her two selves, connected by veins. It shows the duality of her, as like many women she had an image that she presented to the public and an image of her true self. The painting is believed to represent two sides of her after her break-up from her husband who cheated on her. One side is broken-hearted and rejected whilst the other side is well-presented and still appealing to her husband.
Maybe it’s Kahlo’s spirit that makes her an icon. It’s nothing to do with clothes or appearance. It’s about attitude. A nonchalant way of living that many people strive to achieve, and often never quite manage to reach. One thing is for certain, Frida Kahlo stayed true to who she was and didn’t change herself to suit the male gaze or the typical white beauty standards. That is a true skill that all women should learn. Be yourself, not who someone else may want you to be.
Further reading on the artist & the cultural appropriation of her work (and her as a person)
“Quit Appropriating Frida Kahlo” – Resistance Always, WordPress (lots of good photos on this post too)
“Stop Bastardising Frida Kahlo” – a popular post that went around Tumblr
“Frida Kahlo would hate your Frida Kahlo shirt” – Golden Gate Xpress