Earlier this week, in anticipation of International Women’s Day, toy manufacturer Mattel announced its new Inspiring Women series of Barbies. The first three dolls in the collection represent aviator Amelia Earhart, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and, somewhat ironically, communist artist Frida Kahlo.
“Born in Mexico in 1907, artist, activist, and feminist icon, Frida Kahlo, was and continues to be a symbol of strength, originality, and unwavering passion,” reads the extremely vague description on the Barbie website. “Overcoming a number of obstacles to follow her dream of becoming a fine artist, Frida persevered and gained recognition for her unique style and perspective. With her vibrant palette and mix of realism and fantasy, she addressed important topics like identity, class, and race, making her voice, and the voices of girls and women alike, heard.”
The “number of obstacles” Kahlo had to overcome included childhood polio and a devastating bus accident, which left the artist permanently disabled, yet her Barbie likeness looks just like all the others, complete with those inhuman proportions. Furthermore, it seems Mattel plucked her ultra-feminist unibrow.
Shortly after the dolls were announced, Kahlo’s great-niece, Mara de Anda Romeo, came forward, saying Mattel had no right to use her great aunt’s image. According to the Associated Press, Romeo doesn’t want money. She just wants a redesign. “We will talk to them 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,” Romeo’s lawyer, Pablo Sangri told AP.
In the company’s defense, Mattel said in a statement that it had worked closely 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.” But Sangri told Agence France-Presse that the corporation failed to tell Kahlo’s relatives of its plans, and, furthermore, a now-expired contract between the two never granted the corporation rights to the artist’s image anyway, just “certain uses of her name.”
“I would have liked the doll to have traits more like Frida’s,” Romeo told AFP, “not this doll with light-colored eyes. I would have liked her to have a unibrow, for her clothes to be made by Mexican artisans.”
When push comes to shove, they’re still Barbies. Most of the line are “feminized” from their actual appearances. What do we expect from Mattel? Certainly not authenticity. I think they’ve made a step forward with this line — authentic or not.
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