The sun sets on International Women’s Day with the news that when toy maker Mattel launched their set of inspiring women dolls on Tuesday they hadn’t asked the Kahlo family for permission to use the painter’s image. The Frida doll was authorized by the Frida Kahlo Corporation. Mattel issued the following statement;
“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. In addition to the Frida Kahlo Corporation being an important part of the doll development process, we have their permission and a legally binding agreement to make a doll in the likeness of the great Frida Kahlo.”
There has long been an ongoing argument between the corporation and the family about the commercialization of the Kahlo image. While there is no suggestion here that Mattel have done anything illegal, it might have been politic to ask Kahlo’s descendants what they thought about it.
When I first heard about the doll I thought, ‘great, where can I get one?’ I am the proud owner of a pair of Frida Kahlo socks after all. The range, which also has the sub-branding ‘Shero’ (cringe), includes snowboarder Chloe Kim, Amelia Earhart and British boxer Nicola Adams. All the dolls in the range are skinny armed, even Adams who is very evidently muscled in reality. This is my problem with the Frida doll, putting aside the fact that she was a Communist and would not take kindly to being commoditised in this way, it looks nothing like her!
I am a disabled woman. I have had numerous surgeries and had to learn to walk over and over, my body is scarred; Kahlo has always been an inspiration to me. She was a woman who rejoiced in her difference through her art. She painted the casts she had to wear to straighten her back; she revisited the tram accident and the spearing handrail hundreds of times in her paintings. Many photographs of Kahlo show her seated, sometimes in a wheelchair, sometimes lying in bed undergoing one of the long periods of rest that were part of her recovery before the next surgery. In the photographs where she is standing, she is often leaning against something, a wall, Diego, her face is impassive, a look I know well because what she is doing is holding back the pain in order to stand. This anorexic prettified plastic is an affront. Kahlo’s great niece, Mara Romero had this to say;
“I would have liked the doll to have traits more like Frida’s, not this doll with light-coloured eyes.”
If the Kahlo Foundation was as involved as they say they were they should be ashamed; this doll is about as far removed from Kahlo as it is possible to be. I cannot comment on the ethnicity of the doll, there are many women far more qualified than I am to do so, but anyone who paints out Frida’s mono-brow is surely missing the point of her strength entirely.
The BBC article on the row with a picture of the doll is here, the relevant page on the Mattel website is down.