Since 1959, American toy manufacturer Mattel, Inc. has sold over 1 billion Barbie dolls worldwide. The impact these dolls have had on little girls all over the globe cannot be overstated. However, representation has been an issue. Mattel released fashion designer, nurse and astronaut versions of Barbie before a black version of the popular doll. And while Barbie’s black friend, Christie, was introduced in 1968, women of colour have been largely underrepresented by not only Mattel, but toy companies in general.
In addressing this issue, a new line of inspirational dolls is set for release this year. Leading the way are NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, pilot Amelia Earhart, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, and artist Frida Kahlo. While for many it’s an important celebration of inclusion, others see it as insulting to the women honoured, particularly to Frida Kahlo.
Kahlo’s great-niece Mara de Anda Romeo claims that Mattel doesn’t have the rights to use Frida’s image. Her main point of contention is how the doll looks. The toy’s slim, model-esque appearance seems to de-emphasize Frida’s trademark eyebrow(s) and doesn’t accurately depict the artist’s vibrant wardrobe.
Mattel’s “Role Models” series claims to pay tribute to “courageous women who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before.” However, in using the same body figure for every one of their dolls, especially in the Inspiring Women series, Mattel reinforces a negative stigma when it comes to the idealization of the female body. Frida Kahlo was unique in both her appearance and her achievements, and by honouring her in this manner Mattel misses the point of what Frida represents for young girls.
The vocal outrage expanded to Hollywood. Salma Hayek, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of the artist in 2002’s Frida and also produced the film, spoke out through Instagram. “#FridaKahlo never tried to be or look like anyone else. She celebrated her uniqueness. How could they turn her into a Barbie[?]” Having a 10-year-old daughter of her own, Hayek understands the importance of girls having a positive body image.
The reality of Frida Kahlo’s appearance is that she had facial hair and sometimes used a wheelchair due to a combination of her polio and having suffered a serious car accident in her youth. To see her standing tall, well-groomed and with an hour-glass figure is not only jarring but, to many, a harmful message for young girls.
Despite Mara de Anda Romeo’s claims, Mattel seems to have the legalities in check. They are working alongside the Frida Kahlo Corp., which claims to have the support of the Kahlo family. The corporation even released a statement saying: “[The corporation] celebrates the ideological contributions of Frida Kahlo which have transcended the borders of art and which will influence new generations as a world icon through the Frida Kahlo Barbie, which conserves the essence of Barbie and the legacy of Frida Kahlo.”
Despite the objection, the Frida Barbie is already available for pre-order through Walmart. As a communist during her life, it wouldn’t be difficult to guess what Frida would think of this. But aesthetically, she didn’t change to fit models of beauty, so it’s a curious move for Mattel to force that change on her.
Alex Correa | Staff Writer