We’ve all heard and read about the extreme impacts of Barbie’s unattainable beauty. For years researchers have underlined how the queen bee of dolls, the one whose real-life dimensions would chalk her up to a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips and a size 3 shoe, has and continues to warp young girls’ understandings of what they “should” look like. So, of course, it’s come as a relief that in more recent years Mattel, the manufacturing giant behind Barbie and American Girl, has taken steps to revamp and diversify its doll lineups so that kids of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, and orientations can feel celebrated and capable.
In the company’s latest effort to honor the power of women, Mattel has unveiled a Barbie roster made up of female icons for their newest series called “Inspiring Women.” Right on time for International Women’s Day.
That Frida Kahlo has been selected for the lineup had Latinas across the net mostly thrilled. That was until some glaring details were noticed.
CREDIT: @@iGriseldaLira / Instagram
On Tuesday, the company revealed that the Latina artist, known for exploring and raising questions around feminism, identity, race, and beauty ideals would be made into a Barbie doll alongside historical and modern-day icons Amelia Earhart, Chloe Kim and Nicola Adams.
In a press release about the new line of dolls, Lisa McKnight, the senior vice president and general manager of Barbie talked about the company’s new dolls. “As a brand that inspires the limitless potential in girls, Barbie will be honoring its largest line up of role models timed to International Women’s Day, because we know that you can’t be what you can’t see… Girls have always been able to play out different roles and careers with Barbie and we are thrilled to shine a light on real-life role models to remind them that they can be anything.”
All appeared to be well and good until photos of the Mexican icon’s doll brought up a few glaring problems.
Mattel has a new line of Barbies, called Role Models. One of them is supposed to be Frida Kahlo, no wheelchair, no accident, operation or polio scars, and no unibrow.#MoreRoleModels @Mattel #DisTheOscars #RepresentationNotErasure
— (((Emmanations))) (@emma_rosenthal) March 6, 2018
Many were quick to point out that some of the traits most typically attributed to the artist, her brow, and her wheelchair, had been played down or missing entirely. Kahlo’s Barbie doll has a few sparse hairs between her brows but they’re not nearly as noticiable as the artist made them out to be in her own self-portraits.
Qué es esto ??? Uno podría pensar que de alguna manera Frida se opuso a todos lo estereotipos que reproduce la muñeca Barbie! https://t.co/IB0OOnWVi5
— Ximena (@Ximena_ll) March 6, 2018
Others highlighted how the use of her image by such a large corporation like Mattel went against everything the artist stood for. After all, the artist was well-known for her starch messages of anti-capitalism.
It’s easy to be grateful for Mattel’s decision to include Kahlo, but it’s also just as easy for us to be disappointed at the same time as well.
As an Afro-Latina, I can effortlessly recall the impact playing with an ethnically specific doll like Barbie had on me. Barbie was a doll unlike me in practically every way I could tally up. She was fair-skinned, blue-eyed and without her long straight blond hair, she would have otherwise been completely hairless. Throughout my days of playing with dolls (and even now on the occasions I skip my nightly tweeze and shave sessions) I was dark-skinned, brown-eyed, extremely hairy on all parts of my body and I later endured bouts of a neurological disorder. Like many Latinas, Frida Kahlo was my first introduction to a famous person who was successful, was of color, was hairy, and had a body that battled various ailments. She wasn’t a sidekick like the partly relatable POC dolls (Christie was Black and Teresa was strictly white Latina) Mattel had distributed. She was the star of her own show, the main attraction.
So, yes, it’s exciting to see Frida Kahlo come to life as a Barbie, but TBH a more accurate portrayal of the artist would have had many of her fans much more excited and inspired. In the meantime, I’ll have my fingers crossed for re-do of Frida and I’ll still be waiting out for those Celia Cruz and Amara La Negra dolls.