Row erupts over new Frida Kahlo Barbie

Lula Sharp
March 13, 2018

On Sunday, Salma Hayek-who won an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the iconic artist in 2002-took to Instagram with some brief but cutting words of disappointment.

Kahlo's family expressed frustration with the toy last week, too, as the artist's great-niece Mara Romeo blasted Mattel for using her likeness without permission - and for failing to incorporate traits truer to Kahlo's actual look.

Over the years the name and likeness of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, a fierce feminist and ardent communist, have been associated with a number of unlikely products.

Ahead of International Women's Day on Thursday, Barbie honored 17 historical and modern-day role models from around the world, revealing in a press statement that the role models come from diverse backgrounds and fields breaking boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls.

It was perhaps an unlikely choice for the maker of the famously buxom blonde doll, given that Kahlo was known for upending gender norms and traditional ideas about how women should look and act. She celebrated her uniqueness.

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Mattel, however, said in a statement that it obtained the rights legally through the Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corporation, "which owns all the rights", with a Mattel lawyer stating the company purchased the rights through Kahlo's niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, more than a decade ago. "How could they turn her into a Barbie", Hayek wrote, with two thumbs down and a "body image" hashtag.

This is not the first time that the commercial activities of the Frida Kahlo Corporation are said to have angered some of Kahlo's descendants.

In a statement, the family insisted Mattel was not authorised to base a doll on Kahlo.

With the new Barbie collection including women from NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart to boxing Champion Nicola Adams OBE and filmmaker Patty Jenkins, the Barbie brand received praise for its selection.

"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", Sangri said. Fans of the painter have also criticized the fact that the doll doesn't appear to have any signs of polio, a disease that incapacitated her for most of her life, or the life-long injuries that were caused by a bus crash in 1925.

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