By: Regina Vargas
Pain and struggle have always been admired, and sometimes even craved, by young people in America. We often look up to those who have suffered greatly in society, viewing their pain as entertaining drama in our boring, yet privileged lives. Over the past decade or so, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s image has become an icon of this mindset. Young people everywhere are praising the late artist, her unibrow as iconic as her tortured soul.
Kahlo is a valuable part of Mexico’s identity. While the United States has presidents on the face of its currency, Kahlo’s portrait is proudly on the 500 pesos bill. Unlike in Mexico, Kahlo is viewed as an edgy trend in the United States, rather than as the influential, independent, and talented artist she really was.
In her Vanity Fair article, “Diary of A Mad Artist,” Amy Fine Collins writes, “what Elvis Presley is to good old boys, Judy Garland to a generation of homosexuals, and Maria Callas to opera fanatics, Frida is to masses of late-20th-century idol seekers.”
Has Kahlo’s recent fame solely been due to her unconventional looks rather than her beautiful art, empowering words, and liberal lifestyle?
Many people who claim to be “Fridamaniacs” could be considered idol-seekers who stumbled upon her biography through mainstream media. In their defense, Frida Kahlo is often portrayed as “the heroine of pain.” This is due to her having overcome many obstacles in her life, and then using the pain from her severe injuries, multiple miscarriages, and flawed marriage as inspiration to create her beautiful works of art. So, of course it seems logical that she would be the perfect role model for those tweens and teens whose only struggle in life is trying to convince their parents that their multiple body piercings are part of their lifestyle, not a phase.
But Fridamaniacs are often unaware of the war she fought against her own mind; they are unaware of her narcotics and alcoholic addictions, her suicidal behavior, and her extreme narcissism. Would she still be considered “trendy” if more people knew about these aspects of her life?
Would she still be considered “trendy” if more people knew about these aspects of her life?
There is also the risk that Kahlo’s iconic status is altering her reputation as the talented artist she has always been. Barbara Levine, author of Finding Frida Kahlo, had a different perspective on the issue. She says, “Kahlo’s art and life were and continue to be inseparable. As with any icon, her face and style have become a commodity and therefore a part of our popular culture.”
Although I agree with Levine that Frida Kahlo’s life heavily influenced her art, intertwining the two, I find it dangerous to her identity that many people see her face and are often unaware of her artistic career. However, Levine adds that, “many times it is through popular culture that someone gets introduced to art. You may not know who she is but if you are drawn to say, a tote bag or t shirt, then it just might motivate you to learn more.” It is ironic, then, that Frida Kahlo worked her whole life towards going against the norm, only to now be a large part of popular culture.
Frida Kahlo definitely deserves the attention she has continued to gain decades after her death; she was incredibly talented, with a mind as transcendent as her spirit. Her life was an open book, and therefore it should never be portrayed to be something it was not. There is no doubt she was a strong woman, but she often lost battles against herself, which led her to a life filled with depression and addiction. Although I understand that people look up to her for her eccentric looks, she was infinitely more.