Mattel celebrated International Women’s Day by announcing the release of several new Barbie dolls modeled after real-life figures. In addition to the modern-day role models included in the brand’s Sheroes line (Chloe Kim, Patty Jenkins, Bindi Irwin, and others), Mattel introduced its “Inspiring Women” collection, which focuses on historical figures, and features aviator Amelia Earhart, artist Frida Kahlo, and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.
While the overwhelming reaction to the inclusive collection was positive, some did take issue with the characterization of Kahlo. A member of the Mexican painter’s family, in fact, disputed Mattel's use of her likeness.
Kahlo’s great-niece Mara de Anda Romeo wants Mattel to revise the doll, her lawyer, Pablo Sangri, confirmed: “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.”
de Anda Romeo is hardly the only voice to express concern with the doll. Fans across Twitter have spoken out, sharing their regrets that Kahlo’s Barbie isn't an accurate representation of the artist.
Salma Hayek, who played the painter in the 2002 biopic Frida, also shared her dismay with the doll. “#fridakahlo never tried to be or look like anyone else. She celebrated her uniqueness. How could they turn her into a Barbie. No puedo creer que hayan hecho una Barbie de nuestra Friducha que nunca trató de parecerse a nadie y siempre celebró su originalidad #body image,” she wrote on Instagram.
Mattel released a statement asserting that they worked on the doll's production with the Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corporation, which reportedly owns the rights to Kahlo's name. “The Frida Kahlo Corporation actively participated in the process of designing the doll, Mattel has its permission and a legal contract that grants it the rights to make a doll of the great Frida Kahlo,” it read.
The corporation got the rights more than a decade ago, from Kahlo's niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo.
In a statement, the Frida Kahlo Corporation said it, "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.”
While the critics of the doll make legitimate points, there is something to be said for the celebration of Kahlo’s life and the impact such a Barbie can have among today’s youth. If the doll helps children to learn a vital history lesson, it may be a step in the right direction.