by Mia McKenzie
October 25, 2012
A couple of months ago, I started seeing these images going around on Facebook, of Frida Kahlo in various stages of nudity. They were being posted and re-posted by several people I like, awesome POCs whose admiration of Frida Kahlo I definitely share. But something about the images seemed off to me. I mean, where had all these new images come from, all of a sudden? I decided to click on the link, to actually follow it to a web page. And there I discovered the awful truth: that these were all photoshopped images of Frida Kahlo’s face on someone else’s body.
Why would anyone do this? I mean, okay, there are all kinds of photoshopped pics of celebrity heads attached to naked bodies that don’t belong to them. Apparently, the desire to see a woman with her clothes off is so powerful to some people that seeing her with someone else’s clothes off will suffice. I won’t lie. I don’t get it. But I guess some people are into that. Okay. But, right or wrong, I guess I don’t personally associate this phenomenon with the kind of folks who actually know who Frida Kahlo is. Further, I guess I expect that people who do know who she is, and who care enough to click and share a link about her, would respect her enough to not want to see her objectified, and in such extreme ways. But then I realized that the person behind all of this was a white man. And I was like, “Oh. Yeah. Figures.” When did the idea of respecting the image, body, or identity of women of color ever trump the need for white men (or any men, really) to do whatever they please? Brown and black women have been treated as beasts of the sexual burden of white men for hundreds of years. White men have regarded the bodies of dark women as plantation playgrounds, where they can rape and abuse and use as they please, for centuries. This is yet another way to do that. Without any rightful claim to it, this person has taken the idea of Frida Kahlo’s body, staked a claim to it, used it for what he desires, and called it art.
Is this art? Really? Is this “genius” the way it is described here? Or is it just the same old racist, misogynist bullshit?
Don’t answer. It’s a rhetorical question.
There is more at play here, too, than just racism and misogyny (as if those aren’t enough). The fact of the matter is that Frida Kahlo did not likely have a body that looked like any of the bodies being used for these photoshopped images. The real, authentic nude photographs of Frida that exist only show her naked from the front, and from the waist up. What we know about her life is that she was a victim in a terrible bus crash in her youth, and that the results of that crash included years of surgeries, full-body casts, and the inability to have children.
Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went into her hip and came out the other side. She suffered several serious injuries as a result, including fractures in her spine and pelvis.
Following the accident, Frida would go on to have more than thirty surgeries.
We’d have to be in some serious denial to think that these things did not affect the way Frida’s body looked. There were surely scars, surely much evidence of decades of pain and surgery and brokenness. To replace that broken, scarred body with smooth, un-flawed flesh, as in these photoshopped pics, is plainly able-ist. Further, it dishonors the life Frida Kahlo lived and the experiences she survived. Here was a woman, an artist, whose artistic expression had everything to do with her physical pain, everything to do with existing inside a body that was twisted and gnarled, a body that hurt every day. To erase that is to attempt to erase Frida herself.
At the rate these pics are being shared, if this keeps up, these images of Frida Kahlo, which are not images of Frida Kahlo at all, will replace the authentic images that we have of her in our hearts and minds. People who don’t know her story, who don’t realize how fake these images are, will take them as the truth when there is no truth in them, when they are blatant lies. Lies created by someone who shares neither her color, nor her gender, nor her pain.
Whenever I see one of these photos posted in my Facebook news feed, I write a comment to let the person who posted it know that it’s fake and why that’s fucked-up. Maybe if others join me in this practice, we can help save the real image of Frida from erasure.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She has a novel debuting in the fall and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. Her work has been published at Jezebel.com, and recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.
See Mia in Beloved: A Requiem for Our Dead
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