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Frida Kahlo first voice recording found

6 things we know about Frida Kahlo’s complicated relationship with beauty

TextOlivia Edwardes

On what would be her 112th birthday, we unpack Frida Kahlo’s unique approach to beauty

Sixty-five years after her death, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo continues to fascinate with her introspective self-portraits, brought to life with a charisma that was haunted by chronic pain (the result of a bus accident when she was 18 years old) and an insatiable appetite for romance. She is considered one the of the greatest artists of all time, not only for the paintings she created but for her feminist spirit which trickled down to everyone who knew her or of her. 

And then there was her complicated relationship with beauty. At the time, Frida was never considered a great beauty, and yet beauty is something she has become known for.  "Her light-tan face was not pretty, perhaps, by established norms, but she possessed – and even radiated – a strange and alluring beauty," wrote Olga Campos after interviewing Frida Kahlo in 1949. Despite being insecure about many of her features – from her crooked teeth to her moustache – Frida chose to play on her idiosyncrasies rather than hiding them, enhancing her teeth with diamond dentures and exaggerating her facial hair in her paintings. On what would be her 112th birthday, we’ve rounded up six of Frida’s unique beauty philosophies and rituals.

She used a Revlon pencil to emphasise her monobrow

When Frida died in 1954, her husband Diogo Rivera closed off her bathroom and bedroom to preserve her essence for as long as he could. After he passed in 1957, art historians pieced together what they could of Frida’s beauty regime, which was made up of nearly all Revlon products. 

Frida’s make-up regime went like this: a thick layer of Ponds Day Creme topped with Coty’s loose rice powder, red lipstick in Revlon’s “Everything’s Rosy”, and red painted nails in either “Orchids to You” or “Raven Red”. As we all know, she threw hair removal to the wind, instead emphasising her lush monobrow and lashes with a Revlon eyebrow pencil in “ebony” and black pigments by Talika (a French product that stimulated hair growth).

She used the colour red as a symbol for health and wellbeing

Analyzing a history of her self portraits, Frida’s health and wellbeing during the time can be understood by her use of the colour red. When she moved to San Francisco in 1930, her portraits and photographs during this time show her experimenting with dramatic rouge and bold lips, a symbol of her good health and happiness. During the sickest parts of her life when her chronic back pain and addictions were at their worst, she portrays herself as colourless, grey, gaunt. 

To Frida, the colour red signified eroticism and rebellion. Frida loved lipstick and would kiss her love letters and photographs during affairs when posting them to her lovers. 

In 1939 she wrote to Nickolas Muray (an artist with whom she had an on and off affair for ten years) in a crisp envelope dotted in lipstick marks: “I am sending you here millions of kisses for your beautiful neck to make it feel better ... To you, my loveliest Nick, all my heart, blood and all my being. I adore you. Frida.”

She was an early adopter of grills

Frida was famously insecure about her crooked teeth, made worse from a reported diet of “brandy and sweets”. But instead of hiding them, she flaunted their uniqueness by having two sets of dentures made, one in gold and one studded with diamonds. The dentures have since been lost, but they remain a shining example of Frida spinning imperfection into enhancement. 

Her signature scent was Shocking by Elsa Schiaparelli

With top notes of jasmine and honey layered with base scents of spicy cloves and civet, friends of Frida said if they smelled honey and cloves, they knew she was nearby. The perfume received lots of press for its scandalous bottle in the hourglass shape of a woman - a subversiveness she took great pleasure in. After all, Frida’s bisexuality was often alluded to in her artwork. One of her most famous paintings is Two Nudes in a Forest, which was supposedly inspired by her erotic affair with film star Dolores del Rio, who she was seeing at the time of the portrait. 

She wore fresh flowers in her hair as a symbol of fertility

Frida’s signature glossy middle part and plaited flower crown weren’t purely aesthetic; supposedly the fresh flowers were a symbol for fertility. She would choose flowers from her garden on the cusp of blossoming because they “reminded her of sex organs”. Fertility was both an obsession and a demon of Frida’s in her desperate attempt to be a mother - a prominent theme in a lot of her work. 

While she became pregnant three times (that we know of), tragically none of the babies came to term. Frida was forced to abort her first child because of her tilted pelvis, miscarried the second, and had another termination on her third (believed to be because it was not her husband’s child). 

She had a complex relationship with her androgyny

In her paintings, Frida would often exaggerate her unibrow and moustache, playing with the duality of masculine and feminine and lending her an androgynous appearance. Despite this, however, she wasn’t always happy about her perceived masculinity once saying “Of my face, I like the eyebrows and the eyes. Aside from that, I like nothing ... I have the moustache and in general the face of the opposite sex.”

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