I remember being in year seven art class. Our teacher was slowly introducing us to the formidable talents of the art world, both past and present. We were presented with biographies and accompanying images of various artists’ works. Of course, there was Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Di Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh alongside other renowned artists whom we recognised.
“Oh my god, that’s the guy who cut off his ear, right?”
“That is like so weird!”
However, there was artist who struck me the most.
I found her so intriguing.
I was desperate to find out more about her …
This was the image presented to us in our teacher’s attempts to inspire us in designing our own self-portraits.
I guess I saw a connection between Frida Kahlo and myself. My thick eyebrows were detested by my peers. They would go on and on about how badly they needed plucking and waxing. Unfortunately, that influenced me in going to a waxing salon at the age of 12 despite my apathetic nature towards my brows. Luckily, at the age of 17 I came to the conclusion that I liked my thick brows; they’re apart of me – in a sense, they are symbolic of my unique personality and ambitious mind.
Anyway, obviously when the image was passed around the class of ignorant and misunderstood 12 and 13-year-olds there instant reactions were:
“She is so fugly*”
“Is she a transvestite?”
“Ew! Oh my freaking god, she has a unibrow!”
“Ah! Look at her moustache. She’s a chick and she has a moustache!”
“She is like totally a man!”
These were the exact reactions of my prepubescent schoolmates who did not familiarise such an image with the modern concept of ‘beauty’.
They laughed and laughed and laughed, thus inevitably leading my teacher in presenting us with information on another artist instead.
I desperately wanted to know more about this divine individual. I was so inspired by her aura which was communicated through the self-portrait.
I wanted to know everything about this amazing woman.
“On September 17, 1925, Kahlo was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, which seriously damaged her reproductive ability.
The accident left her in a great deal of pain while she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. The pain was intense and often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. She had as many as thirty-five operations as a result of the accident, mainly on her back, her right leg, and her right foot. The injuries also prevented Kahlo from having a child because of the medical complications and permanent damage. Though she conceived three times, all her pregnancies had to be terminated.” (Wikipedia, 2012).
The emotions and ambiguities presented through the portrait symbolised her physical and emotional struggles, hence many of her self-portraits being exposed from the waist up. The subtleties also metaphorically presented a sense of horror and empathy, which I had never ever felt towards an artwork before. All in all, her creations were an honest representation of her physical and psychological battles.
I am astounded by how far we’ve come since the year 2005 AKA the year of the above incident. I was considered ugly because of my thick, bushy eyebrows whereas girls with little to no eyebrows were considered strikingly beautiful. Even though their brows weren’t natural, they were defined as a ‘natural beauty’. It didn’t make sense. From the day I set eyes on Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, I thought she was breathtakingly beautiful. Despite only being 13 years of age, I saw a glimmer of hope for the future. Maybe I would be accepted for a minor part of my identity.
Nowadays, thick eyebrows are considered a rarity. The ‘Brooke Shields eyebrows’ are back in fashion.
I don’t believe in ‘trends’ but I do believe in embracing one’s natural beauty. For me, my thick eyebrows conform to such a statement. For others, it may be the unusual shape of their teeth, or even their freckles. These are what I consider aesthetically beautiful. I believe Frida Kahlo taught me this lesson. Despite the bickering of my peers, Kahlo has and always will be considered beautiful to me.
* “Fugly” = Fucking Ugly.
A term which was prevalent at my all-girls high school.