Why Was Frida Kahlo the Star of International Women’s Day?

Other women artists deserve a rare moment in the spotlight.

Snapchat created a Frida Kahlo filter for International Women's Day. Courtesy of Katya Khazei.

International Women’s Day, held on March 8, saw women around the world protesting the administration of Donald Trump. On a more lighthearted note, Frida Kahlo received her own Snapchat filter in honor of the day, allowing users to re-envision themselves with overgrown eyebrows and Kahlo’s trademark braided tresses. It’s well-trod territory, bringing the ever-popular Kahlo Halloween costume—see Beyoncé’s take, paired with Jay Z as Basquiat—into the digital realm.

“In the age of the selfie, Frida is considered to be the first selfie artist,” said Beatriz Alvarado from the Frida Kahlo Corporation to CNET. “She told a story of love, life, strength and passion through her self-portraits.”

The filter, which was part of a three part set also featuring Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, came under fire for whitewashing Kahlo by lightening users’ skin, and veering dangerously close to blackface territory with Parks—but that didn’t stop selfie queen Kim Kardashian from rocking the unibrow and flower crown. That’s not the only reason, however, that Snapchat’s choice to feature Kahlo is somewhat problematic, at least to my mind.

Kim Kardashian using the Snapchat Frida Kahlo filter created for International Women's Day. Courtesy of Kim Kardashian.

Kim Kardashian using the Snapchat Frida Kahlo filter created for International Women’s Day. Courtesy of Kim Kardashian.

Kahlo was also recognized by Google, which selected the Mexican painter as one of 13 historic women featured in its inspired Google Doodle. The illustration, by Jennifer Hom, was originally featured on the search engine homepage on July 6, 2010, which would have been the artist’s 103rd birthday.

But while Kahlo is perhaps the world’s most famous woman artist, many of the other women featured alongside her by Google were far less well-known. Lotfia El Nadi, for instance, was Egypt’s first female pilot, taking to the skies in 1932, and Lee Tai-young was the first woman lawyer and judge in Korea. They sound like total bad asses, and I’m sorry I had never heard of them.

Jennifer Hom, Frida Kahlo Google Doodle. Courtesy of Google.

Jennifer Hom, Frida Kahlo Google Doodle. Courtesy of Google.

Kahlo may be rightfully beloved, but initiatives like the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, taking place this weekend at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the #5WomenArtists social media campaign from the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, DC, remind us that there are far too many women artists who haven’t received the recognition they deserve.

When the NMWA literally considers it a challenge to simply name five women artists, let alone to say anything meaningful about their lives or careers, something has to change. Over 200 museums from all 7 continents and 50 states agree, and are participating in the month-long campaign. On a day like International Women’s Day, when women’s issues have an unusually attentive audience, why not turn the spotlight on the accomplishments of women artists who have been historically under-appreciated, rather than adding yet another feather in Kahlo’s cap?


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