Frida Kahlo: The Selfie Queen
Wake up. Roll over. Check your phone. Check the time. Open Snapchat. Watch a story. Open Twitter. Scroll. Close those apps. Check the time again. Jump up. Get dressed. Check the time yet again. Quick. Take a selfie. The sun is out and the lighting is great. You can edit it later. Open Snapchat again. Throw up a selfie on there. Add the dog filter for good measure. The average millennial could take about 25,700 selfies in their lifetime. About 5 hours a week, taking the time to take a photo. Of yourself. The selfie has transformed into a rather complex art form. Every part of me is a vision of a portrait. Of Mona, of Mona Lisa. The idea that your image could be captured, framed, and hung up in a museum is rather empowering. Empowering, alas, but not new.
After spending the day with boyfriend Alex in downtown Mexico City it was time for 18-year-old Frida Kahlo to head back home to Coyoacan. They hopped on the bus and off they went. It was on this gray afternoon, on September 17, 1925, that Kahlo’s entire life would be turned upside down. The bus was hit by a streetcar forcing an iron handrail through one side of her hip and out through the genitals. This accident caused her to bed ridden for an exuberant amount of time covered in body casts, enduring a pain that no one could wrap their minds around. While bedridden, she began to grow restless. What is someone supposed to do in bed for that amount of time? So she drew. On herself. She began to adorn her body cast with flowers. Frida no longer had control over her body. She could not control whether or not she could walk. Could not control if she could have children. Or be able to run through the streets with her Alex once more. But she could control how she looked. She could control her image. As a means of reclaiming a body that she felt imprisoned by, she took hold of that body and painted flowers on it. She began to see her body in a new light. It had taken on a new form that she no longer was familiar with but that did not mean it was not worthy of being held in the highest regard. A vision of a portrait.
As weeks went on her parents noticed that she was painting on her casts rather often. They gifted her with her mother’s easel, some paint, paintbrushes, and set up a mirror above her head so that she could see her reflection. It was at this moment in time that Frida became a painter. Not of bowls of fruit or of the beautiful Mexican landscapes, but of herself. “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone. Because I am the person I know best.” Kahlo dared to look inward. By capturing her own image she was able to create space for introspection. Throw the deepest parts of herself onto a canvas for the world to see and let it be. Let it look back at her as she stared at it. For your eyes carry the wishes of the heart. Your skin acts as a roadmap of places you have been. The nose acts as a marker, an anchor. The mouth bares the weight of words left unsaid and the hair is the crown for which you hold so dearly.
Taking hold of your image, your body and reclaiming that space as one that belongs to you is exactly what the selfie does. What once was a task that needed outside input—“can you take a picture of me?”—can now be done in solitude. The selfie creates space for introspection. You stand in front of that window that gives you a sufficient amount of light. You angle your jawline just so the light hits the left side of your face. You snap a picture. And another. And 4 more before you’re satisfied. There’s that moment of joy. To look at your phone and see this image of yourself that you have created. You look at the pimples. And the yellowish teeth, and the bushy eyebrows and just before you go to edit them out, you are filled with happiness. And anguish. For this is who you are in the purest form. This is not for the world. For the 10,000 IG followers. This is the image you have created. By you. Let us not be jaded into thinking that we simply snap a photo, and that is all. We angle the camera, find the light source. Add the filter. Frida spent days on one portrait. Of herself. You are art. Frida Kahlo used canvas and acrylics. You use front facing cameras and filters. Works of art. Masterpieces. If Kahlo had access to a smartphone, she'd have taken her fair share of selfies as well.