As society progresses, beauty standards and gender roles evolve and change. And what gender is has changed as we have come to understand gender as a social construct rather than an immutable feature about oneself. There are many examples of our ideas of beauty present in artwork that date back to pre-recorded history. Standards of beauty often correlate with the views around the roles that “men” and “women” are supposed to play. There have also always been people who pushed back against these ideas, citing the many ways these ideas have been and continue to be oppressive and stifles individuality and progress.
Frida Kahlo was one such person who pushed back against societal norms to embrace who she was ultimate. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist and activist who is most well-known for her surrealist self-portraits, which often displayed her complex feelings about her identity, class, race, and gender.
Kahlo’s life was plagued by chronic pain and illness. She was left disabled by a childhood bout with polio, and at the age of 18, she was involved in a tragic bus accident that left her permanently injured. During the early 20th century, women were expected to be wives and mothers and conform to rigid standards of beauty. Kahlo, who had also been left unable to conceive from the bus accident, challenged the notion that she lacked value as a woman because of her infertility. She also questioned the normative roles around beauty and sexuality. Kahlo, an openly bisexual woman, liked to sport suits and ties in family pictures. She refused to shave her facial hair and drew emphasis to her monobrow, redefining for herself and the world what it meant to be a woman.
Kahlo was an avid participant in the Mexicayotl movement which sought to redefine Mexican identity postcolonialism. The movement was dedicated to reviving the philosophies and traditions of the indigenous people of the region. Kahlo embraced her roots and fluid identity in her art and throughout her life. Decades after Kahlo’s death, there was renewed interest in her artwork, and she was widely embraced by Chicanos, becoming a symbol for Mexican and indigenous heritage and traditions. Feminists and LGBTQIA+ activists also showed her deference for unwavering determination always to be herself unapologetically.
As women and those who do not conform to the gender binary have gained more autonomy over their bodies and lives, beauty standards and gender roles have slowly but surely started to shift. In the digital era, social media has made it possible for those in the beauty industry to pursue their creative passions and dreams by utilizing the Internets’ capabilities to bypass the traditional barriers that are in the way. Internet influence has effectively transformed the way we look at beauty and style. Beauty influencers like Jackie Aina and Patrick Starrr have helped to create a lane for people of color and LGBTQIA+ people in the digital space in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by cisgender, heterosexual white people. As notions of gender continue to expand, so should our expectations around the roles we think people should play in society. We should strive towards a society where people can be truly liberated from oppressive standards around beauty, embracing people for who they are, not what we expect them to be.
Maria is a writer at Enki Tech, a Downtown Santa Monica technology company that specializes in the development of high-quality, user friendly software, web platforms and mobile apps.