Mattel Involved in Dispute over Frida Kahlo Barbie

Category: Lifestyle/Entertainment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. under fire / ˈʌn dər faɪər / (idiom) – facing criticism

    The company was under fire after it was caught copying the designs of another brand.

  2. call out / kɔl aʊt / (phrasal) – to call one’s attention

    The popular actor called out the journalist for writing a false report.

  3. distaste / dɪsˈteɪst / (n) – dislike for something

    I wrote a blog entry to express my distaste for the boring film.

  4. bizarre / bɪˈzɑr / (adj) – having a weird or strange appearance

    I find her style bizarre and interesting at the same time.

  5. legitimate / lɪˈdʒɪt ə mɪt / (adj) – aligned with the law

    I was able to confirm that the company we will work with is legitimate.


Read the text below.

Toy manufacturing company Mattel is under fire for creating a Frida Kahlo Barbie.

In February, Mattel announced the launch of a Barbie doll in the image of Mexican painter and feminist Frida Kahlo, who died in 1954, as part of its latest collection called “Inspiring Women.” The collection—released in time for International Women’s Day—also features other notable women in history like aviation pioneer Amelia Earheart and African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson.

However, Kahlo’s family has called out the multinational toy company and expressed objection to the doll. Mara Romeo, Kahlo’s great-niece and the owner of the late painter’s image, asserted that Mattel is not authorized to use Kahlo’s image. Romeo also expressed her distaste for the doll’s appearance. Kahlo was known for her trademark bushy eyebrows and bizarre fashion sense. However, Mattel failed to reflect these in the doll’s appearance. Romeo and other critics argued that the Kahlo doll resembles a typical Barbie doll, which promotes unattainable body standards.

Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek, who received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Kahlo in the 1995 film Frida, also questioned Mattel’s decision to make the doll look generic. The actress said that Kahlo embraced her uniqueness and never attempted to look like anyone else.

In response to the accusations and criticism, Mattel explained that it has worked closely with Frida Kahlo Corporation, which was founded by Kahlo’s family along with Casablanca Distributors in 2005.  The corporation claims to have legitimate ownership of Frida’s image. However, Romeo’s lawyer argued that the Kahlo family terminated the corporation’s contract in 2010. He also said that the scope of the corporation’s rights only covers Kahlo’s name but not her image.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• In your opinion, should Mattel stop the production of the Frida Kahlo Barbie? Why or why not?
• What do you think Mattel should have done in order to prevent this controversy?

Discussion B

• What makes a public figure deserving of a replica or memorabilia (e.g. popularity, contribution to society)? Why?
• What do you think is the best way to pay tribute to public figures? Explain.