I just spent nearly an hour trying to orchestrate the perfect selfie, with right the light, framing, posing, etc. Partly it took so long because I have a horribly slow iPhone 4. Partly it’s because I’m obsessed with myself.
One thing my mother would say about this behavior: “Oh doesn’t she think she’s special?” “Oh for goodness sake,” is another. And I get that it all seems terribly vain. But there’s more than narcissism at work here—it’s also curiosity. What is my place in the world and how does my human form fit into it? I mean don’t we all wonder these things? Some people just wonder to themselves. Others wonder to the whole world.
Frida Kahlo seems to have asked the same questions. I don’t presume to be anywhere close to as awesome as she was, and I don’t intend to belittle her achievements by comparing her work to selfies. But while reading Hayden Herrera’s biography, Frida, I couldn’t help but draw some similarities between style blogging and how the Mexican artist approached getting dressed.
For Frida the elements of her dress were a kind of palette from which she selected each day the image of herself that she wished to present to the world. People who watched the ritual of her dressing recall the time and care she took, her perfectionism and precision. Frequently she tinkered with a needle before donning a blouse, adding lace her, a ribbon there. Deciding what belt would go with what skirt was a serious matter. ‘Does it work?’ she would ask. ‘Is it good?’ ‘Frida had an aesthetic attitude about her dress,’ painter Lucille Blanch remembered. ‘She was making a whole picture with colors and shapes.’
Sound familiar, anyone? While being an actual narcissist may indeed serve a blogger well, I don’t think Frida was one and I don’t think most bloggers (most) are. And I don’t THINK I am.
The other thing I loved about this section of the book was the idea that as Frida got older, she became even more dedicated to cultivating her daily look.
Always a form of social communication, as the years passed, Frida’s costumes became an antidote to isolation; even at the end of her life, when she was very ill and received few visitors, she dressed every day as she were preparing for a fiesta. As the self-portraits confirmed her existence, so did the costumes make the frail, often bedridden woman feel more magnetic and visible, more emphatically present as a physical object in space. Paradoxically, they were both a mask and a frame. Since they defined the wearer’s identity in terms of appearances, they distracted her—and the onlooker—from inner pain. Frida said she wore them out of ‘coquetry;’ she wanted to hide her scars and her limp. The elaborate packaging was an attempt to compensate for her body’s deficiencies, for her sense of fragmentation, dissolution, and mortality. Ribbons, flowers, jewels, and sashes became more and ore colorful and elaborate as her health declined. In a sense, Frida was like a Mexican piñata, a fragile vessel decorated with frills and ruffles, filled with sweets and surprises, but destined to be smashed. Just as blindfolded children swing at the piñata with a broomstick, life dealt Frida blow after blow. While the piñata dances and sways, the knowledge that it is about to be destroyed makes its bright beauty all the more poignant. In the same way, Frida’s decoration was touching: it was at once an affirmation of her love of life and the signal of her awareness—and defiance—of pain and death.
Though Frida was only 47 when she died (holy moses just a year older than me), I can’t help but think of Advanced Style when I read this. Who could begrudge these women the joy of getting dressed? And hopefully no one will begrudge me.