Gender and Power in Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940)

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Szurop, Szonja
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Scholarship Sewanee 2022 , University of the South , Gender , power , politics , Frida Kahlo , Self-Portrait , painting , queer , artist , femininity
Observing the popular media of our present day, the phenomenon of “breakup haircut” emerges as a cliché ingrained in our culture. While this trend traces back to the world of celebrities and the fashion industry, it also bears deep layers of psychological meaning. Altering one’s hair after transformative events in life is often a therapeutic act of resistance, self-redefinition, and identity exploration. Such is the case in the 1940 oil painting of Frida Kahlo, titled Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair. Produced after a traumatic divorce from her partner, Diego Rivera, Kahlo depicted herself in a strikingly different way from her usual Tehuana femininity. In the canvas, Kahlo gazes outward from among the litter of her cut hair, wearing a male suit and female accessories. The quotation of a popular song signed above the austere interior promotes discourses on beauty standards and gender binaries - “Look, if I loved you, it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore.” Based on gender and queer theory, I aim to reclaim this work of art from its traditionally associated connotation of post-marital vengeance. To do so, I observe the historical and social circumstances of post-revolutionary Mexico that defined the expectations for female appearance and behavior. In the era, a white male intellectual fantasy dictated indigenous maternity that was thought to stabilize the country. However, many women (among them Kahlo) overcame this stereotype with the flapper-like la chica moderna style that allowed them the liberty of choice regarding their dressing and demeanor. Combining this knowledge with my further exploration of myths surrounding Kahlo’s identity, I unravel the deeper layers of her carefully curated artistic persona she performed for the public. My findings regarding Kahlo’s sexual orientation and interest in hermaphrodites will help support the argument that the Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair is not a unique occasion of genderbending but a deliberate act of self-expression that challenges patriarchal authority.