Be Determined. Stay Rebel! Presented by Athleta Girl
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Once upon a time, in a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City, there was a girl who lived in a blue house. Her name was Frida. From the outside, Frida’s blue house was a common stucco building, with bright blue walls, tall windows, and green shutters. But past the entrance, a world of wonder awaited.
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Pamela Fionna Adlon is an EMMY Award Winning American actress, voice actress, screenwriter, producer, and director. Pamela Adlon lent her voice to benefit the United Service Organization where Timbuktu made a donation in her name.
Once upon a time, in a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City, there was a girl who lived in a blue house.
Her name was Frida.
From the outside, Frida’s blue house was a common stucco building, with bright blue walls, tall windows, and green shutters. But past the entrance, a world of wonder awaited.
Tropical plants, fountains, a small pyramid decked with pre-Columbian idols, birds singing, and… in the house, a big, heavy, and dark wooden closet, inside which Frida and her little sister sang revolutionary songs at the top of their lungs.
It was an exciting and dangerous time in Mexico. A revolution had started.
The Zapatistas fought fiercely to overthrow the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and to establish a constitutional republic. At four, Frida had chosen the side she’d be on. The revolutionaries.
Frida was a rebel. Her mom took her to church, but every time she managed to escape and spent entire afternoons wandering the courtyards of Coyoacán, where she ate cherries and quinces from all the trees she could find.
When Frida turned six, though, her life changed abruptly: she contracted polio and was bedridden for months.
Polio was a serious disease, potentially lethal and — at first — it seemed to tarnish Frida’s adventurous spirit.
Soon, however, it became clear that Frida would not be tamed so easily.
I’m PAMELA ADLON. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the extraordinary women who inspire us.
This week: Frida Kahlo.
A THINNER LEG
When Frida recovered, the doctor recommended she play as many sports as she could, since polio had left her with a right leg that was weaker, thinner, and shorter than her left.
With her father’s encouragement, Frida started boxing, wrestling, playing soccer, and rowing. She even became a swimming champion!
Despite all the exercise, her leg remained thinner and gave her a limp. Often, when she rode her bike, other kids screamed: “Frida pata de palo!” — Frida wooden leg! She kept pedaling as fast she could and angrily shouted back all the bad words she could think of.
LA ESCUELA NACIONAL PREPARATORIA
When Frida was 15, she started attending the best high school in Mexico, la Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. She wore her black hair short, with a fringe. She had a thick unibrow, fierce, dark eyes, and a light mustache.
Under the dictatorship of Diaz, the country had been ruled by a group of men who looked at Europe as a model for the modernization of Mexico. In their view, food, economy, fashion, art… everything European was better than anything Mexican.
It took 10 years of revolution to give Mexico back to Mexicans, and Frida’s school was central in that process.
“Let yourselves be inspired by the Mexican soil,” the teachers said, “look at our costumes, at our traditions, at our hopes and desires — let yourselves be inspired by what we truly are!”
Frida and her schoolmates took that lesson to heart.
At the new school, Frida had immediately found her crew: a group of 9 students called Los Cachucas. They were intelligent and reckless. Once, they brought a donkey to school and rode it up and down the hallways. Another time, they refused to attend a lesson and stood outside the classroom reading aloud a book they thought was more interesting.
When a famous Mexican painter called Diego Rivera came in to paint a huge mural in their school, Frida pranked him all the time. She stole his lunch and made fun of his girlfriends when they visited him.
Diego was 36 years old, and unbelievably fat! He wore a cowboy hat, huge miner’s boots. and a big leather belt.
Some say Frida fell in love there and then.
But it would take a few years before their love story began. In the meantime, Frida got a boyfriend: his name was Alejandro.
They did everything together, and when they were not together, they exchanged long letters. Frida filled her letters with drawings and — as soon as she started wearing lipstick — she stamped them all with kisses.
One day, Frida and Alejandro hopped on one of the new buses that had just started to populate the streets of Mexico City. It was crowded, but they found 2 seats in the back.
A few minutes later, a tram violently hit the bus. The bus seemed to bend impossibly, then it burst into a million pieces. The metal handrail broke violently… and it impaled Frida, just like a sword.
A passenger next to them was carrying a package full of powdered gold. The package broke during the collision and the sparkling powder flew everywhere, gently coating Frida’s bleeding body in gold.
“La bailarina, la bailarina,” people shouted. They thought she was a dancer.
Frida was rushed to the hospital and for an entire month it wasn’t clear if she would survive. Her spine was broken in three places. Her collar bone was broken too, and her right leg was fractured in eleven places. Her right foot was crushed.
Her convalescence took two years and she never fully recovered, but she had survived.
To overcome the consequences of polio, she had learned to become an athlete. Now, to recover from this terrible accident, she had to learn how to stay still.
So she began to paint.
FRIDA, THE PAINTER
Frida could not sit, so her mother had a special easel made – one that allowed her to paint while lying in bed. She started painting the friends who came to visit her, her relatives… and herself.
“I paint myself,” she wrote, “because I am so often alone. And because I am the subject I know best.”
Unable to see the world outside, she saw it in her body: valleys and mountains, flowers and buildings… Through her paintings, Frida gave herself a second life.
She suffered, a lot. But she painted herself as a hero: a woman capable of surviving and thriving on even the most hostile and desolated planet. In her self-portraits, she never looked pitiful. She stood with the dignity of a queen and with a fire in her eyes.
THE ELEPHANT AND THE DOVE
By the end of 1927, Frida was healthy enough to live with intensity in the vibrant atmosphere of Mexico City. Artists and politicians debated, drank and danced fervently while reinventing the identity of their country.
At one of these parties, Frida met again the painter she had teased as a schoolgirl, Diego Rivera.
He was painting a mural at the Ministry of Public Education and, a few days later, Frida went to visit him. He was on a scaffold. “Diego! Come down!” she called.
She handed him a few of her paintings and said: “I want an honest opinion: Have I got any talent?” Diego looked at them, hooked. The self-portrait in particular, he said, was breathtaking. “I’ve got other paintings at home,” Frida said. “Will you come and see them next Sunday?” Diego said yes. The paintings were stunningly beautiful, and Frida was too.
Their love story had officially begun.
When they got married, in 1929, Frida was twenty-two years old.
In a painting she made about their wedding, Diego looks like a giant. He holds his palette and brushes, proudly. His big feet anchor him solidly to the ground. Frida, on the other hand, is small and looks like she’s floating.
Many said they looked like an elephant and a dove.
During the wedding party, Diego got so drunk that he broke the pinkie of one of the guests. Frida left crying and it took Diego several days to find her and convince her to move into their newlywed house.
It was the stormy beginning of a marriage that would never resemble a fairy-tale. THE MISCARRIAGE
In 1932, Frida got pregnant and, because of her health problems, was afraid that giving birth could kill her.
After much debate, she decided she would try to keep the baby. She wanted to be a mother.
On a hot summer night, though, she started to bleed. Her uterus ached excruciatingly and at 6 am an ambulance took her to the hospital. She looked small in the stretcher. Her braids were soaked with tears.
Five days after she lost the baby, Frida took a pencil and drew a self-portrait, then another.
In one of these paintings, she is lying on the bed, naked. Her long hair flows well beyond the edge of the bed, it touches the ground and becomes roots that sink in the floor of the room.
When painting herself, Frida did not filter out details she wished were different. She drew strength from the truth. That body, as imperfect as it was, was hers. It had given her pain, yes, but also laughter and unbearable joy.
TWO HOUSES AND A BRIDGE
In 1934, Frida and Diego’s new house in Mexico City was ready. It was actually two houses, connected by a bridge. The big, pink house was Diego’s, the small, blue one was Frida’s.
Frida often treated Diego like a big baby. She bathed him, put toys for him in the tub, and laughed at the huge, pink underwear that needed to be custom-made because Diego was far too big for standard sizes.
They fought as energetically as they laughed. When Diego made Frida mad, she locked the door at her end of the bridge forcing Diego to go downstairs and knock on the main door. Frida’s servant would tell him she did not wish to see him and back upstairs he’d go, begging for her forgiveness behind her locked door.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
In 1937, Frida began painting more regularly and she produced some of her best works. Her paintings attracted many people’s attention and she sold some for a considerable amount of money.
She traveled to New York for her first solo exhibition.
The opening night party was an incredible event. Like a monarch from another time, Frida walked around the gallery in her traditional tehuana dress. Twenty-five of her extraordinary paintings hung on the walls. Many of the most influential artists and collectors of the time looked at them, astonished. They had never seen anything like it.
BARELY TOUCHING THE GROUND
In 1944, Frida’s health deteriorated. The pain in her spine and in her leg made it increasingly difficult for her to stand or even to sit, and sometimes she had to lie in bed all day long. She tried twenty-eight different corsets: one made of steel, three made of leather, the others in plaster.
At some point, a friend of hers visited her at the hospital after a surgery: she was hanging from two metal rings with her feet barely touching the ground.
In front of her, an easel. She was painting.
Throughout all this, Frida and Diego got divorced, then got back together. They kept painting, fighting and making peace for their entire lives.
Diego always said that Frida was the greatest painter of their generation and reported, with bright eyes, that even his friend Picasso, pointing at one of Frida’s portraits, said:
“Look at these eyes, neither of us is capable of doing anything like this.”