Udall, Chapter 6: “Sexuality, Androgyny, and Personal Appearance”

by chunte4

In terms of androgyny Frida Khalo explored the concept more thoroughly in both her life and her work than either O’Keef or Carr. Whereas both O’Keef and Carr expressed attributes typically coded as masculine through their clothing and mannerisms, their work retains overwhelmingly feminine elements such as O’Keef’s egg symbolism in her painting Three Eggs in a Pink Dish, or Carr’s many depictions of trees which she thought of as female. Khalo however, due in part to her heavy interest in duality, a recurring theme in Aztec mythology, often embraced androgyny through her art and appearance. In paintings such as Self-Portrait with Monkey, Khalo presents both feminine and masculine traits: she puts her hair up in a very elaborate looking style: a long braid wrapped up in a type of bun, and also wears a necklace and some makeup. In addition, as with many of her portraits, she accentuates her slight mustache and unibrow, giving herself a more masculine face. In her everyday life she would also occasionally wear men’s suits “for emotional effect” (pg. 267) and would sometimes paint herself in men’s clothing in response to turbulent moments in her life. I’m not sure, but I assumed upon reading this that she used men’s clothing in these situations to symbolically adopt the emotional coldness of a man in order to withstand her own pain. Though the embracing of this binary way of thinking with regards to gender is problematic from a feminist perspective, I can see where this logic would come from, seeing as the concept of androgyny stems from established “male” and “female” roles that come together in one person. Yet Khalo’s works and lifestyle was nevertheless revolutionary for her time, and her androgyny played a large role in the formation of her artistic identity, which would inspire many woman artists that would come after her. Her androgyny serves as one of many examples of a problematic element of feminist discourse that nevertheless had a positive effect overall on society’s perception of gender.