In her 1940 work Self-Portrait Without Hair, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo sits surrounded by her own shorn locks. And in real life, she changes her look just as drastically, shunning the feminine image that her unfaithful husband once loved. It’s not the first time that Kahlo’s art reflected her life, and it would not be the last, as she forged a unique career creating beauty out of staggering pain.
Born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón on July 6, 1907, she was the daughter of a German father and a mother of both Spanish and Native American descent. The third of four girls, she grew up in the Coyoacán district of Mexico City, where she was encouraged to pursue art from a young age. However, her parents were both plagued by sickness, and she would later describe her childhood as sad.
At just six years old, Kahlo was diagnosed with polio – a serious condition that forced her to spend months in isolation. And as a result of the disease, her right leg did not develop at the same rate as her left. In fact, she would spend much of her life wearing long skirts in order to conceal the disability.