Frida Kahlo

What is the Glabella, and why is it important?

Well, there are so many interesting weird words that I just didn’t know existed and I’m starting a whole new series of short blogs that talk about a few of these fabulous words.  Please let me know if you know unusual or interesting words that I should included here.  I’ll be delighted to hear from you!

So: the glabella, in humans, is simply the area of skin between the eyebrows and above the nose.  The term also refers to the underlying bone that is slightly depressed, and joins the two brow ridges.

The Glabella. That bit, right there, in the middle.

Etymology

The term for the area is derived from the Latin glabellus, meaning ‘smooth, hairless’.  (Well, some of the time anyway.)

In medical science

The skin of the glabella may be used to measure skin turgor in suspected cases of dehydration by gently pinching and lifting it. When released, the glabella of a dehydrated patient tends to remain extended (or “tented”), rather than returning to its normal shape.

How fascinating is that? Now you know how to check for deydration!  You’re welcome!

Famous Glabellas from history!  Well, Frida Kahlo of course.

In a fascinating article by Georgia Simmons in “Net-A-Porter” she discusses why Frida didn’t groom her famous unibrow which stretched across her Glabella.

She explains: “Frida Kahlo’s extraordinary explorations in self-portraiture are testament to the fact that, in real life and on canvas, Kahlo considered her image on precisely her own terms, celebrating her features – her Mexican identity, upper lip hair and that striking unibrow. “I am my own muse. The subject I know best. The subject I want to know better,” she famously declared.

An enduring feminist icon, Kahlo’s unibrow has become shorthand for: “I won’t curb my self-expression to meet your expectations of how a woman should look.” That shock of dark hair on her brow is a statement rejecting stereotypes about what is and isn’t attractive. (Ideas usually generated by men, by the way.)

In March 2018, Mattel revealed its Frida Kahlo Barbie – and some people were upset. But this time, the doll’s improbable physical proportions were the least of everyone’s worries. The fact that Kahlo-Barbie’s unibrow was minimized, and no facial hair was visible, was a big point of contention – a dilution that actually devalued the meaning attached to how Kahlo presented herself in life and art.

In the summer of 2018, an exhibition at London’s V&A museum, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, investigated how the artist shaped her visual identity via the clothes and personal artefacts she used to express her cultural heritage, femininity and politics.

Sophia Hadjipanteli Photo by David M. Benett.

Sophia Hadjipanteli Photo by David M. Benett.

Included in the exhibition was the eyebrow pencil Kahlo used to accentuate her unibrow; a reminder that, way back in the ’40s, Kahlo was challenging beauty ideals in a way that still feels progressive today. Increasingly, fuller virgin brows are celebrated, but it remains a defiant act to leave untouched, ‘untamed’ hair on your face.

Unibrowed Cypriot model Sophia Hadjipanteli (see left) has over 180k followers on Instagram, but routinely receives abuse on the platform for not bowing to the status quo. 180k followers would disagree!

Kahlo’s unibrow is important because it’s confidently unconventional.

Her image remains a shaft of light for women who feel dictated to or shamed by narrow social constructs around what’s ‘normal’. “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world,” wrote Kahlo in her diary. “But then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

Throughout the course of her career, Kahlo painted 55 portrayals of herself, including Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, seen at the top of this page.

Kahlo completed this piece in 1940, one year after her tumultuous divorce from Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Given the timing of its creation, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is widely believed to be a reflection of her emotional state following the couple’s split.

In the painting, Kahlo is positioned in front of foliage and between a stalking panther and a monkey. (She and Rivera had kept many monkeys as pets, leading many to speculate that they served as surrogates for the children the couple was sadly unable to conceive.) Around her neck, she wears a necklace made out of thorns and adorned with a seemingly lifeless hummingbird.

Though the peculiar accessory draws blood from her neck, her expression remains stoic. This calm approach to pain is typical of Kahlo, who — even when devastated over her divorce — poignantly stated that “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

 

Heart to heart … The Two Fridas (detail), painted by Kahlo in 1939. Photograph: Museo de Arte Moderno/De Agostini Picture Library/G Dagli Orti/Bridgeman Images

 

David Pulver from The Guardian newspaper wrote the following about on a very interesting new documentary film about Frida.  He wrote this long review in 2020:

“Having gone quiet for a few months since lockdown, the reliably informative Exhibition on Screen series returns with a profile of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter who has long been venerated as a pioneer of feminist iconography as well as a champion of the country’s indigenous culture. While the series tends to use large-scale exhibitions as a cue, this film spends only brief periods inside a gallery spaces – primarily the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City, which holds significant amounts of Kahlo’s work, as well as her husband’s Diego Rivera.

Instead, we get a straightforward, meat-and-potatoes overview of Kahlo’s life, peppered with copious commentary from the usual top-notch academic and curatorial talent, as well as family members.

While it’s perhaps not fair to make grandiose claims for this sober-toned film, I suspect it’s trying to somehow reclaim the artist from “Fridamania”, the surge of admiration that swept the cultural world in the 70s and 80s when Kahlo’s preoccupations – her brutal physical realities, the adoption of costume and imagery, the use of her body as a personal theatre – became fashionable, decades after her death. There’s a measured tone throughout, as well as some great photographs: Kahlo with Rivera, who always seems to look as if he’s just woken up; Kahlo’s father, whose spiffy goatee is surely the source of the shadowy facial hair Kahlo liked to paint on to herself; and Kahlo herself as a radiant teenager and twentysomething, despite the horrific bus crash that affected her from the age of 18.

 

 

Though necessarily a little light on detail, this is a film that covers the required bases, striking a good balance between Kahlo’s often dramatic personal life and the ins and outs of her artistic achievements. (A fervent case is made that Kahlo was the first artist to render menstrual blood on canvas, in her heartbreaking depiction of her miscarriage and hospital stay in Detroit, where she had accompanied Rivera on one of his mural commissions.)

There’s also an interesting sidebar on Mexican retablo painting – the votive street art that is still a traditional method of attempting to gain divine intercession – which Kahlo herself collected and which was a clear influence on her own work. All in all, a very watchable film about an ever-intriguing figure.”

The Indian Bindi

We know that human interactions normally take place “eyes to eyes”. One of the notable signs of some kinds of autism is that some autistic people tend to avoid eye contact, as it makes them uncomfortable, which is why the condition can make social interaction with non-autistic people difficult.

Perhaps this is why the area between the two eyes is of such central importance in fashion and art?

Aside from the beautiful saris and gold jewelry that characterize much of the Indian subcontinent’s culture, one of the most internationally-known body adornments worn by Hindu and Jain women is the bindi, a red dot applied between the eyebrows on the glabella (or a little higher, on the forehead).

The term “bindi” stems from the Sanskrit word bindu, which means drop or particle. Because of the many languages and dialects spoken throughout India, it is important to record that bindis are also known by many other names, including kumkum, sindoor, teep, tikli and bottu.

However, the meaning behind the ornament, regardless of region or language, remains the same.

Around 3000 BC, the rishi-muni (ancient seers of Hinduism) wrote the Vedas, in which they described the existence of areas of concentrated energy called the chakras. There are seven main chakras that run along the center of the body, and the sixth one (called the ajna chakra, the “brow chakra” or “third eye chakra”) is believed to be exactly where the bindi is placed.

In Sanskrit, ajna translates as “command” or “perceive,” and is considered the eye of intuition and intellect. According to the Vedas, when something is seen in the mind’s eye or in a dream, it is also seen by the ajna. Thus, the bindi’s purpose is to enhance the powers of this chakra, specifically by facilitating one’s ability to access their inner wisdom or guru, allowing them to see the world and interpret things in a truthful, unbiased manner, as well as forsake their ego and rid their false labels.

Hindu tradition holds that all people have a third inner eye. The two physical eyes are used for seeing the external world, while the third focuses inward toward God. As such, the red dot signifies piety as well as serving as a constant reminder to keep God at the center of one’s thoughts.

The bindi, especially a red-colored one, also serves as an auspicious sign of marriage. As the Hindu bride steps over the threshold of her husband’s home, her red bindi is believed to usher in prosperity and grant her a place as the family’s newest guardian. In some communities, women may stop donning a bindi after the passing away of their husbands.

In modern times, however, the bindi’s symbolism is no longer strictly adhered to. Bindis now come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and are largely used as beauty accessories in a place where other people’s gaze is often directed.

This evokes the question of cultural appropriation, as many Hollywood celebrities (Vanessa Hudgens, Gwen Stefani, Selena Gomez) have began wearing the bindi as a fashion statement. While some individuals with traditional bindi-wearing cultures criticise this act, there are others who view it simply as an attempt to embrace or salute Indian culture. Or maybe it just looks nice.

My belief is this: if you turn up to Coachella with a jeweled bindi on your forehead along with a profound knowledge about the religious and cultural meaning behind the ornament, then by all means, go flaunt that bindi! But if you do not know the symbolism behind the dot or don’t care to learn about it, then there’s no reason for you to wear it. Because the bindi is more than just a red dot.  It’s respectiful to know the “why”.

Many cultures have chosen to accentuate this area. The painted forehead designs of the Chinese Tang dynasty served a similar purpose. Today, as people age, some plastic surgeons even regularly use “plumpers” to overcome the slight reduction in the prominence of this spot on the face that occurs with age.

The Chinese Huadian

Huadian (simplified Chinese: 花钿; traditional Chinese: 花鈿), also known as huazi (Chinese: 花子; literally ‘Little flower’), mianhua (Chinese: 面花), meizi (Chinese: 媚子), plum blossom makeup or plum makeup (Chinese: 梅花粧; pinyin: méihuāzhuāng or Chinese: 落梅妆; pinyin: luòméizhuāng) or Shouyang makeup (Chinese: 寿阳妆), is a form of traditional Chinese women ornamental forehead makeup, which is located between the eyebrows but also sometimes on the cheeks, the temples and the dimples.

Tang costumeAccording to folklore, the huadian in a floral shape originated in the Southern dynasty period and its creation is attributed to Princess Shouyang, a daughter of Emperor Wu of Liu Song (420 – 479 AD). However, the origins of the huadian can actually be traced back earlier than the folklore legends to the Qin and Han dynasties, and even in the pre-Qin period with its customs arising as early as the Spring and Autumn period (c. 770 – 476 BC) and Warring States period (c. 475 – 221 BC) based on archaeological artifacts and studies. The huadian was also popular among Tang and Song dynasty women, but its popularity of the huadian declined in the Yuan dynasty.

The huadian still forms an integral part of Chinese clothing culture. In present days, it is often combined with the wearing of hanfu, the traditional clothing of the Han Chinese.

What an amazing historic culture China has!

Anyway, the gap between your eyebrows is called the Glabella.  And now you’ll know for all time!

And if this little article has poked your inner artist into life, why not come along and enjoy one of my Workshops in Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria. Learn a whole new skill, express yourself, and no prior experience is necessary!

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