While Rivera's art looked outward, to social themes - Kahlo's looked inward, to intensely personal expressions. This was largely due to physical ailments which caused her great pain throughout her life. Frida was the daughter of a Mexican-Indian mother and a German father. At age 6, she was stricken with polio, which caused her right leg to shrivel (something she later hid beneath her long Mexican dresses). When she was 18, she was involved in a serious bus accident which left her with a broken spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, and 11 fractures in her right leg. In addition her right foot was dislocated and crushed, and her shoulder was out of joint. For a month at a time, Frida was forced to stay flat on her back, encased in a plaster cast. She began painting shortly after the accident because she was bored in bed.
Frida's recovery was miraculous, and she regained her ability to walk. However, she had frequent relapses of pain all throughout her life, which caused her to be hospitalized for long periods of time. Maintaining her sense of humor, she joked that she held the record for the most operations (about 30 in her lifetime). She also turned to alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes to ease the pain of her physical suffering. Her images focus on representations of herself, pictures of her physical pain, emotional longing, and her felt connection to the natural world.Despite tremendous physical ailments, Frida was a very beautiful woman. She had particularly thick, hairy eyebrows, which she made no attempt to disguise. In fact, she emphasized them so much in her paintings that they have become her trademark. It was Rivera who encouraged Kahlo to wear the traditional embroidered dresses and hair ribbons of the Tehuanas(a matriarchal Indian tribe). The "hand" earring that she wears in a couple of her portraits was given to her by Pablo Picasso, whom she met after marrying Diego Rivera. Their marriage has been called the union between an elephant and a dove, because Diego was huge and Frida was small and slender.
Diego and Frida's marriage was nothing less than stormy. They loved each other very much, but Diego was a well-known womanizer, and had several affairs throughout the course of their marriage (including one with Frida's sister). After much emotional torment, Frida also had several affairs (with both men and women). Frida poured out her emotions in her paintings. In The Love Embrace of the Universe
(The Earth, Diego, and Me
), she cradles her husband like a baby while the couple is embraced by an image of the earth and the universe. In What the Water Gave Me
, she also makes reference to a miscarriage, her move to New York city (the Empire State building emerging from the volcano), her physical suffering and her complex emotions of love and rage.