Welcome to “Advice From,” a new column I’ve been dreaming up for months now and an opportunity to introduce our community to some truly inspiring women. Every interview (including those featured on Advice From a 20 Something!) is featured in my weekly newsletter, along with recommendations for great things to read and lots of fun extras—kind of my roundup of the “best of” the internet each week :). Subscribe here so you don’t miss any inspo! xx, Megan Lierley, Managing Editor, Advice From a 30 Something
Arianna Davis is the Digital Director for Oprah Magazine and she also recently published her first book. It’s part self-help, part biography of the iconic artist Frida Kahlo, while also looking at the incredibly bold life she lived and the lessons we can learn from her.
You recently published your first book—congratulations!! The second I saw the yellow cover with Frida’s iconic face, I knew I had to have it, and then when I read the subtext, A guide to living boldly, it jumped straight to the top of my TBR list. What is it about Frida that you think enchants and sparks curiosity in so many people?
For many of us, it’s the fact that Frida was someone so far ahead of her time. You think about the very raw and honest storytelling that she does in her work—she painted everything from her husband’s infidelity to her miscarriages to the pain she felt from her many illnesses and the trolley accident that left her disabled and recuperating for the rest of her life.
One of the biggest things we resonate with is, this is a woman who clearly went through a lot of pain—and turned it into art that we still share on social media today. Queer, feminist, proudly Mexican, and very outspoken, [Frida is] a symbol for any woman dealing with a challenging time and looking for inspiration.
Where did the idea for What Would Frida Do? come from? What was the research process like and did you always know you wanted it to be kind of a lifestyle guide, or did it evolve in the process?
The process was a bit backward. My publisher (Seal Press) reached out via my agent because they had an idea that in this moment of women’s empowerment and during a time when women are finally encouraged to be their boldest selves, it could be interesting to publish something about Frida Kahlo and her legacy. They’d been following my work for some time and had heard through the grapevine that I was a big fan—they approached me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book about Frida Kahlo.
I’d been a superfan for a long time; I always knew about [Frida] especially being Latinx, but for me, it was really the movie starring Selma Hayak that sparked this fascination with Frida’s story and background. So I just felt like there was no way I could turn down this opportunity, even though timing-wise, we’d just launched oprahmag.com. I had to be very diligent about my schedule and setting aside time to work on the book.
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What did your research and writing process look like?
During the week after work and then on the weekends, I started out reading as much about Frida as I could—her biography by Hayden Herrera and several other books and biographies. I spent hours and hours combing through whatever I could find online. From there, I thought a lot about what I wanted to add to the legacy knowing she’s someone who’s been written and talked about so much. I thought it was really interesting to look at her from the perspective of the lessons I have learned after studying her life and the inspiration I’ve found to live a bold life thanks to her.
I had the chance to tour Frida’s house in Mexico City and was so inspired by how she turned her pain and isolation into art. While I don’t want to equate the pain of 2020 to her accident and subsequent illnesses, I’m curious if you see any parallels between isolation and creativity and the world we’re living in now. How can we draw motivation from Frida when we’re feeling like the world is too much and the future feels bleak?
Frida was such a master of turning her pain into art. I think about that a lot as we’re all dealing with pain, especially emotionally, the anxiety of being stuck inside and not knowing when the pandemic will end. All the pain, anxiety, and sadness we’re mutually experiencing isn’t the same, but maybe not unlike the pain Frida experienced spending so much time in isolation.
She then turned this pain into this beautiful art—one of the greatest pieces that comes to mind is “Henry Ford Hospital” which depicts her miscarriage. It’s really interesting when you think about [the same topic in] 2020—Chrissy Tiegen receiving backlash [for sharing her experience with pregnancy loss] and people saying she was oversharing. It’s really interesting from that perspective because here was Frida back in 1932 painting about her miscarriage and still, we think of this as taboo.
Anytime I’m having a hard day, I try to throw that energy into something more positive, like a work project or writing for myself or working on what might be my next book.
What’s one Frida-inspired tip you’d give our readers for living boldly (and what does living boldly even mean?)?
Living boldly is living life your way without fear. One of the biggest takeaways when I think about Frida and the way she lived her life is that she’s not someone who let fear or expectations get in the way of what she wanted to do. I don’t want [my book] to necessarily be a blueprint; I think it’s more about looking at how someone lived their life in their own way on their own terms and turning that into how you can live your life boldly as well. It’s about following your own purpose and not worrying what other people have to say, even when that feels scary.
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What’s the best advice you’ve ever received (and if that’s too difficult, the best advice you’ve received lately)?
“Viva la Vida”—the message on the last painting Frida painted during her lifetime. It’s a painting of watermelons, and she wrote the message viva la vida. She knew she wouldn’t live much longer and yet still, the message she wanted to leave behind and share with the world was about living your life to the fullest and the joy of life. In this particular time of uncertainty, I try to remember that you only get one life and I feel that I try my best even on the days when I’m down.
Any other advice for readers?
One thing that really comes to mind for me is not letting age get in the way. We think so much about age, and there’s a lot of pressure especially with social media that, by this age you need to achieve this or have this in your life. Whether it’s having kids or getting a promotion, there’s just an immense pressure to put goals and metrics on ourselves based on our age. Even in looking at Frida, during her lifetime, she didn’t’ have fame, she didn’t become a famous artist until after her death. So thinking about age and how much pressure we put on ourselves with the numbers—Oprah didn’t start The Oprah Winfrey Show until she was in her 30s. She’s been laid off…everyone’s had obstacles. I hope we can try to take some pressure off of ourselves to achieve these goals that have been given to us by society and focus on what really lights us up inside and what makes us happy and wake up every day.
Given the time we’re living in, I think it can be really hard not to compare ourselves to people on social media—we’re on it now more than ever before and you can easily fall into the comparison trap. It can be hard to separate social media from reality, and it’s really important to remind people that we’re only showing the positives/good stuff—just focus on your own journey.
Thank you so much, Arianna!
This interview is part of a weekly series that appears in Megan Lierley’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe here!