In October 2015, the Facebook page “Sacred Dreams” shared an image and purported quotation attributed to Frida Kahlo, sometimes referenced in shorthand as “you deserve a lover”:
Alongside a suspiciously modern-appearing photograph of a crop-topped Frida Kahlo, text read:
“You deserve a lover who wants you disheveled, with everything and all the reasons that wake you up in a haste and the demons that won’t let you sleep.
You deserve a lover who makes you feel safe, who can consume this world whole if he walks hand in hand with you; someone who believes that his embraces are a perfect match with your skin.
You deserve a lover who wants to dance with you, who goes to paradise every time he looks into your eyes and never gets tired of studying your expressions.
You deserve a lover who listens when you sing, who supports you when you feel shame and respects your freedom; who flies with you and isn’t afraid to fall.
You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.”~
Our first thought was of a similar in tone and composition “Frida Kahlo” quote, one that is also a meditation on frantic love and women’s self worth. That particular quote (containing the lines “leaving is not enough” and “take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic”, examined here) was not Kahlo’s, but more recent writing from a woman named Marty McConnell. It appeared that McConnell’s words went further and spread more intensely when attributed to Kahlo, making the first misquote a rotating favorite among some Facebook pages.
As for the image, somewhere along the line for reasons unknown, someone edited Kahlo’s face onto Madonna’s body in a 1992 European Vogue shoot. The original image of Madonna is here.
Like the McConnell quote before it, the Kahlo-attributed “you deserve a lover” was a Tumblr favorite and often shared by pages in a manner angled to engage fans of the artist; a Facebook iteration continued to rack up shares after it was posted in 2017. It appeared on GoodReads in 2015, but suspiciously lacked any attribution. Separate pieces cited Kahlo’s writings in general (such as this one in 2013), but “you deserve a lover who wants you disheveled” was not there.
It also appeared in full on the official-looking Kahlo.org, alongside other purported Kahlo quotes (which also appeared without citations):
You deserve a lover who wants you disheveled, with everything and all the reasons that wake you up in a haste and the demons that won’t let you sleep. You deserve a lover who makes you feel safe, who can consume this world whole if he walks hand in hand with you; someone who believes that his embraces are a perfect match with your skin. You deserve a lover who wants to dance with you, who goes to paradise every time he looks into your eyes and never gets tired of studying your expressions. You deserve a lover who listens when you sing, who supports you when you feel shame and respects your freedom; who flies with you and isn’t afraid to fall. You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.
But that page included a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Kahlo.org is a personal website covering the career of famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, but is in no way an official website for Frida Kahlo and Kahlo.org does not claim to be that in any way. The Estate of Frida Kahlo and their presence hold all necessary copyrights and licences for all of his paintings and other works. All prints, paintings and photos included in Kahlo.org are provided as an affiliate to Art.com who hold necessary permissions. Art.com pay us small commissions based on any prints or paintings that you buy as a result of using this website.
It seemed a reasonable guess many social media users did attempt to verify the quote, saw it listed at a site appearing to be linked to Kahlo’s estate, missed the footer, and considered it good enough.
A similar site, FridaKahlo.org, had a page of short quotes as well as an intro, and the quotes page did not include “you deserve a lover.” An included biography made no mention of poems, letters, or writings:
Please note that www.FridaKahlo.org is a private website, unaffiliated with Frida Kahlo or her representatives
“You deserve a lover who wants you disheveled, with everything and all the reasons that wake you up in a haste and the demons that won’t let you sleep …” was notably absent from that entry as well, not even ranking on the “Misattributed” section of the page. The word “poem” did not appear; “poet” (or “poets”) appeared twice, only once in a direct attribution to Kahlo:
His [Diego Rivera’s] supposed mythomania is in direct relation to his tremendous imagination. That is to say, he is as much of a liar as the poets or as the children who have not yet been turned into idiots by school or mothers.
Another signal the quote might not have been genuine Frida Kahlo’s was its spread. If we restricted Google results to anything before October 2016, a scant few were returned. Many of those results were misdated social media posts or linked to blogs where the date of publication was before the editing in of the quote. In other words, three years earlier in 2016, there was no noteworthy citation trail connecting the few mentions of the quote with Kahlo or anyone else at all. (There was also a film loosely based on the poem in 2019, well after the attribution became widespread.)
The quote did appear in a tabloid article about reality television personality Gigi Hadid vis a vis its appearance on Hadid’s Instagram account. There, too, the quote was attributed to Kahlo, in October 2015. That article described the image as “a passionate passage from artist Frida Kahlo,” but it did not source the quote. Its earliest appearance appeared to be, once again, a once-again unsourced Myers-Briggs personality type forum post shared in 2007, but edited in 2017 (after the misattribution began spreading). In 2012 and 2014, the string of terms returned no results with or without Kahlo’s name.
One such early post was shared to Tumblr on what appeared to be July 23 2016 — just before the quote began circulating with the Kahlo attribution:
It included both the image of “Kahlo” alongside what appeared to be the original, proper attribution with a familiar name — Marty McConnell. When the Tumblr user first shared both the quote and image, it was not credited to Frida Kahlo, but a work titled “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell,” by Marty McConnell (previously referenced here.)
The same person appeared to reshare the quote three days later on July 26 2016, that time attributing it to Kahlo and dropping McConnell’s name entirely. A Twitter search for “McConnell” and “you deserve a lover” returned nothing. When we asked McConnell about the provenance of the quote, she said it was not taken from any of her related works, positing that it may have been inspired by her viral poem, also misattributed to Frida Kahlo.
In April 2015, news about auctioned letters of Kahlo’s did include the word “deserve,” but again in a different context:
“[Jose] Bartoli — last night I felt as if many wings caressed me all over, as if your finger tips had mouths that kissed my skin,” Kahlo wrote on August 29, 1946. “The atoms of my body are yours and they vibrate together so that we love each other. I want to live and be strong in order to love you with all the tenderness that you deserve, to give you everything that is good in me, so that you will not feel alone.”
On Twitter, various iterations of the “you deserve a lover” Kahlo attribution came thick and fast as of October 2019, often tied to romantic musings and the general impression that Kahlo also had to deal with issues similar to failed Tinder dates and ghosting. It went unattributed entirely when it appeared on Medium in 2018, and an early July 2016 blog post attributed the quote to Kahlo.
Versions of the quote on Twitter as early as May 2014 in Spanish, but attribution to Kahlo started appearing in 2015. Through early tweets in Spanish, we found what looked like a very early iteration with no link to Kahlo and an attribution to an Estefanía Mitre:
A trail for the “you deserve a lover” quote appeared to be muddled by the work’s translation from its original Spanish to English, and we were unable to substantiate any credible link between the writing and Kahlo. The earliest steady and unedited iteration, in Spanish, was attributed to Estefanía Mitre — who, as it happens, is the quote’s original author. Mitre, described as a young Mexican poet and student, was credited as its author in 2015.
In 2019, the same year it appeared and was used in a film falsely crediting it to Kahlo, an article explained that Mitre wrote the poem, and — as happens so often — the misattribution was widespread.