To honor the repatriation of Julia Pastrana’s body to México in 2013, Alfalfa Studio wrote and created a two-minute stop-motion animated video for the client, MX-Lab. It poetically tells the story of Pastrana (1834-1860), who in the popular imagination of the mid-19th century was known as “the ugliest woman in the world.”
Pastrana had two rare, undiagnosed diseases: hypertrichosis lanuginosa, which covered her face and body in thick hair, and gingival hyperplasia, which thickened her lips and gums. Called the “bear woman” and “gorilla-like,” she toured North America and Europe in exhibitions of human oddities. But she was also a graceful dancer, an accomplished musician, and a gifted singer who performed in English, Spanish, and French. From her considerable earnings, she gave generously to local charities.
After Pastrana died from complications of childbirth at age 26, her body appeared for decades in “freak” exhibitions throughout Europe. In 1976 the Norwegian police sent her body to the University of Oslo, where it was then kept in a collection of anatomical specimens for nearly 40 years. In 2013, more than 150 years after her death, Julia Pastrana was finally returned to México for a proper burial near her birthplace in Sinaloa—a dignified end to a long cycle of exploitation.