I suspect that you have been seeing this picture popping up on your Facebook and/or Twitter stream this week. I did. Like you, I had a visceral response to it.
Was exactly what I said to the monitor as I responded to the plea on Facebook “This was an ad made by bodyshop. But Barbie INC. found out about it and now it’s banned. Repost if you think this ad deserves to be seen,” and hit the SHARE button before I could say “Happy National Donut Day!”
Then my inner Cyber Sleuth / Internet Meme Historian took over. “I wonder whether this is yet another hoax?” Ok. Fine. It was also my inner cynic’s doing. I googled it.
Good news (or is it in fact bad news?) : This is for realz. The Body Shop did wage such a brilliant war against The Barbie.
Bad news (or does it really matter?) : It was from 1998.
The late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, wrote in 2001:
In 1998, The Body Shop debuted its self-esteem campaign, featuring the generously proportioned doll we dubbed “Ruby.” … …
Ruby was a fun idea, but she carried a serious message. She was intended to challenge stereotypes of beauty and counter the pervasive influence of the cosmetics industry, of which we understood we were a part. Perhaps more than we had even hoped, Ruby kick-started a worldwide debate about body image and self-esteem.
But Ruby was not universally loved. In the United States, the toy company Mattel sent us a cease-and-desist order, demanding we pull the images of Ruby from American shop windows. Their reason: Ruby was making Barbie look bad, presumably by mocking the plastic twig-like bestseller (Barbie dolls sell at a rate of two per second; it’s hard to see how our Ruby could have done any meaningful damage.) I was ecstatic that Mattel thought Ruby was insulting to Barbie — the idea of one inanimate piece of molded plastic hurting another’s feelings was absolutely mind-blowing.
In 2002, Ms. Roddick again wrote about Ruby when the Danish pop band Aqua was sued by Mattel for their song “Barbie Girl”. In the same post, she also mentioned how an American artist, Tom Forsythe, had been engaged in lengthy legal battle against Mattel when Mattel sued him for his photographic project “Food Chain Barbie“. (You’d be happy to know that in 2004, after five years and millions of dollars in legal expenses, Mattel was ordered by court to pay $1.8 million in legal fees for Mr. Forsythe.)
Googling also led me to believe that every year or so, this poster of daring and clever protest by The Body Shop would resurface to the Internet’s attention but then the buzz would die down as fast as it started. For example, this article in Mother Jones from 2007.
It seems that more and more people are being outraged on Twitter and Facebook asking people, “It is banned by Mattel. OMG! RETWEET IF YOU WANT THIS POSTER TO BE SEEN!” It has caught on like a bad rumor. (It has now appeared on BuzzFeed with no historical context).
At first I wanted to “set the record straight” by shouting from the mountain top: This was from 1998, people. Case closed!
Then I thought about what Ms. Roddick wrote:
It makes me angry, not only because it is a male-dominated industry built on creating needs that don’t exist, but because it seems to have decided that it needs to make women unhappy about their appearances. It plays on self-doubt and insecurity about image and ageing by projecting impossible ideals of youth and beauty.
Things have not changed much since 1998 when the world first met Ruby. And yes, the world needs to be reminded of Ruby once in a while. We are a forgetful people with short attention spans which seem to get shorter with each new generation.
Ruby, who still watches us from posters throughout The Body Shop’s offices, won’t let us forget.
– Dame Anita Roddick