The Curious Case of Ruby, the Anti-Barbie

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.

FUCK YEAH!

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

Article by Absence Alternatives

Absence has written 723 articles.
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{ 40 comments… add one }
  • ThePeachy1 June 4, 2011, 1:19 am

    Ruby is dazzling.. simply put I think she’s flat out Peachy
    ThePeachy1´s last blog post…rubbermaid- whores and my local news

  • Andrea June 4, 2011, 6:06 am

    I can’t get over that Barbie’s proportions changed to fit into hip huggers. My six-year-old daughter wears sweats to school because she hates that most pants — for six-year-olds! — show her butt crack while she sits on the floor at school. What are we doing??
    Andrea´s last blog post…With My Own Two Hands

    • Absence Alternatives June 5, 2011, 9:19 pm

      Wow! That is beyond disturbing. It is getting more and more ridiculous it seems. We have read so many blog posts where moms are just outraged by the clothes marketed to really really young girls but things kind of stay the same… *sigh*

  • Nicole, the queen of this life June 4, 2011, 7:31 am

    You have such an amazing way of touching me in your posts. Thank you for writing about this and thank you for putting that picture up. I love it 🙂
    Nicole, the queen of this life´s last blog post…Music Monday- Goo Goo Dolls

  • Tea June 4, 2011, 11:45 am

    The best thing about the internet, other than my ability to spend hours doing absolutely nothing, is that we can find like-minded people faster than ever before. It’s sad that nothing much has changed since 1998. But now we can talk about it.

  • Chickens Consigliere June 4, 2011, 2:29 pm

    Okay, my entire comment just disappeared which I’m taking as a sign that my comment wasn’t meant to be:-) So let me just say that I love Ruby. I look a lot like Ruby. But when I try on jeans at Banana Republic, I’m still gonna be looking for a pair that make me look more like Barbie.
    Chickens Consigliere´s last blog post…If I could save time in a bottle- Id probably drink it by mistake so why bother

    • Absence Alternatives June 5, 2011, 9:33 pm

      I am so sorry about that! I would love to read what you had said. And I got you. After I posted this, I started looking at the pictures of movie stars rotating on my right sidebar… can you say “self contradictory”?!

  • SisterMerryHellish June 4, 2011, 4:12 pm

    It’s like they someone used my body (alright, less 20 pounds) to model Ruby after! I can’t believe I’ve never seen her! Before I could even comment I went searching for one to buy and came up as empty as a Barbie head.

    Love this post!
    SisterMerryHellish´s last blog post…Wish I Was Here!

  • Brahm (alfred lives here) June 4, 2011, 4:40 pm

    Wow, have never heard of Ruby before, nad love it — gonna look her up and learn more.

    I loved Anita Roddick, I thought she was a brave adn important woman, I wish the lessons she taught about the environment and self-esteem had more impact. Oh well, maybe they will.

    Great post!

  • linlah June 4, 2011, 7:09 pm

    You’re so right about things not changing much since 1998, Ruby needs to surface more often to remind us.
    linlah´s last blog post…this guy at work

  • KimB. June 4, 2011, 11:39 pm

    More info on this, because I remember when it happened:

    Ruby was publicly referred to as the “Anti-Barbie Spokesperson”, and they had other ads that used the same body with an actual Barbie doll’s head (see here: http://www.johnriviello.com/bodyimage/ruby.html )

    Mattel (not “Barbie INC” which isn’t a company) issued a cease & desist order due to copyright infringement. It’s not because they were making Barbie look bad. Toy companies don’t have that kind of power, but they did have a legitimate copyright claim. The ad campaign was infringement.

    • Absence Alternatives June 5, 2011, 9:35 pm

      Thanks for the “anti-Barbie” context. This explains how Mattel could take them to court. If one simply looks at just this poster, there is nothing referring to Barbie.

  • Life with Kaishon June 5, 2011, 7:16 am

    I am so glad you shared this today. What an interesting lesson in history. I think Ruby is just perfect : )
    Life with Kaishon´s last blog post…Photographer Interview- Kim Klassen

  • jotter girl June 5, 2011, 8:12 am

    I love Ruby for her glorious shape but also for the fact that she has flat feet. Poor Barbie was made with feet in the shape of high heels. I’ll bet Barbie was secretly a fan of Ruby behind the closed doors of Mattel.

    • Absence Alternatives June 5, 2011, 9:41 pm

      Esp. when she really really would just like to eat something other than a shake. LOL. ^_^

  • chuck June 5, 2011, 11:30 am

    Wow – small world ++. I saw this on facebook too, immediately started digging on google, found the same explanation that you did – an ad campaign from 1998, clicked a link and ended up here!

    • Absence Alternatives June 5, 2011, 9:45 pm

      Small world in deed! I clicked on your link, went to your blog, and saw your take on Blogher 2010. ^_^

  • meleah rebeccah June 5, 2011, 2:51 pm

    “FUCK YEAH!” And, AMEN!

  • jeane June 6, 2011, 10:02 am

    Thank you! I had not heard of Ruby before and she is truly awesome. What an important issue: body image…and sadly Barbie is so destructive and yet one of the consistent models for our daughters! Fuck that…give me Christina Hendricks and her beautiful curves.
    jeane´s last blog post…D&A Advice Column- How to catch a good husband

  • BigLittleWolf June 6, 2011, 10:08 am

    You said it all. Fuck yeah!

  • Ketira June 6, 2011, 1:30 pm

    I look at Ruby and I want one too – I’d love to dress her up! I don’t have any design schooling, but that’s not going to stop me from trying out ideas….. X D

    Hm. You know, artist’s models (those wooden doll-like things) seem to also be modeled after Barbie. Think Mattel would sue me if I “poofed up” one to be more like Ruby? ; )

    ….and I think P!nk may have seen this as well; go look up the video to “Stupid Girls” as well as “Raise Your Glass”. ; )

  • secret agent woman June 6, 2011, 3:52 pm

    I’m generally skeptical of those “re-post this!” FB things, although I sometimes do like one enough to re-post it.

    Funny that Mattel got bent out of shape about the ad. Are they really that threatened? I hate Barbie dolls – such a bizarre portrayal of women to little girls (although Bratz dolls are even worse.) My sincere hope is that one day we accept that women are beautiful in an array of body sizes – thin, medium, heavy – and that there isn’t one shape that is the “real” shape for a woman.
    secret agent woman´s last blog post…I dont want to talk about it

  • Elly Lou June 6, 2011, 4:38 pm

    I love me some Anita. She’s one tough, empowered broad.
    Elly Lou´s last blog post…Is It Still Monday

  • Jack@TheJackB June 6, 2011, 5:15 pm

    I got into trouble for saying that Ruby puts out and Barbie doesn’t. Seems damn unfair to me.
    Jack@TheJackB´s last blog post…The Best Thing My Father Ever Said To Me

  • writerwoman61 June 7, 2011, 11:49 am

    Thanks for dispelling the myth, Lin…I saw the post on Facebook too, and wondered about it! It’s good to give it some more exposure though…I think I missed it the first time around…

    Hugs,
    Wendy
    writerwoman61´s last blog post…Pizza- Pots du Chocolats- and Peat Pot Pests…

  • Irene December 21, 2011, 2:58 pm

    The comment up above “Reener Beener” is me. Didn’t realize I was posting under my Facebook profile.
    Irene´s last blog post…15 Statements I Will Never Say

  • Nance December 21, 2011, 4:15 pm

    Um, yep. There’s so many reasons this poster is a good thing…every reason from anorexia to stilettos. On the other hand, we are a desperately out-of-health country (started to say out of shape, but health is what it’s really about). And the Body Shop makes its money selling what? Say again? So, this is a clever counter-marketing coup…cosmetics politics…and I wish Barbie had gone the way of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Both things are true.

    Put me down as ambivalent, but deeply appreciative of you and your research.
    Nance´s last blog post…The Mouse And The Moonbeam

  • The Sweetest December 21, 2011, 4:18 pm

    Every day I am thankful that I don’t have a girl. It is sad that I feel this way, but I would not do a very good job of handling the way girls are marketed to and portrayed these days. Someone earlier mentioned the clothing, and it’s true. I see second graders dressed in makeup and leggings like they are twenty, and it freaks me out. As a teenager I always wished my body was different, and I can’t imagine that girls today go through.
    The Sweetest´s last blog post…It’s Almost Christmas. Let’s Make Red and Green Stuff.

    • Absence Alternatives December 24, 2011, 10:11 am

      I feel the same way too! Then of course I feel guilty towards my feminist upbringing for feeling this way…

  • Lavinia August 16, 2012, 1:47 pm

    Hi! Take a look to my anti barbie blog… enjoy it! Lavinia

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