R.I.P., Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, has died of a brain hemorrhage at 64.

Roddick was well-known for her charity work and her amazing efforts to make it clear that The Body Shop has corporate values other than profit. Those values are listed on the website next to the slogan "Made with Passion":

Against Animal Testing
Support Community Trade
Activate Self Esteem
Defend Human Rights
Protect Our Planet

I want to talk about the third one.

In 1998, I was into my second year of living as A Thin Person for the first time since I'd hit puberty, having lost 65 lbs. in 1996-7. I didn't know -- well, more accurately, didn't believe -- that two years later I'd be fatter than ever. I thought of myself as the rare dieting success story -- a belief supported by my Jenny Craig counselor asking if I'd like to submit my before and after photos for a chance at being in one of their ads, as the smiling thin woman right above the "Results Not Typical" fine print.

One day, on one of the manic, hours-long walks that helped sustain my weight loss, I passed a poster featuring a naked, fat, redheaded Barbie-type doll reclining happily on a couch, with the slogan, "There are 3 billion women in the world who don't look like supermodels, and only 8 who do."

I stopped and stared. I didn't even register for a couple minutes that it was an ad for The Body Shop. I just thought it was the coolest thing I'd seen in a really long time.

I went to the Body Shop and got myself a postcard of the same ad, and put it on the wall above my desk. Meanwhile, I still thought I was a dieting success story. And yet meanwhile, I still thought my thighs were too fat. I still wanted to be thinner -- if I tried harder, I could be a size 2, not just a 4! I still hated my weak chin and big nose and problematic skin. I did not personally want to look like "Ruby" ever again, and yet, I couldn't stop looking at that picture of her every damned day. I loved it. I loved her. I just thought I would never, ever be as comfortable in my own skin as that plastic doll. I thought I would never, ever be content with my lot as one of the 3 billion.

These days, my body looks an awful lot like Ruby's, actually -- only with nipples and pubic hair and stretch marks and zits and freckles and skin tags and scars. And I am very comfortable in it. And Ruby is partly to thank.

I've had cause to say frequently over the last few days that body acceptance is not something I arrived at overnight, as if the logic just clicked and that was that. It was a long, painful struggle. And for a long time, I really liked the idea of fat acceptance, while still really, really not wanting to be fat -- so as I've also said frequently in the last few days, I have a lot more empathy for fat acceptance supporters who still want to diet than it might seem like I do.

Coming to love my body for what it is -- a fundamental part of who I am, not something separate from the Real Me, and most importantly, not an enemy of the Real Me -- was a gradual process, most of it happening below my conscious awareness. But there were major flashpoints that will always remain fixed in my memory as early fat acceptance epiphanies. Reading No Fat Chicks, when I was still on Jenny Craig (the first time). Reading The Obesity Myth, after I'd done Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers more than once each, lost a total of 110 lbs., gained it all back, and was finally ready to stop fighting my body. And standing on that street in Toronto, staring at that Body Shop poster.

There are 3 billion women in the world who don't look like supermodels, and only 8 who do.

On Anita Roddick's website, she wrote in 2001 about the controversy surrounding the Ruby campaign. Mattel sent a cease-and-desist letter in the U.S., arguing that Ruby made Barbie look bad. (Roddick:
"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 Hong Kong, the posters were banned for being too titillating -- while genuinely provocative images of real women remained.

Says Roddick:

And there, in a nutshell, is my relationship with the beauty industry. 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.

Leonard Lauder, son of Estée, once refused to advertise in Ms. Magazine (back when they still accepted ads) because, he said his products were meant for "the kept woman mentality."

I think it is a moral imperative that The Body Shop, as a cosmetics company itself, continue to buck the industry on issues of self-esteem, and to expose the cruel irony of the myth that a company must make a woman feel inferior in order to win her loyalty.

They did buck the industry -- long before Dove's much talked about Real Beauty Campaign -- and they did create change. Not to mention, they did create brand loyalty without playing on women's fears. (Mmmm, Body butter.) Believing that all that can be done doesn't seem so crazy now, but it did when The Body Shop started doing it.

I will always be grateful to Anita Roddick for Ruby, just as activists for animal rights, the environment, HIV awareness, domestic violence awareness, human rights and numerous other causes are grateful to her for making The Body Shop a powerful force for good.

Thank you, Anita Roddick. Rest in peace.

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