This is an ad by the Bodyshop in 1998 - through the power of Facebook people are now reposting it as though it was recently "banned" in the US instead of China and reposting it as though it were somehow controversial now 12 years later.
When I read that it was banned my BS meter pinged so I looked it up with the incredible power of the internet. You know . . . . Google. I found my favorite thing in the world - a primary source.
And I'm furious that we are celebrating this ad being "banned" rather than screaming about the fact that Roddick didn't put her money where her mouth was.
What was Body Shop Really Looking for?
Anita Roddick is an amazing woman, and I for one love and actually use Body Shop products. (or at least I used to - they stopped making/distributing my favorite product Viennese Chalk Scrub)
(*Update : someone mistakenly thought Anita was the photographer who took the shot. The photographer was Steve Perry Anita was the founder and CEO for The Body Shop)
However I would like to take a minute to look at what was "banned" about Ruby. Anita was thrilled that she got a "cease and desist" letter from Mattel. She was amused that one plastic construct could "hurt the feelings of another". She assumed it was the implied insult to Barbie as opposed to the indirect attack on the trademark. Because it fit in with her agenda to do so.
Awesome - that's what provocative activist stands are supposed to do - get enough publicity to make a difference - it worked. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find out the sudden trending of Ruby the Rubenesque articulated doll featuring the prominent branding of the Body Shop on all of the retweets and Facebook posts was actually started by the Body Shop's marketing department itself to get back some of it's liberal activist rep back from the early 90's. Before it was just another chain in the dying mall.
Yeah that's right - I am exactly that cynical. Because this ad was banned in China -Here all they got was a cease and desist letter from Mattel and parental complaints about implied nudity.
That's not being "banned", that's voluntarily giving up without a fight here in the US. Because you don't care about anything other than the publicity and you were hoping to be "banned". And that my friends, means you care more about making your point and selling your stuff than anyone's actual rights.
Because let's be honest Ruby looks way more naked than Barbie, and part of that actual sexuality and nakedness is BECAUSE Ruby looks more real.
And let's also be honest - Ruby is posed in a sexualized manner, she is selling product to make you more attractive. And perhaps in the very prudish world where "my first Barbie" is now made with plastic panties so that the Barbie can't even be naked if it wanted to, the argument parents were levying against the Body Shop windows might be that Ruby looks like a naked woman who's posing for her lover getting ready to dive into bed until you get close enough see the articulation points and realize it's an anti- Barbie.
Also this wasn't the only ad that ran in the Ruby promotion, there was also this:
I'm down with a good Odalisque as much as the next art loving gal, but this one really is just unfair to poor Barbie. Girlfriend couldn't even loosen up enough to get on a couch this way:
Which one is going to make parents walking through a mall complain? Naked chick pretending to be a Barbie - that's which one. Also the second ad is bordering on trademark infringement because it's recognizably one of the trademark Barbie TM faces, whereas the standing Ruby is obviously a doll face developed for the ad and in proportion to the doll itself .
Is it possible that it was this second ad - the one not making the Facebook Outrage Rounds that caused the cease and desist letter? Because there's no issue with the first one really, but the second one could be misappropriating a trademarked image for use in advertising someone else's product.
In other words "making Barbie look bad" might actually be "using Barbie's trademarked face to devalue the Barbie Brand specifically to sell your product" Body Shop is a for profit business - not an art house or a non-profit.
Body Image in Media is Important - But Fake Outrage At The Expense of Defending Free Speech Sucks
We'll never know because Anita Roddick didn't really want to fight the REAL fight, she wanted the controversy and she got it. The publicity kicks up every now and then and the images get redistributed. At least one article a year since 1998. The images have done some real good for real people. The woman who created the company and this campaign died in 2007. There is no point in my having a current beef with her. But she stopped before she fought a bigger fight.
Body acceptance is a lovely thing. However not fighting the cease and desist order when you specifically provoked it is a betrayal of real rights.
It is well known that Mattel's lawyers aggressively defend all of it's brands but Barbie in particular. It's also well known that Mattel loses lots of those lawsuits. The Red Ruby poster would have been able to defeat the standard cease and desist, the green one might have had some trouble in trademark law because the part of a doll that you trademark instead of patent is the face.
Going after Barbie is a cheap shot and easy, manufacturing outrage at a corporate entity is also easy - but defending the rights of others to utilize images in art and culture and not allowing trademark to expand past it's legal limit is waaay more important because while Mattel has the right to defend that trademark Mattel does not have the right to say all images of articulated dolls are equal to the Mattel Trademark. Red Ruby was defensible and could have stayed displayed. Body Shop has corporate lawyers on retainer and could have handled the suit.
Mattel didn't sue these guys:
But these guys also did this ad in the same series that caused a bit of a stir so maybe by 2007 picking on Barbie wasn't such big news but going after superheros was:
Or maybe it was just because it was a non-profit.
Mattel just lost the Bratz fight - and they had more valid legal standing there since the designer made the dolls while working for Mattel.
Mattel regularly loses against art shots using mangled, or pornographic Barbies in art.
Mattels lawyers continually correct opposing counsel that refers to Barbie as a "person" or a "she" or as anything other than a brand. They play legal hardball but started losing whenever it's a free speech issue. (warning that last link is long and written for lawyers and no one interviews any actual Mattel lawyers until half way down the article).
This means Roddick's characterization of the cease and desist letter is her own construction/projection and had nothing to do with Mattel:
"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. "
And all in her mind. She does not provide the text of the cease and desist.
So here's what pisses me off :
- either the red Ruby didn't look Barbie enough to get the cease and desist letters going and they made the green one with the "Barbie" face hoping to get the cease and desist because Mattel was so well known for aggressive copyright protection and that was the plan all along
-or it was done with no expectation of infringement but Roddick rode the infringement case to make people believe it was about weight and shape instead of one business suing another.
Either way Roddick was allowing all the people who cared about the image to believe that it was being "banned" for the body image alone - convincing people that they were trying to ban body types. Making those people feel oppressed by a larger force ( the government and the law) than the already considerable forces that oppress them.
Which frankly would be untrue.
If Ruby was Banned it was just a little bit by a country that bans lots of other things not the US
v1 - There was no governmental or legal ruling to remove Ruby from ad campaigns in the united states - there may have been voluntary compliance with a letter written by Mattel's legal department that had no standing in court.
v2- While an argument could be made that Ruby was subject to apartheid like systems that keep us from seeing the forms of realistic women's bodies in advertising ,judging by the fact that a quick google search shows articles referencing Ruby come up every year I hardly think her movement and communication have been limited.
v3 - I do not believe Ruby was cursed - actually she seems blessed - how many print ads have this kind of shelf life?
n1- Unless Mattel are Church officials Ruby has not been denied religous identity
n2 - the removal of Ruby was voluntary at request except for China - she was totally banned by the government in China but not by Barbie and Mattel.
n3- OK I might go with this one - enough parents didn't like it that the public opinon "ban" counts - apparently it took about three distraught parents until one came up with a ridiculous enough quote to get press and let the Body Shop cave to pressure instead of fight to keep the posters up or just move them so that they were inside the store instead of visible on the mall
n4 is covered in v3
And I'm pretty sure that neither Barbie nor Ruby is being summoned to arms to fight for the King.
I am sure that I will see the Body Shop's Red Ruby all over my internet today being played as a real time outrage and real time trend. But she was a publicity stunt and her withdrawal in the face of very small actions proves it.
She is a beautiful photo and a lovely shape and I truly believe all people of all sizes are beautiful and sexual, and perhaps make you think about body image. But Ruby is still smooth and plastic and young and sexualized. It would have been more radical to put her in the original Barbie one piece. It would have been even better to see Roddick and The Body Shop fight for their right to Ruby, instead of continuing to empower corporate rights past their actual legal boundaries.
But maybe they couldn't because their ad campaign was specifically designed to incite Mattel and parents through trademark infringement and sexualized implied nudity and blame it on sizism instead.
Making women shaped like Ruby feel like the very government wants to erase them might be good for The Body Shop, and allow women shaped like Ruby to feel like Ruby is helping them fight the Power. But there's a strong possibility that she made up the fight in the first place.
And she didn't fight for a damn thing. She just went away when the going got tough.
The Body Shop should have gone to court.
Christina Hendriks and Brooke Elliot getting real roles and being allowed to be sexually active romantic leads without being punch lines is more important to women with real bodies in the media than Ruby is - and the government is not trying to ban either of them. Hell, the government of Britain actually endorsed Hendricks as the preferred figure for the UK- that's kind of the opposite of banning isn't it?
Kudos to the Body Shops viral marketing team - I'm sure sales will go up after the Facebook exposure.