Remembering Ruby

By Sharon Haywood, Co-Editor

Fifty-something-old Barbie[1] might be middle-aged but she sure doesn’t show it. When she was in her 30s, her manufacturer Mattel sent her for plastic surgery, not to maintain her youthful appearance, but rather in response to market demands to morph her into a more realistic-looking doll. In 1992, Barbie’s waistline slightly expanded. Then in 1998, Mattel altered one version of the doll—Really Rad Barbie—giving her a decreased cup size and slimmer hips. Currently, her estimated measurements—38-18-34—contrast greatly with the American woman’s average of 41-34-43[2]. Barbie’s curves fall several inches short of what typical women possess today.

Considering that the average woman in the U.S. is a size 12/14, a doll that wears a double-digit dress size would be a much more accurate reflection of American women. The late Anita Roddick (1942-2007), the founder of The Body Shop, thought the same. In 1997, the socially-conscious international cosmetics franchise and Host Universal created Ruby: a chubby-cheeked, chestnut-haired, computer-generated figurine. Ruby was the brainchild of The Body Shop’s self-esteem campaign, “Love Your Body.” Her size 16 image was accompanied by the caption, “There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do.” She sent the message that you should love what you’ve got, not loathe it.

If you’re familiar with Ruby, you know that she’s not easy to locate. So, where’s this confident and curvaceous character been hiding? You can find her here, alongside other rejected and banned ads.[3] We can thank Mattel for Ruby’s label of “Banned.” The U.S. toy manufacturer thwarted the innovative campaign in its early days by serving The Body Shop with a cease-and-desist order; all posters had to be removed from American shops. Why? In Roddick’s own words:

“Ruby was making Barbie look bad, presumably by mocking the plastic twig-like bestseller … Mattel thought that Ruby was insulting to Barbie.”

Outside of Roddick’s explanation on her website, no other information regarding Mattel’s specific legal grounds can be found online. We can surmise that Ruby’s rolls and less-than-perky breasts were the offending culprits.

This year Ruby would have turned 14. But imagine if she had grown from being a self-esteem campaigner into a three-dimensional doll in direct competition with Barbie. Do you think that when she would have reached her 30s, she would have gone under the knife, too? Would the folks at The Body Shop have decided she needed a tummy tuck, a breast lift, and some lipo to give her a competitive edge? The Body Shop’s global communications head told the New York Times that Ruby represented “a reality check” in contrast to the “stereotypical notions of unattainable ideals.” Odds would tell us that the Rubenesque beauty wouldn’t have any part of her body nipped or tucked; in fact, like many women approaching middle-age, she might even have gained a couple of pounds. Regrettably, we’ll never know for sure.

Although Ruby’s existence was short-lived, her presence generated controversy. She caused Mattel to sit up and take notice. Along similar lines, consider that Barbie underwent cosmetic surgery to appease consumers’ demands. Although Mattel was conservative in its alterations of Barbie’s figure, the company did respond to the public. Furthermore, with sales of the blonde figurine consistently dropping,[4] the toy manufacturer has even more incentive to cater to the customer. If more and more women let corporate giants like Mattel know what they really want, who’s to say that Barbie’s waistline (and the rest of her) can’t fill out as she eases into her fifties? Something to ponder in memory of both Ruby and the visionary Roddick.

Originally published at Any-Body on June 21, 2009. Cross-posted with permission.

[1] When Any-Body originally published this post in 2009, Barbie had just turned 50 years old.

[2] I cited body measurements for White women ages 36 to 45 to reflect Ruby’s race. For the same age group, the average measurements for Black women are 43-37-46; 42.5-36-44 for Hispanic women; and 41-35-43 for Asian women.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Ruby

  1. @Amanda Thanks for your comment. Are you familiar with the Health at Every Size movement, also known as HAES? It is a movement that is supported by extensive and sound research that health isn’t only found in a size 6. People who are size 12, 14, or even higher can be healthy. Studies actually show that “overweight” people live longer than people who are deemed to have a “normal” weight. The problem lies with how much power the diet and pharmaceutical industries wield (they fund the obesity studies). The few studies that have been used to support the obesity ‘crisis’ have been criticized for either faulty methods/errors or misinterpretation of the data all in the name of promoting an obesity epidemic. Furthermore, the primary measure for the labels ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ is the BMI or the Body Mass Index. In the late 90s, the BMI was changed so that from one day to the next, people of ‘normal’ weight suddenly were ‘overweight.’ Folks who were ‘overweight’ became ‘obese.’

    It makes sense that the general public believes the scary headlines that FAT KILLS but I would encourage you to take a closer look at the data that ‘supports’ such claims. Solid resources are Paul Campos “The Obesity Myth” and Linda Bacon’s “Health at Every Size”.

  2. My only complaint to this entry is that touting a size 12-14 average for American women like its something to be proud of. I am all about loving yourself for who you are, but there is nothing healthy about being larger than a 14 – like half this country is. Just because it has become common does NOT make it okay.

    Obesity in America has prompted a women’s size 4 to have the same dimensions as a size 6 fifty years ago. While Barbie’s dimensions may be unrealistic, a doll like Ruby would only add fuel to the epidemic’s fire. What ever happened to a healthy size 6? THAT is a doll I would stand behind.

  3. I’m a feminist and a proponent of “Healthy At Every Size,” but that said, I have a very special love of Barbie, not for her body standards, but because of the imaginative opportunities she represented. Unlike baby dolls, Barbie was a real grown-up woman, and my Barbies were often CEOs or private investigators, rarely fashion models. I used to write short stories and act them out with my Barbies.

    That said, I feel that Mattel is killing the Barbie brand with it’s ridiculous overprotective stance towards non-corporate created images. Ruby is not a threat to Barbie, she’s an alternative. It would have been great to see Mattel work with the Body Shop to build a Ruby doll, a whole line of a new Barbie themed character. Similarly, I can’t respect their lawsuit against pop-group Aqua for their hit song “Barbie Girl.” It’s no wonder that today Barbie is losing market share to Bratz dolls, and other fashion dolls that are more creative and flexible in their representation.

    I’m a little sad over this, because Barbie has done some pretty cool things for girls: she’s been a computer designer, President, architect, veteranarian, doctor, Olympic athlete, and so forth. I wonder if it’s too late to create a Ruby doll to do all these things and more.

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