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Remembering Ruby

By Sharon Haywood

Fifty-year-old Barbie 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. Barbie’s curves fall several inches short of what typical women possess today.

On the other hand, considering that the average woman in the U.S. is a size 12, 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 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 at under the category of “Banned,” courtesy of Mattel. 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 12. 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, 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.

Reader Comments (8)

I say, bring back Ruby!
Wouldn't it be wonderful if some toy manufacturer made and sold a doll like Ruby?
June 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
I love Ruby. And for the fear mongers who claimed she was promoting obesity, they really ought to plug in "pears and heart disease" into a search engine. It is well beyond established (but hardly disseminated enough) that hip and thigh fat is protective to women!!!
June 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFatNSassy
I love Ruby!! I can actually relate to her - my body is just like that.
Mattel's bad atittude makes me even more determined to spread the word about her, as a private individual! Haha Mattel, you anti women, patriarchy following, twig loving idiots - whatcha gonna do? Sue me!!! Listen to the women of this world - we don't want Barbie!! =D
July 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
Good to see the Ruby fan Club is alive and kicking. We helped develop the Self Esteem strategy for Anita, developed the creative work in your story and rolled the campaign out around the world. It was immense fun and capture the spirit of the time. My wife, Kiki, did a presentation to the IPA (institute of practioners in Advertising) and really laid into the stereotypes of women portrayed in media - the fashion waif, barbie, six zero models etc and the negative impacts in terms of misery and food related psychological disorders.

The whole think took off. there was so much work that didn't see the light of day. The character of Ruby was really highly developed and she could have gone on to really great things. If you want to start a Bring Back Ruby campaign, i;'d be happy to dig out some materials.

"You need two hands to play with me" Ruby, lives!
February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Smith
A 'bring Ruby back' campaign could be amazing! Please do email us at
February 27, 2010 | Registered Commenteranybody
good information posted up there.i liked the presentation of the content too
December 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrey
I am proud to say my husband Robin Smith and I did this poster for Anita Roddick and The Body Shop in December 1997, when Robin set up Host Universal. It was part of the self-esteem strategy and the 'Love Your Body' campaign. See
June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKiki Kendrick
I am proud to say my husband Robin Smith and I created this poster for Anita Roddick and The Body Shop in December 1997, when Robin founded Host Universal. It came out of the self-esteem strategy we were asked to develop and the 'Love Your Body' campaign we produced. Photographer Steve Perry, typographer Kim Le Liboux. See
June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKiki Kendrick
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