By G, Susan
Herizons , Vol. 14, No. 4
Cole's NOTES: The True Colours of Anita Roddick
Anita Roddick operates like an unstoppable force of nature. The top banana of The Body Shop, one of the world's most successful purveyors of skin and body care products, has thumbed her nose at the cosmetics industry while positioning herself and her company as models of socially responsible business in action. She's the kind of character that cranky, alternative types like myself find too good to be true.
So when I arrange an interview while she's on tour promoting her new book Business As Unusual (Thorsons) I'm planning to get fodder for the big exposé. I've got a bit of ammunition - various on-line complaints from leftist critics and my own distress at having walked in to my neighbourhood Body Shop only to be greeted by a sign advertising Body Shop makeovers.
Roddick arrives at my office with her publicist and a Body Shop cohort. She is short, tiny actually. Oh, good, I think, looking for something to jump on. Bet she's got that outsized ego, Napoleonic complex kind of thing. And she does. Poised over the microphone of my tape recorder -- as if one word missed would spell disaster -- she motormouths her way through our more or less one-way conversation.
Roddick became notorious when she declared with the birth of The Body Shop 25 years ago that all skin creams were the same and anyone paying more than $20 for a product was being robbed. This, it turns out, is not the same as an ideological stance against the value of beauty per se. When I ask her about makeovers, she stops me short.
"I love colour cosmetics. I'm not as precious about language -- a makeover is just putting cosmetics on your face. I'm frigging exhausted and I want to look less tired. That's my biggest expectation of colour cosmetics. End of story."
So why does one of my really smart work colleagues spend $100 on face creams?
"Because she's stupid. How old is she? Late 30s, right? That's the obsessional age. All that product line is marketed to her age group. Then you get to my age, 59, and you say, `Christ, this is what 59 looks like.' If she thinks her skin is looking younger, she should thank her parents. Genes are everything. She should thank the fact that she hasn't been in the sun. And I bet she's not wearing high heels."
Normally I don't like it much when a woman calls another one stupid. But still, I get the sense that Roddick is more instinctive feminist than the politically correct, "I'd better say the right thing" type. And when she makes her case against the extravagant claims of the cosmetics industry, I can't help but feel a flicker of admiration.
I move on to her disastrous efforts at franchising in the United States. …