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Monday, September 10, 2007


"There are only 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do. Know your mind, love your body."
For years this has been my Anita Roddick mantra. She believed in it, she stood by it, she even gave us T-shirts to flash the statement.

Among several other Roddick quotes, these are some I've had pinned on my desk for years:
"My mantra was: make the past into a prologue for the future."

"You've got to be hungry - for ideas, to make things happen and to see your vision made into reality."

"If a woman can decide who gets the last toffee, a four-year-old or a six-year-old, she can negotiate any contract in the world."

"The only thing that matters is how you touch people."

"Stay human and measure success differently."

"When you aim for perfection, you discover it is a moving target."

Anita Roddick never promised us eternal beauty in a bottled jar of cream. Instead, she taught us to be comfortable in our skin.

The Body Shop, under her watch emerged as the politics of consciousness - consciousness about bodies, minds, communities they trade with and consciousness about products. It's been about the redefinition of the very nature of business: 'Business As Unusual' - as she called it.

Way before I got hooked on to their Vitamin E cream, I'd been addicted to The Body Shop, its philosophy and a doll named Ruby.

Let's begin with Ruby. The generously endowed doll was supposed to remind women and men worldwide that real beauty is about confidence, inner radiance, character, curiosity, imagination, humour, charm - not the circumference of the thighs, the perfection of the waist or the beauty of the eyes. How I loved her then, how I love her now. It was supposed to take on the tyranny of the beauty business, which for years had been peddling the beauty myth. The generously, proportioned doll made its debut in 'Full Voice' in 1998. When I first saw her on the covers I was taken in by her smile, her message and well, her girth.

What happened next was inevitable, many would say. A doll took on a doll, there was Barbie vs Ruby and Mattel in between.

For those who watched the Ruby drama unfold, you will recall the debate about being a whole person, about the all important harmony between the body, soul, spirit and character.

And all this happened thanks to Anita Roddick's vision. One of the world's most outspoken, controversial and successful business women, she had many guises. These ranged from outspoken political activist, worldwide traveller to grandmother who created a company with attitude which came to be known around the world for both its products as well its principles.

The founder and chairman of The Body Shop skin-care and cosmetics chain was used to talking and doing big. Her global business empire may have sold concoctions of tea tree oil cleansers, strawberry soaps, peppermint foot lotions, henna creams and a whole lot more. But, mixed into every plastic bottle was a liberal dose of attitude which many thought bordered on revolution. Under her watch, they didn't give you a plastic bag unless you really need one. And, remember bringing that plastic bottle back for recycling.

Her first shop opened in 1976 and grew to over 2,000 stores before being bought over by cosmetics giant L'Oreal last year. Part of that growth story was traced in her semi-management, semi-autobiographical book 'Business As Unusual' which stressed among other things, the need for greater corporate responsibility and accountability.

Beyond Ruby, Roddick fervently believed that companies should be more than simply profitable. Roddick led by example making The Body Shop one of the first companies to integrate recycling into its daily operations, and committing time and money to various environmental causes.

Not one to speak in half-measures, Roddick remained a powerful communicator. A walking repository of wit, she was a former English and history teacher. The smartest thing she had done in her career, she mused, was never to have diminished her sense of self. "I've never been cajoled into being someone I'm not. I've always spoken up. If I wanted to be quiet, I would have opened up a library."

Born to Italian immigrants in the English seaside town of Littlehampton, she was seen handing out tea to tramps on the streets at the age of 11. She was only 12, when she attended her first protest march.

In 1976, she set up the first Body Shop in Brighton selling 25 hand-mixed products simply as a means to support her family. There has been no looking back since. Though one of her ambitions remains unfulfilled. She wanted to star in a Pedro Almodovar movie, opposite Spanish heartthrob Antonio Banderas.

September 11, 2007:
Roddick's family announced that she died at the age of 64 after suffering a major brain haemorrhage.

Earlier this year, Roddick revealed that she was suffering from liver damage after contracting the Hepatitis C virus more than 35 years ago and soon began campaigning for support for sufferers of the potentially deadly disease. She developed Hepatitis C from infected blood given to her during the birth of her youngest daughter, Sam, in 1971.

Visit her website to do your bit for the world. As she would have told us, it's important to take it personally and it's always the little things that matter.

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