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What’s the message in a bottle at The Body Shop?

Posted on October 25, 2000

Last week, Anita Roddick told the Cheltenham Literature Festival that: “Moisturisers do work, but the rest is complete pap.” The newspapers immediately rushed off to Selfridges’ cosmetic department to find out which were the best moisturisers, and which expensive cleansers and toners qualified as the pap.

But this is not the question. The question is: what have they got in The Body Shop that’s better? Roddick was presumably not, like Gerald Ratner who fell rather charmingly on his own faux-silver sword, dismissing her own merchandise. She’s got moresense. We have to assume, then, that everything in The Body Shop is sheer practical functionality, with the pap stocked in some lesser place up the road. So let’s have a look.

Barely was my foot in the door before it was tempted by “Lemongrass Foot Polish: smooth the way to fresher feet.” Foot polish? I didn’t know I was supposed to have shiny feet. I don’t even have shiny shoes.

“Deodorising Leg Gel: give legs a natural lift.” A job, one might argue, that could be done just as well by stairs. But stairs, of course, lack the deodorising factor. Lord knows you don’t want whiffy legs. Did you know such a thing was possible? Perhapsnot: therein lies the genius.

Ah, what’s this little tube of non-pap? “Hemp Hand Protector: relax uptight skin.” Blimey. You must have one stressful job if even your skin gets uptight. But I don’t work in an office, and spend most days on the sofa watching TV, so my skin hangs prettyloose. Perhaps I should have phrased that differently. Next to the Hemp Hand Protector: Hemp Elbow Grease. How have I got through 28 years without that?

I suppose that foot polish, leg gel, hand protector and elbow grease might all come under the general heading of “moisturisers”. I’m sceptical, though, about needing a different moisturiser for each body part. How specific are they going to get? Separatecreams for each finger and toe? Either a lotion moisturises or it doesn’t. Don’t tell me it can soften an elbow but not a knee.

Other Body Shop goods are not, by any stretch of the imagination, moisturisers. Blue Corn Scrub Mask? Cucumber Water? Sage & Comfrey Blemish Gel? As ever, the product list reads like the menu in an Islington restaurant. Lock Tony and Cherie Blair in hereand they could live for a year. If you don’t believe me, let’s give it a try. What the hell; let’s give it a try anyway.

I worked up quite an appetite as I moved along the shelves. I thought I spotted Grilled Chicken Salad Shampoo, but it was simply a reflection from the cafe next door.

The men’s range has spread since I was last in The Body Shop. But they don’t have much faith in men’s increasing comfort with cosmetics, disguising their moisturiser as “Face Protector: self-defence for the face.” Do boys really need their purchases wrapped in machismo? They go to supermarkets these days too; perhaps the vegetables should be labelled “A Sweaty Game Of Football For The Gut.” Men’s soap is given the rippling name “Activist”. That’ll appeal to Swampy; he could probably do with a goodwash.

My conviction that The Body Shop must contain no pap was challenged most, however, by their Ayurvedic range. They have a “Mood Rescue Kit” and an “Energy Buzz Kit”. Fair descriptions if they contained Mars Bars. But no, it’s simply cosmetics. AyurvedaBody Balm “cools the skin whilst restoring a balanced temperament”. Ayurveda Pillow Spray ”contains herbal ingredients to soothe the skin and ease the soul”.

Ease the soul with pillow spray? Now call me a cynic, Anita, but if anything’s a bottle of cobblers, that is.

Copyright © 2000, Independent. All rights reserved.

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