Many would be surprised to learn that Anita Roddick still has a living online presence and brand, under the auspises of www.anitaroddick.com. Even more would be surprised to find that the website proclaims the strapline “I’m an activist” and lists a “my books” section, selling eleven mostly autobiographical works. Seemingly, for all intents and purposes, that the former founder and owner of the Body Shop were still alive.
Dig around and it becomes apparent that the site is maintained partly as a tribute and partly to keep Roddick’s charitable and campaign work alive. The site includes a fully functioning and up-to-date message board, maintained by Brooke Shelby Biggs, a co-author with Roddick on the book Troubled Water, published in 2004.
I first came across the site in the summer when I was doing some research, duly signed up (it was that sort of research) and had forgotten all about it. Until today that is, when an email came through sent in Roddick’s name with a dot com suffixed, asking for my support on the Greenpeace campaign against the third Heathrow runway. The email is written in a personal style, with no reference to any other person involved and signed off as AnitaRoddick.com.
Whilst this cause is very worthy, there is something slightly disturbing – however well she was known to those running the site – for others to be speaking on behalf of and writing in her name. That the name and brand of Anita Roddick is being kept alive by others trying to second guess Roddick’s possible reactions to situations.
Some may argue that businesses such as fashion houses have been doing similar exercises for decades, yet it doesn’t feel quite the same. This is partly because the site itself does not explicitly explain its continuing intentions, but mostly it is due to the use of the first person singular across the site. This effect is most apparent on the About Anita and About this site pages, both of which were written by Roddick and have not been updated since her death in 2007, as this extract highlights:
Take a trip with me into the worlds of activism, ethical business, human rights, environmentalism, womanhood, family, and so much more. One day, you’ll be able to visit a women’s co-operative in Ghana, the next, a black family farm in Alabama. One day, I’ll be talking about beauty rituals in Japan; another I’ll be having a go at the US government’s willful ignorance about the wonders of industrial hemp, the crop of the future.
The overall result is at best confusing, and it is difficult to see how it can hold on to the original and very personal vision that Roddick obviously felt. The site now, perhaps, undermines the very thing it is trying to protect and honour.