Just Don't Eat the Soap!

Clean Out Your Pores, Your Soul . . . and Your Wallet.

How can politically sensitive Cantabrigians of the '90s maintain their personal appearance and grooming habits without destroying rainforests or causing bunnies to go blind?

Harvard Square's The Body Shop (1440 Mass. Ave.) and Origins (8 Brattle St.) purport to be the answer for these modern-day dilemmas, providing alternatives to ecologically and medically unsafe cosmetics.

Aside from their politically correct products, however, what these stores are really selling, it seems, is a lifestyle, or rather, the illusion of one--how to be organic, mystical and color-coordinated in one easy lesson.

The appearance and popularity of these stores are signs of our growing environmental consciousness, but also of the extent to which environmentalism has become a fad. Slap the label "organic" on anything, from lip gloss to supermarket baggies, and you can double the price and still increase sales.

The Body Shop and Origins represent the two sides of the organic yuppie mentality: one doesn't want to give up the cushy and comfortable life, and the other does and is damn proud of it. Thus the former store emphasizes the glitzy, fun aspect of its products, while the latter goes for the earthy, sincere look, complete with unfinished wood and whalesong CD's.


At the request of my die-hard, save-the-Square-from-yuppification editors, I recently went undercover at both these stores to try and separate the holistic from the hype.

Bloomies, Is That You?

As I entered the Body Shop, I felt a rush of nostalgia for my native New York and the candy counter at Bloomingdale's. Lined up along the green marble walls (the eco-freak's color of choice) were glycerin soaps, bath beads and little soaps shaped like fruit, some in glass candy jars and all assorted in at least eight different colors. The whole thing looked like a nice little country buffet. Just don't eat the soap.

Lest they be accused of shallow materialism, the Body Shop maintains its unrelenting environmentalist stance by using real fruit flavors in the soaps--and shaping them to resemble various endangered species.

Gee, thanks, guys--I was in danger of forgetting the plight of the blue whale until you thoughtfully reminded me. Or maybe the proceeds go to Greenpeace?

Actually, the pamphlets at the counter include the store's contributions to ecological causes as one of the features that makes the Body Shop distinctive. According to the pamphlets, the stores also "attempt to establish non-exploitative trade relationships with Third World countries."

Somewhat more relevant to the consumer is the information that they don't test on animals and that they provide refills if you bring your old package back (so as not to waste plastic by buying a new one).

Despite the committed, serious tone of the pamphlets, the real motto of the Body Shop should be "food, folks and fun." Everything possible has been flavored and colored, from the soaps to the "Ice Cream Flavored Lip Gloss," which was tasty, but not particularly practical. Sure, Rocky Road and Kiwi Fruit taste yummy, but who wants green or beige lips? Another casualty of the Body Shop's compulsive color-coordination.

Often, the colors seemed to be the only difference between some of the items, like the bath beads that were "especially for men" because they came in silver and black as opposed to the popular but wimpy pastels. The Real Man, I guess, wants to seem macho even if he hugs trees and buys endangered soap.