As Red Cross officials in San Diego prepared to ship Hula Tan suntan lotion to the troops in the desert, they realized there was a problem: the scantily clad dancing girl on the bottle.
“I didn’t think we could send those bottles to Saudi Arabia,” said Dick Walter, general manager of Custom Box & Packaging Corp., which donated its services to prepare the 1,900 pounds of suntan goo for shipment. “It’s nothing obscene--it’s what you expect from someone wearing a hula skirt.”
For four days, officials with the U.S. State Department and the American Red Cross exchanged phone calls, trying to determine whether the dancing girls on the 3,500 bottles of lotion and oil would prove offensive to the soldiers’ Saudi Arabian hosts. Fax machines hummed as letters flew back and forth between San Diego and Washington. In a country where women wear veils, would the Hula Tan girl be a diplomatic gaffe? How much, they queried, was too much?
On the front of the brown Hula Tan bottle, the trademark dancing girl sways with her arms folded across her chest. Though she shows no cleavage, she is clearly not wearing a top. Her belly is visible and her hula skirt is skimpy.
In defense of the young woman, Walter said an American adolescent wouldn’t blink at the cartoon-like figure adorning the bottle, usually sold for about $8. The girl whose dog is pulling down her bathing suit bottom in the Coppertone advertisements bares more flesh than the hula dancer.
“She is not very well-defined,” Walter said. “It’s just a gal--there’s nothing showing. There’s no hint of cleavage because she is crossing her arms over that area.”
The age-old debate raged: Is too little too tasteless? In the end, officials decided that the risk of offending Middle Eastern sensibilities was too great.
“Because of Middle East customs, we anticipated there would be a problem,” said Dave Ricks, a local Red Cross spokesman.
Eager to help carry out the wishes of the anonymous donor, Walter devised stickers to fasten atop the dancing dame, completely covering her body. His staff attached the stickers, then boxed, weighed and shrink-wrapped the oil and lotion. On Friday, the parcels will be shipped out to the Middle East.
So far, the national offices of the American Red Cross have mailed more than 160 tons of comfort kits--foot powder, lip balm, games, powdered drink mixes, soap, stationery, stamps and bags to troops stationed in the Middle East. In San Diego, the suntan lotions represented the local chapter’s first such mailing.
“This was a minor glitch,” Ricks said, “that had to be adjusted.”