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naked campaigning for animal rights: is the real message getting through?

PETA public domain
Nobody likes to hear of animals suffering in the name of fashion, cosmetics or even entertainment. Sadly, horrible mistreatment still occurs, and the work of various animal rights activists can go a long way in raising public awareness and shaming abusers.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is one of these groups: conducting research, investigations into possible cruelty, as well as holding events to raise awareness of animal rights violations.

You’ve probably heard of their campaigns – some of which attract a lot of attention, like the Rather Go Naked Campaign, which involved celebrities along with everyday activists. These more extreme, attention-grabbing projects are explained by the fact that campaigns can be difficult to fund, ‘since newspapers are often reluctant to cover our activities for fear of losing advertising dollars’.

Not surprisingly, demonstrations involving people stripping to ‘go naked instead of wearing fur’ consistently do grab headlines.

While it’s no new claim that the media and the public demand increasingly shocking images and stories as we become desensitised, the way in which PETA uses  sexualisation of women in their campaigning seems to have eclipsed what they’re actually campaigning for.

Some have suggested that there is nothing wrong with exploiting the appearance of representatives if it means getting people to sit up and watch. But are they really listening? The page dedicated to PETA’s “Lettuce Ladies” (who wear bikinis made from “lettuce leaves” to promote going vegan) seems more like a Playboy shoot that’s vaguely vegetable themed. They do in fact have a “Playmate of the Year” and a “Cyber-girl of the Year” as ambassadors, handing out veggie sausages.

Then they have a video of Lettuce Ladies wrestling in their bikinis. In the Behind the Scenes video, in between the photo shoots, they mention liking being vegetarian because ‘it saves animal’s lives’, as well as giving them ‘so much stamina’… for jogging?

If you needed any more convincing to “go veg”, a text box alternates between the headlines “Vegans make better lovers,” “A vegan diet gives you a lean, sexy body,” “Eating meat causes impotence” and “Vegetarian celebs are hot!”

It should be noted that the Lettuce Ladies page has a link to a page for their Broccoli Boys – although there seems to have been a shortage of broccoli on set that day as they’ve all settled for wearing clothes rather than vegetables, unlike their female counterparts.

Despite how unpopular the idea may be, perhaps they should hold out a little faith that there are some branches of the media that will give findings of animal rights abuse coverage on the basis of it being newsworthy in itself. While intimidation by wealthy fashion and cosmetic brands may well be an influential factor, a “fair” article would report on their protests as well as providing a chance for response from the opposition, if there was an element of doubt in the accusations of animal abuse.

Surely it’s a concern to believe the media will cover their stories only if they do something outrageous? If there is so much mistrust of the press, shouldn’t there also be worry that an attention-grabbing bid may in fact get the wrong kind of attention? For example the French anti-smoker’s group campaign portraying slavery to cigarettes, which attracted more attention for the scandal it caused than their intended message.

While images of impassioned young people covered in fake blood and chanting a few quotes might seem like a reporter’s dream pre-packaged story, they are often portrayed as extremists so far removed from mainstream society that people cannot relate to them. This can lead to the opposite reaction of what any organisation wants: when they can be written about in such a negative way that people view them as crazy and offensive (See the Sydney Morning Herald’s article on PETA comparing eating fish to bashing a granny).

None of this is to say that I disagree with the aims of PETA or any animal rights activists – quite the opposite. But I feel this is an example of the interaction between those in desperate need of media coverage, and the actual media itself, suffering some crucial breakdown.

Two groups that should be working together (not in the sense of advocacy by the media, rather in terms of news events being created and reported on) have instead developed some subconscious attitude of vague animosity.

Yes, it’s fantastic that women can feel “liberated” enough to do these kinds of shoots. Yes they should be able to take pride in their appearance without being “sexualised”, and yes, everyone is entitled to make the most of their strengths in campaign advertising.

But the message that these campaigners sends seems to be along the lines of ‘The only way I can get you to listen to what I say is by rolling around in a bikini, because what’s actually coming out of my mouth mustn’t have that much of an impact on its own.’

What do you think about PETA’s approach? Do you think women are being exploited by naked campaigning for animal rights?

3 thoughts on “naked campaigning for animal rights: is the real message getting through?

  1. Really interesting article!
    I’m not sure that these women are being exploited per-se because they seem to volunteer to advocate for PETA in this way.
    That said, by using this attention-grabbing technique, PETA fosters the attitude that it is okay for advertisers and the media to use naked (female) bodies as objects.
    As a vegetarian feminist (or feminist vegetarian) I am not sure I would go naked to promote animal welfare, but it is one of those tricky instances where you have to decide personally what is the lesser of two evils.

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