Well Being

Lush’s Shocking Animal Testing Protest: Sexist, Tasteless…Or Awesome?

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Lush animal torture display

Well, this is disturbing. UK-based handmade, all-natural cosmetics company Lush has teamed up with the Humane Society  to help bring an end to animal testing. But they didn't stop at a petition or a small demonstration–the multi-national company has staged a pretty shocking protest in one of their shop windows, in which the company subjected one woman to hours of injections, forced-feedings, and other procedures similar to those used by other cosmetics manufacturers on lab mice. This demonstration has made me feel a lot of things. I need help.

You can see more graphic, gut-wrenching photos over at the Daily Mail, who for some reason is the only media outlet covering this particular event. Which makes me wonder if Lush just didn't get the word out well enough that they'd be shaving a woman in a nude catsuit, putting drops in her eyes, making her bleed, and generally hurting her in public…or if other outlets just don't think it's important. But I think it is–if only because I feel so conflicted about it.

My first thought was “Oh, great. PETA‘s back to objectifying women to end animal cruelty.” Except it's not PETA, and, while the images do look a lot like BDSM and other torture- or punishment-based pornography, it's not just a randomly sexualized woman being used to gain attention the way PETA admits to doing. Jacqueline Traide, the woman in the window, isn't being sexy. She's not showing off her body parts and likening them to meat. She's become an experiment, just like the animals.

Couldn't Lush have used a man as the “lab rat”? The doctor is a man, which makes this even more patriarchal-feeling. So why experiment on a woman? Because cosmetics are for women? Because they want us to feel ashamed for our dirty, mice-bloodied makeup that we use when we don't buy their product? Because no man would volunteer for the job? Which leads me to wonder: would I feel better about this if it were a man? Would I be able to get past the sexual politics of animal eating and testing–and yes, torture–if it were a nice, neutral male body who was undergoing these tests? Is this really any better than a PETA protest, if the use of a female body is inconsequential? IS it inconsequential? I'm really not sure.

The Daily Mail goes on and on about Traide's humiliation as she stood in that window, being poked and dragged about by a rope. And there's definitely something to that–like I said, it smacks of the kind of porn that makes offends even otherwise sex-positive women. But there's more than that, too, because animals, by most accounts, don't really feel embarrassment or humiliation. What they feel is pain. And pain is clearly the point here–Traide was in pain to make a statement. But also, in some ways, to make a profit for Lush.

Which brings me to my next series of thoughts: does this make me want to be better at purchasing cosmetics that aren't tested on animals, or does this make me want to purchase specifically from Lush? The answer to the first question is “yes.” I'm already pretty good about it, but I could be much better. This will make me think about it.

But as for the second question, I'm balking. I used to work in advertising, and I'm fairly sure that while, yes, Lush does feel passionately about their goals of bringing makeup and beauty products that are cruelty-free to consumers, the protest is just as much an attention-grabbing ploy which blurs the line between activism and advertising. Are they doing this to sell their soap, or to stop animal testing? If this were a demonstration by the Humane Society itself, or another organization, would I like it better? Does that make me a bad person? Of this, too, I am unsure.

Does this muddy the water for their otherwise awesome intentions and newfound partnership with the Humane Society? Or does it drive home the point? Would a less-shocking display be as effective, or is this just going to turn people off to one company who otherwise does good work?

Help me, readers. I'm feeling too many things about this. What do you think?

Image: Mark Large, via the Daily Mail