No Comment: Lush Protests Torture of Animals with Simulated Torture of Woman

We’ve long ceased to be surprised by PETA’s tendency to fetishize violence against women and objectify us in their ad campaigns. But now Lush, the British cosmetics chain we thought was ethical and progressive, has decided to follow suit. The company is circulating a video of a publicity stunt–oops, we mean, “performance art”–filmed at its flagship U.K. store.

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains graphic simulations of torture and violence.

We’re all for art. But why must the stand-ins for for tortured animals always be young women?

If, like us, you were so disturbed you could barely finish watching the video, let Lush know why here. You can also visit the “Fighting Animal Testing” Facebook page or Tweet them. The hashtag #boycottLush may come in useful too.

Photo captured from Lush’s Fight Animal Testing campaign video


  1. Lynette Bondarchuk says:

    As an animal rights activist and vegetarian for 27 years, I absolutely support this campaign. I understand the concern around the question “why must the stand-ins for for tortured animals always be young women?” but I think this article misses the point: I will argue that the campaign would be just as effective, shocking, etc., had it been a man who volunteered to be “tortured” (though honestly, it doesn’t surprise me at all that it took a woman to volunteer for this). The performance artist (Jennifer Traide) did volunteer, she is *performing*, and even if she did experience real pain, she had the option to walk away at any time, unlike laboratory animals. I do not at all equate this with some of PETA’s campaigns which (I do agree) further objectify women on the whole. Traide is not nude or otherwise made up to “attract the male gaze”, and she is not ‘selling sex’ to get her point across. I applaud her & Lush, and think that calling for a Lush boycott is both counter-productive and (dare I say it?) anti-feminist. They are not the enemy. (And no, I don’t work for Lush and knew nothing of this campaign until I saw a few articles about it on facebook.)

    • Thank you L.B. for the above comments, very well articulated. I am a vegetarian and a feminist, and I found nothing sexist regarding the above ad. I found it shocking but incredibly persuasive in demonstrating the horrors of animal testing. I would like to add to your comments above that many feminists have argued that there is a connection between cruelty to animals and oppression of women. One popular book on this theme is “The Sexual Politics of Meat.” The fight to end cruelty to animals recognizes that all living beings should be treated with respect and dignity.

      • Cactus Wren says:

        “I found nothing sexist” in the depiction of a young woman in a skin-tight, skin-toned bodysuit (simulating nudity) being tortured for public titillation?

    • Another girl says:

      I agree, people should read this and note – don’t harm this important campaign by interpreting it in ways it wasn’t meant to be interpreted.

    • I support it too. Very moving video. Gonna follow Lush on Twitter now.

    • Completely agree, and so well put.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. I think there’s a danger with reacting to this sort of thing in this way that people will feel alienated from feminism and feel like they’re forced to chose between which causes to fight for. I’d like to see a bit more openness and room for disagreement within feminism.

      • Lover Girl says:

        What is this perceived “danger” you are speaking of, if I find something objectifying and demeaning I am going to speak up about it and not be silenced simply because I’m afraid people will think badly of feminism. Thats cowardly and foolish. Part of being a feminist, to be anyways, is being liberated enough to speak my mind.

  2. Lynette Bondarchuk says:

    p.s. – Thanks for the video, by the way – I hadn’t seen it before now.

  3. Though vegan, I’m no supporter of PETA. However, when it comes to Lush, I would say the point is to convince target customers i.e. people who buy cosmetics. So I’m guessing (young) women are more concerned about this than any other demographic?

  4. Catherine says:

    I made it through 15 seconds of that video. I am a vegetarian and animal rights activist, but I don’t think I should have to choose which means more to me – animal rights or feminism. And quite frankly, PETA and ads like the one above force a lot of women into ultimatums. That’s hardly the definition of justice.

  5. Many people argue on behalf of this type of reflexive performance art. A recent example generating much discussion was the Swedish blackface cake incident, allegedly aimed to provoke awareness over female circumcision. One vein of response concluded that, since participants at the cake/woman cutting were photographed laughing, the provocation failed leaving the enormous insult of the dehumanized depiction of blacks and of women as the primary message received from the performance. So, it could be further argued that, by generating a genuine public outcry over animal abuse that arguably could only result from such a visceral demonstration, this represents a performance that succeeds. Except that we are left with the rather chilling comment: “If this were an animal that we were doing this to in our windows, we’d have the police down.” Indeed.

  6. Lover Girl says:

    wow the comments on youtube for this video are just so ignorant but also some awesome feminist ones which are sadly voted down and people dismissing this issue by saying “can’t do a thing without offending the feminists”


  7. This sort of protest dredges up all sorts of complex and sensitive issues. I have my opinion.
    A few things first:
    1) Equating animal violence to violence against women is going to offend because of the very real nature of violence against women in the world. Using it as a tool to get to other issues almost seems to imply a diminished importance of women’s issue, however incidental or accidental it may be.
    2) I don’t think anyone can dispute with the fact that the woman in the video was doing this voluntarily, and that it is meant to be seen in an eye-opening, performance art context. Having said that: taking into account that performance art is often striking in ways that make the viewer uncomfortable enough to internalize the issue and to drive home a concept, I feel that this performance piece was not as effective as it could have been(and perhaps especially for those who only saw this video, and were not present for the actual peformance).

    Beyond that the buzz around this piece has triggered and alienated many viewers (both men and women to be sure), the torture in the piece was not the sort that makes one think of the subject as human. The use of items (such as the mouth widener) that are associated with fetish culture (which, of course, men and women are willingly part of) dilludes the meaning, however, and diverts the attention from the point of torture as a cruel act to one of a sexual act, which, by the way, does exist in a consensual manner. This is much amplified by the naked suit worn by the girl. If she is to be tortured, why do these elements have to be part of it? I understand that animals are naked, but creating a context that allows a human to be put in an animals place – not body- would make this more compelling.
    I’m interested in asking: Are forms of torture that are unfortunately bestowed on both humans and animals regularly (and not associated with sexual acts) not ‘good enough’, or visually appealing enough to drive home the point? Or was she reinacting the researched and real trials gone through by animals? In the case of the latter, it would have behooved her to use these tortures as a way to humanize the animals and not animalize a human, something that is already an issue in our society against men and women alike.
    I feel that better decisions on the execution of this performance protest would have made this a very engaging and cohesive comment on animal torture and involment in industries created by careless humans. Unfortunately, the point has been dulled by a few trite mechanisms.
    Also, it is terrible that women are often equated to animals societally speaking, even when trying to make a point of changing our behavior toward other creatures. However, isn’t it important to note that this young woman was doing this as a performance artist – not as a woman?
    And that, to me, is the most depressing issue of all. It is unfortunate that most people will indeed see her in this context and still regard her as a woman first and a performance artist second – and most people includes men and women, feminists and sadists, alike. It is because of this, mainly, that I wish she had been more careful in choosing how to execute her point.

    (As far as Lush goes, I hope that in the future they will more carefully moniter these sorts of protests (whether they serve as publicity stunts or not) and bring the art they are using under a more critical eye. That, I would say, is the responsibility they neglected in this case.)

  8. I’m glad that Ms. Magazine made this a relevant topic. I don’t get how anyone can compare violence against woman to violence against animals, even if this is tragic and sad and should be stopped in case of cosmetics. But actually there IS violence aganist women out there, which is hardly ignored. Women get abused, women are poltically marginalized and in some places on earth they have to struggle every day without the chance to live a life in freedom and self determination. To these women a campaigns like this would be a punch in the face probably.
    Besides I think a campaign against torture of animals could look so much better without all this razzle-dazzle.
    And at least it is what it is…a kind of ad. As she says in the end: Please go down to your local lush shop. Maybe that’s the main message.

  9. ‘If, like us, you were so disturbed you could barely finish watching the video…’

    There’s a slightly ‘holier than thou’ attitude here which I find offensive. I’ve seen this on a few feminist things recently. Just because I’m able to watch this without crying into my hanky and being sick on everything doesn’t mean I can’t have a valid opinion on it, or that I can’t see how it could be interpreted as offensive. Given the things you see every day, I don’t understand how you’ve all managed to get through life being so ludicrously sensitive. It doesn’t make you infinitely more caring and special than everyone else.

    I’m torn on this, I see the fetishising element, but equally the whole idea behind this is ‘this is a horrible thing to do to a woman, so why would you do it to an animal?’, not ‘mm, sexy, we should totally abuse animals because abuse is hot.’ I think you just like being offended at things.

    • It was not our intention to be ‘holier than thou’ when we said we could barely finish watching the video – it was the truth. One of our editors was so disturbed she could not finish watching. I only watched because I was writing about the video, otherwise I also would not have watched it in full as it genuinely disturbed me. And not because it made me think of animals being tortured at all (so its advertising aim really didn’t work either) – but because I felt like I was watching a violent, fetish porn video.

      To say ‘I think you just like being offended at things’ seems to be an attempt to shut down an argument when someone objects to something you do not happen to object to. Would you say this to a black person offended by an actor in blackface, or a Jewish person objecting to a video of a Jewish person being tortured? Calling feminists ‘oversensitive’, uptight, humorless etc has long been a tactic of anti-feminists and if you think that being offended by sexism is simply a matter of being too thin-skinned, I suggest you’re on the wrong website.

      Even if the idea behind the ad was not to sexualise violence, it’s undeniable that what we see in the video has strong echoes of the kind of violence enacted upon the female body in ‘torture porn’, BDSM porn and in real cases of sexual and physical violence. This is not something anyone should have to view without warning, and as someone who has never experienced sexual violence and was deeply upset by the video, I can only imagine how horrible it would have been for an actual sexual violence survivor to walk past it on her high street. The makers could have used a fully-clothed man to make their point, or a mannequin, or created an animation depicting animal testing – instead they completely muddied the waters by using a young female in a flesh coloured body suit. Whether she ‘volunteered’ or not is not the point – Lush didn’t have to agree to the performance, and by doing so they showed disregard for many of their customers. As E Jane rightly says below, they also forced those who are both supporters of animal-rights and feminism to choose sides, when the two issues should be complementary.

  10. E. Jane says:

    I know I’m a bit late to this party, but anyway – as a vegan and a feminist I found this piece and the backlash against it very frustrating because it makes me feel like I need to choose sides. This should definitely not be the case. Violence against women and violence against animals are just two examples of the wide range of oppressions enacted under the patriarchy – they’re all part of the same problem and I think Lush have made a big mistake with a move which has provoked in-fighting. Ultimately it’s a fairly lame (albeit disturbing and deeply insensitive) publicity stunt that probably has a lot more to do with selling more overpriced bath stuff than with promoting animal rights.

  11. Barbara Mor says:

    Being so delicate you can’t watch the violence of a video ad, how in hell can you look at real violence against women all around the globe with a steady eye? A clear, informed & activated intelligence? Female squeamishness is a form of denial, like Victorian women fainting at the sight of blood (as a statement of their
    ‘sensibilities’) while conforming to the societal taboo/denial of female menstrual & childbirth blood: it’s a fake pose. Hiding behind the words ‘too violent for my feminist sensitivities’ puts feminists always in a purely defensive posture. PETA comes out with a Fist, not asking ‘permission’ to make its point but punching it in people’s faces: Violence Against Animals + Violence Against Females = Institutions of Brutal Power against which we must FIGHT….not whimper & cringe & back away.

  12. I see a large separation between selling beliefs with sex (like Peta does with a number of campaigns) and using a human to create empathy for animals. The point of this campaign it seems, is not some shocking stunt, but rather displaying to people what an animal goes through during animal testing. Degrading (the female’s simulated nudity), violence, pain, and fear, all played through a human medium. I think it’s not off mark at all, rather a very effective way to get the point across.

  13. Lush cosmetics is one of the biggest human rights campaigners out there and have done protest campaigns for gay rights and womens rights also. You are distorting this messag. This woman felt s strongly about this issue that she volunteered to do this, which is more than the animals being tested on get… a choice. One of our freedoms as women is our freedom to express our disgust with immorality in any form of protest we choose. Our sex should not limit us from making a powerful impact on this world. Thi campaign is no glorifyinh torture of women infact, I believe they are using this analogy because torture (especially toward women) is something that disgusts us, yet we allow it to happen for beauty.

  14. Olivia Di Di says:

    Stop going on about sexism. Primarily, the poor animals have no say in this what so ever. So just stop and think…

    • The ad is one long show of violence against a woman though, and though she volunteered the women who experience violence in the world do not have a say in it either. Mimicking one form of evil isn’t necessarily the way to draw attention to another kind. What if we reversed the scenario, showed an hours long video of a dog locked in a room to show that child neglect is wrong? Animals rights people would be up in arms.

  15. dee bell says:

    Ok, so it’s wrong to torture animals. But this seems to be saying it’s OK to torture women. What’s wrong with you? This is why I do NOT support PETA and I will never be a vegetarian. The ads clearly pander to the faithful. If you want support, for pity’s sakes, why show torture of anything? We all know it’s wrong, but this is not the way to win hearts and minds.

    • I think this ad is trying to bring animal torture closer to home. It’s not saying it’s okay to torture women. It’s showing the brutality we put animals through by using a human instead.

      Sure, many of us may disagree with animal testing, but sometimes you need something more to bring the severity of the issue closer to home.

  16. I will never ever buy another overpriced, improperly preserved product from lush again.

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