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

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?

Sorry! This poll is now closed.

Image: Mark Large, via the Daily Mail

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    • Peppercorn

      It’s the same beef (no pun intended) that I have with PETA sometimes… I understand that in order to make the reality of animal testing known, it can help to put what the animals go through into a more personal context. However, I still don’t personally agree that humans should be degraded to save our furry friends. We’re animals, too! I understand where Lush is coming from, though, and I do agree that animal testing is an abomination that needs to be stopped.

    • Peppercorn

      Also: I really do admire the actress who did this. Alsoalso: I don’t think it’s necessarily sexist… I think, on average, women are more likely to use cosmetic products that have been tested on animals, just because I think on average women use more products than men (I haven’t checked these statistics, this is just my perception, correct me if I’m wrong!). So aiming this at women seems to make sense.

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Really, the woman who agreed to do this is definitely a champ, regardless of whether or not the campaign objectifies women, or is even a good way to reach people.

    • FluffyNutmeg

      I think that this is a great way to inform people about the horrors of animal testing. This is not in the least bit sexist. The choice of a woman to represent the tested animal is to hit the heart strings of the makeup consumers which is mostly made of women. It is done to put women, the typical makeup consumer, in the position of the testing animal. Also, putting a consumer in the place of the animal is just as hard-hitting as showing an animal being tested. If anything, it’s less frightening because we tend to have sympathy to animals over humans.

      Overall, awesome job by Lush and the Humane Society. They have impacted me.

    • Lilac

      This is Horrible! Yes these things happen to animals but why oh why are we showing human torture on billboards? Has the world become that desensitized to torture porn horror movies that billboards like this can be shown. I’m terrify and I know my kids would be terrified seeing one of these ads! I have never bought Lush product before and I certainly won’t buy any now. There are lots of great companies that don’t test on animals and who don’t advertise with torture porn!

    • kat

      I have a problem with the idea that this company physically hurt someone. It doesn’t sound like she was acting, and apparently they made her bleed. I get the idea, and am fine with creating the image, but to actually torment someone for hours to get a point across? That seems ironically inhumane for a company against this treatment.

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Agreed. I’m also pretty conflicted by that part of it.

      • H Wolf

        Exactly what is going on in laboratories all across the world against animals every single day…make the connection!

        Have compassion and empathy for these animals – there is NO reason why testing should continue on animals…the results do not transcend to humans…we are genetically different…it is rubbish, junk science, and just a way to continue to turn profits at the expense and exploitation of animals.

        “Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.”
        ― Matthew Scully

      • kat

        Uh, I made the connection. And I agree, we should be compassionate, but I think a compassionate person would not go forward with a campaign that physically harms another living thing. Did she consent, yes. However, I think it is hypocritical to harm someone in order to protest harming other entities.

        Why is it okay to harm a person to protest harming an animal? Regardless of the person’s personal desire to do this, I think an ethical organizations would stop and say, this is just as cruel as what we are trying to stop, lets think of something else

      • Elan

        I agree with you completely! If they just made the images with fake blood and all that to get a point across I would be all for it, but to actually torture someone like that is just sick.

    • Anon

      The writer of this article seems to completely miss the point of the display by overshadowing it with their own agenda, I actually practice all sorts of BDSM play it is a mutual experience and i see nothing sexual in what is being done in these protests i immediately saw all the animals being hurt and it was heart wrenching and very effective. I think the author needs to learn more about BDSM play and realise that it is firstly mutual and secondly it works the opposite way around men also submit to women making them power figures, the people in this community actually enjoy it, they are not prisoners, you are not only demonizing men you are also demonizing another entire group of people. ” it smacks of the kind of porn that makes offends even otherwise sex-positive women” this is ridiculous, suggesting this protest is like “porn” also suggests that you then link animal cruelty and testing on animals as pornography and i find that offensive.

      I think the author should be aware that the person taking part was volunteering because she believes in the cause. And that if the roles were reversed you could just as easily say that the male was being sexualised.

    • Amy

      Bravo, LUSH! The London demo was brilliant. It is unfortunate anyone would see it as sexist. I must admit I have become soooo tired of the Politically Correct police seeing everything through the lense of an “ism.”

    • AlexK

      Re the marketing aspect and if Lush is trying to sell products. Yes, I think so, they are a business. If LUSH were on-board with caring about animals they would not use animal products IN some of their products. So they are not cruelty-free. There is indeed animal exploitation and cruelty that they engage in, just not of the animal-testing type.

      • Matt

        Animal products? Lush products are ALL vegetarian or vegan.

      • AlexK

        No, they are not, look again. Milk and Lanolin are animal products.

    • meeeeep

      I’m against animal testing for cosmetics, but for medicine I’m for it if it helps fight/cure diseases.
      Does it need to be such a spectacle though? No, I think by simply providing other options (non animal tested make up) that are AFFORDABLE (because most is ridiculously overpriced) and promoting those in a healthy friendly manner will be more beneficial in the long run.

      • Renee

        Yes it certainly needs to be a spectacle. We have to be aware of the suffering we put animals through in the name of health or beauty. If you are so concerned about medicines, why not offer yourself.
        Who says it’s right to make other living beings who have feelings go through hell just to make our lives more comfertable.
        Please do not be ignorant.

    • cristina

      I think there is a lot of hypocrisy regarding this subject. It’s nice we don’t want animals to suffer, but how is it ok to accept medical tests on animals, but not cosmetic ones? I’m pretty sure that the medical ones are far more dangerous and “cruel”. And how is it ok to EAT animals (i.e. have them killed for you), but it’s not ok that cosmetics are tested on this poor creatures? I mean, ok, let’s stand for animal rights, but within the bigger picture. If you eat animals, wear their skin/fur or use medicine that is tested on animals, please, spare us the “cosmetic tests” drama. Seriously.

      • Laura

        but how is it ok to accept medical tests on animals, but not cosmetic ones? I’m pretty sure that the medical ones are far more dangerous and “cruel”

        I do accept medical tests on animals.
        There are regulations that require the minimisation of suffering. Where pain is anticipated say in a surgical procedure, the animal will be anesthetized. With the administration of medication, the point is usually to give very small doses to show it is not toxic and only later when no/few adverse side effects are noted to increase the dose.

        There is no way you can ethically do this on human volunteers. After all who would volunteer? The poorest of the poor with the lure of a free meal and a place to stay the night? – because that would make me feel all warm and glowy inside.

    • Rebecca

      Sexist? Don’t be ridiculous. It’s one girl and one male. If there were several girls being tortured, that argument might stand but it’s one girl that volunteered for it. The odds of a girl volunteering are much higher than a male because there are most female animal rights activists.

      I think she is amazing and brave and this is probably the best protest I’ve ever seen. If it makes you uncomfortable then DO SOMETHING about it.

    • mary

      While I agree that animal testing can be bad, this protest implies that animals and humans are equal -which they are not. Humans have intellects, free will, reason, the capacity to love, and emotions among other things. Animals, while wonderful creations that serve a purpose in the world, simply do not have these things. Subjecting an animal to these tests is simply not on the same level as subjecting humans to these types of tests. Just think about the fact that we eat animals, but do not eat humans.

      • anon

        Show me your evidence that animals can’t feel things as human do and i might take you seriously. There are humans who have historically eaten other humans, its called Cannibalism.

    • Wren

      I heard a rumor that she actually suffered vision loss from the eye drops. It it true?

    • Karen

      The fact that the only “nice, neutral body” you can possibly think of in this context absolutely has to be male is a little disturbing, and much more sexist than the thought of a woman filling the role of a tortured animal. Just thought I’d clue you in.

      • Shara

        Karen – I’m 99.9% sure the line about the “nice neutral body” was supposed to be self-critical. Whoosh.

        But on a more important note, being affected by societal and cultural tropes (such as the centuries old sexist and harmful tradition of making male bodies “neutral” and female bodies abhorrent/irregular/abnormal) isn’t “disturbing”; it’s to be expected, especially when we’re bombarded with this B.S. on a daily basis. Your comments are unnecessarily critical, especially when the author ACTIVELY ACKNOWLEDGED the fact that she was being affected by those cultural beliefs through the use of that sarcastic and pithy line.

    • Caroline

      I think this would have been better if it hadn’t have been BRANDED as a Lush Protest! The concept and action are so compelling–this would have been more well-received and understood if it were associated with an animal rights group.

      That said: while this stunt does not compel me to buy their soap (and honestly, kind of grosses me on on behalf of their internal marketing team–i mean, who signs off on this? didn’t they know it wasn’t going to be received as a societal comment, but as a branded/self-serving stunt?) Lush does in fact create delicious smelling soaps…and I will continue to buy their products anyway.

      Finally, as far as the woman in the nude catsuit is concerned, I agree with the author that it hedges the line between BDSM/sexualized content and things that would be safe for prime-time TV. They should have chosen a generic looking man (not a well-bodied female–no one without a decent body would get in a nude catsuit in a storefront window!) to do this, because you know the men in the protest’s audience were probably still staring at her boobs anyway.

    • Shara

      I’m conflicted about the use of the female model. While I think the dynamic of having a male researcher and a female test subject was useful in that it communicated the patriarchal relationship humans arguably have with animals, the actual execution of the campaign was problematic. The ad looked way too much like torture-porn (and by that I mean both BDSM and Saw/recent horror movies), and it reminded me of how violence against women is featured in films as both a means to enthrall as well as disgust (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, anyone?).

    • Silent Agony

      After this bullshit I am never buying anything from them again.

      • Kain

        This is because you are a moron. This is not how animal testing, even for cosmetics, is done AT ALL.

    • LHS

      Shut up. What a bunch of sensationalist BS. It is BS. Did I say shut up already? Yeah, I did. And again…shut up!