Saturday, August 06, 2011


Sexy Strategies for Beating the Meat (Industry)

A PETA protester attracts attention to
KFC's inhumane treatment of chickens
by dressing down in winter weather
Perhaps you’ve seen them on the streets. Bikini-clad hotties handing veggie burgers out to passerby. Circus protesters in cramped cages body-painted orange-and-black like crouching tigers. Naked cellophane-wrapped demonstrators swathed in fake blood playing dead as cuts of meat in giant Styrofoam packaging. The people performing such provocative public displays can be identified, by their very lack of clothing, as a relatively new breed of animal advocate: one that uses varying shades of nudity to save other species from suffering and death.

Of course, the nude protest itself is not a recent invention. Legend has it that nearly a millennium ago, Lady Godiva rode a horse—au natural—through the streets of Coventry, England to successfully protest an oppressive tax issued by her husband, the Earl of Mercia. Yet, despite the passage of centuries, public displays of undress still arouse passionate arguments both for and against their ethicality and propriety.

The most conspicuous contemporary champion of nude protest is probably People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I recently spoke with the Manager of PETA’s Campaigns Division, Lindsay Rajt, about this contentious but seductive subject.
Lindsay Rajt, Manager of PETA's
Campaigs Division, dons a lettuce bikini

AR: Why does PETA use nudity as an advocacy tactic?

LR: It’s a utilitarian decision. For all of PETA’s buzz and brand recognition, we’re a non-profit organization that goes up against extremely wealthy industries that invest vast amounts of money in advertising and public relations. On our comparatively tiny budget, we have to rely on getting free publicity through media coverage of our campaigns and demonstrations, and doing audacious and controversial things achieves that aim.

How nude do PETA activists actually get?

It depends on where the demonstration is being held, because each city has its own ordinances describing, often in explicit detail, what body parts you can and cannot legally expose, and we’re careful to comply with local laws. While we can get away with thongs and pasties in most places, some do allow women to go topless. There’s also this new product we’ve just started using called a shibue that’s basically a thong without straps: it just sort of adheres to the skin. Topless with a shibue is probably about as naked as we’re going to get in public. Regarding media campaigns, our “nudest” one is our online “State of the Union Undress” video, in which a female model does a strip-tease act that culminates in full frontal nudity.

How do you measure the effectiveness of nude protests and campaigns?

Our top priority is reaching as many people as possible. For street demos, that probably amounts to several hundred people in the course of an hour, and thousands more if the event is covered by the media. We systematically analyze which demos get the most attention in the full spectrum of print and broadcast media, and how our message is conveyed. With online initiatives, we’re able to track how many people watched a video or clicked a page and whether they stayed to explore other parts of our site. What we’ve found is that people really do stick around after the eye-catching video just as people on the street will linger and have a conversation once they’ve come over to check out our colorful protests.

When did PETA first start doing nude activism?

PETA was founded in 1980, but we only did our first “naked” campaign in 1989 when we produced a benefit poster with the Go-Go’s that they sold at concerts. It was a photo of the band members standing nude behind a banner reading “We’d rather go naked than wear fur.” These sold so well that we thought, “We really need to do more of this,” and organized our first naked demo in 1991. It was at an Oscar de la Renta fashion show, and included a mostly-nude man and woman handcuffed to a “We’d rather go naked than wear fur” banner strung across the runway. When The New York Times published a photo of the protest on their front page, we knew we’d found a powerful way to make headlines for animals.

Two decades later, does nudity still have the same kind of impact in today’s oversaturated multimedia marketplace?

PETA activists protest fur at Toronto Fashion Week, 2010
Considering the vast amounts of information and stimulation thrown at us every day, nudity is still an effective way to break through the noise. While nude demos and campaigns might not be front-page news anymore, the mainstream press still regularly reports on them. But the most exciting development nowadays for these types of actions is that they can go viral. I can see though how nudity might someday become less captivating as it becomes more culturally acceptable. I think that a lot of nudity’s power is derived from its “forbidden” status, and that’s going to diminish with its increasing normalization. Also, nudity tactics seem to be catching on in different social change movements, so overexposure may dilute their efficacy, as well.

Do nude demos and campaigns effectively influence people’s attitudes about animals?

Actor/comedian David Cross shows his
funny bone in a humorous PETA ad
Yes, because nudity is a fun way for many people to engage about difficult subjects. Showing people a photo of an animal who’s been skinned alive for her fur scares and saddens them, and most people don’t want to deal with the emotions that conjures up. But if you put, say, a man and woman in their underwear lying in bed together on the street underneath a poster that says “Fur Out, Love In,” then people are attracted rather than repelled by your message. By the way, that’s a real demo we did around Valentine’s Day this year, inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 “Bed-In” against the Vietnam War.

The John-and-Yoko connection is interesting because they were friends with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman at that time, and many of PETA’s tactics seem to bear the Yippies’ distinctive “street theater” influence.

Like the Yippies, PETA recognizes the power of engaging people with humor. Nudity and comedy are a potent combination because while nudity has an initial attention-grabbing advantage, amusement can sustain that attention. Plus, people feel more comfortable approaching and talking with activists when they can share in the joke.

PETA also uses nudity to shock people into awareness, as in the “meat tray” demos. What’s the typical reaction to such “horror” protests?

One of PETA's macabre “meat tray” demos
While some people might be affected by our humorous demos, others might need to see pictures of how animals suffer on fur farms or in slaughterhouses or one of our “darker” protests before they are compelled to help animals. PETA’s “meat tray” demos and others like that really impact people on a visceral level. For instance, in one of our demos, an activist lays naked on a giant barbeque grill with char marks on her body, while a “butcher” in a fake-blood-spattered apron stands nearby sharpening a large plastic prop knife looking very cross. This makes people’s jaws drop because it’s often the first time they’ve consciously considered their connection with animals who they eat.

Does PETA also use nudity to show people that vegans are fit, healthy and sexy?

Owain Yeoman, co-star of The Mentalist,
 strikes a pose for PETA's veg campaign
Yes, especially because people really want to achieve their optimal weight and be attractive, and we’re always eager to prove, by “modeling” the results of a plant-based diet, that being vegan will help them do that. Plus, going vegan will likely lower your cholesterol and blood pressure while reducing your chances of suffering heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various cancers. We even have a sexual health campaign called “Vegans Make Better Lovers” emphasizing that cholesterol and animal fat slow the flow of blood to all the body’s vital organs—not just the heart.

PETA persuades many celebrities to strip, mostly for media campaigns. How much does celebrity involvement enhance the message’s impact?

People who admire particular celebrities want to learn everything about them, and when famous people speak out about a cause, their fans listen. So many people have told me over the years, “I went vegetarian because I heard that so-and-so is veg.”

Switching gears, how do you respond to charges that PETA’s use of nudity for animal advocacy exploits women?

PETA appropriates the misogynistic image made iconic
by the cover of Carol J. Adams' landmark feminist
critique of carnivorism, The Sexual Politics of Meat
Using one’s own body of one’s own free will as an instrument for social and political change is freedom of speech and expression. Speaking as a woman and a feminist, I think it’s sexist to tell women they need to put their clothes back on. I’ve passed out veggie dogs in a lettuce bikini, been painted like a tiger and put in a cage, and stood naked on a bridge painted like a snake. Rather than making me feel exploited, these experiences were among the most personally empowering, liberating and transformative of my life. They gave me a new perspective on the hang-ups that almost all women have about their physical appearance. Exposing my body to make a statement about something important made me realize, for instance, just how silly it was to worry about whether my butt looked big in those tiger stripes. PETA also features just as many men in our nude protests and campaigns as women.

Critics might counter that men still have power over women in most societies, and objectifying females therefore perpetuates sexual victimization of women and girls.

I know from personal experience that such concerns are well-intentioned. I used to volunteer at a battered women’s shelter and have family members who’ve been in domestic violence situations, so I take this issue very seriously. So does PETA, and we would never do anything that we thought could degrade or endanger women or girls.

What about those who say nude protests are simply lewd?

In this day and age, that just seems prudish. I mean, go to any beach and you’ll see people revealing more skin than most PETA activists. These types of criticisms just take different forms in different time periods, whether they’re directed at PETA or society at large. Only a few decades ago, women were told it was disgraceful to show their knees in public or wear their hair down to their shoulders because it was too suggestive. Priggish complaints about nude social justice campaigns will soon seem just as laughable as admonitions about bare knees and flowing hairstyles do today.

Related AnimalRightings:

Pranking the Monkey: What The Yes Men can teach animal activists

- Too Sexy For Your Meat: One man's view on the politics of vegan sexuality


  1. i would never tell a women (or anyone else) to put her cloths back on. and i do believe in free speech like this but that doesnt change the fact that PETA is using womens' nude bodies to sell something (a message about animal cruelty). Lindsay is flat out wrong when she says that PETA uses as many men in their nude demos as women. case in point: the 5 pics in this article all have women. out of the 4 or so nude demos i've been to, none had men.

  2. You cant objectify women in order to show that it's wrong to objectify animals.

  3. There are 7 pics in this article and 2 have men. Please don't jump on an old bandwagon of objectifying women! If women really had a problem with this they would be wearing "mens" tshirts, not the loooow cut cleavage revealing tight fitting that we do. If I didn't want to be looked at, I would not advertise 8)

  4. Anonymous10:00 AM

    blah blah it's just tits get over it

  5. Anonymous7:56 AM

    Free speech is fine. But the moment you tell me what I have to do, you're infringing on my rights.

    I'm on top of the foodchain and I have several guns and roughly 1,000 rounds of ammo to back it up. What do you have PETA? Some naked morons who wouldn't be able to keep apart a boar from a normal pig. I'm so impressed. Not.

    I eat what I want. My choice, not yours, you green fascists. Heck, nature designed humans as omnivores, NOT herbivores. So technically, PETA is going against nature. Nature's wrath will bite them in the ass eventually.

  6. Anonymous8:24 PM

    Wow you missed a couple of science classes huh?? Lol! We aren't made to eat meat. We don't have the teeth to rip it apart WITHOUT tools. Study up first then throw in your pathetic "I am man, hear me roar." opinion. You are the problem with the world lol. Yes when I say "You" I actually mean "You." You remind me of how we truly are a disgusting species (more specifically, rednecks like you) lol!

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  10. Anonymous11:53 AM

    This is so stupid - using hot women some with big boobs to protest against animals and fur. lol. just a bunch of attention whores. and if I saw them on the street protesting I would have the nerve today to walk up to them and say they are dressing slutty. peta uses useless celebrity wanna bees who can never get into Hollywood such as playboy playmates. So these wash outs get offered little gigs. lol

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