By now, most of the fatosphere has heard about PETA’s “Save the Whale” Campaign, which features a cartoon of a headless, female fatty, seen from behind, standing arms akimbo in a bikini at some generic beach. My first response upon seeing the ad was how smokin’ the fat, White woman looked in her swimwear, but this isn’t exactly the reaction PETA hoped to evoke. How do I know this? The knee-slapping slogan on the pictures reads: “Save a whale. Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian.”
O PETA, thy name is predictable. As anyone who’s ever followed their ad campaigns can tell you, targeting oppressed groups is all in a day’s work for this well-known animal rights org. From using women’s sexualized bodies to promote vegetarianism to calling animal-eaters and –wearers “Nazis,” PETA has never shied from treading upon the rights of oppressed humans to further their animal-cruelty-free goal.
The thing is, I share PETA’s goals. I’m a vegetarian (well, mostly – I do eat the occasional poultry), I’m a responsible consumer of cruelty-free items, I spend most of my spare time rescuing shelter animals. Let’s cut to the quick: I’m a Crazy Cat Lady who would rather spend her time with her (mumble through the number) actual and foster kitties than attend any kind of human shindig. But, and here’s the difference, I try never to trade in on the discrimination of others in order to further my goal of animal equality.
But perhaps I say this better in my letter, below, to PETA. If their ad campaign challenges your sense of social justice, or if my letter inspires an answering spark of righteous anger, I encourage you to write PETA as well: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a vegetarian. I am also an animal rights activist and a member of a small animal rescue in Los Angeles. In the past, I enthusiastically championed your organization. Once I began paying attention to your advertising campaigns, however, I found my support turning sour.
Ironically, your campaigns consistently support an unequal status quo; you are willing to sacrifice the rights of oppressed others in order to promote the rights of animals. You feature naked women, promoting the sexist objectification of women, to support animal rights. You are uncritical of “health” and therefore unfairly target peoples who are scapegoated by the medical industry. You promote stereotypes of Asians as ravenous eaters of pets. You use whatever tools are necessary to advance the cause of animal rights, even if those tools infringe on the rights of others. Your approaches are not only harmful to others but counterproductive for you, since you’re, to cop a quote from Audre Lorde, employing the tools of the oppressors. By supporting cultural inequalities, you’re also relying on and feeding the same hierarchies that keep animals objectified and marginalized. More tangibly, by doing this, you choose to isolate other progressive groups from your cause. For example I, as a fat, White, feminist vegetarian, no longer support you. I am not the only progressive that has fled your organization.
Your latest campaign, “Save the Whales,” is an example of such an offensive and short-sighted approach. This knee-slapping ad campaign throws fat people — the current, fun pop cultural scapegoat — under the wheels in order to deliver a pithy, pro-animal punch. Whether you did this to garner attention or truly make a difference in the lives of animals, your delivery is stereotypical, hurtful, and unacceptable. It’s also not very funny. I am once again saddened to find that, in being the hero for one group, you’re willing to play villain to another.
But perhaps meanness and discrimination has worked for you. I wouldn’t doubt it; it’s also worked for a lot of other organizations, from the dairy industry to the don’t-ask-don’t-tell military policy. I’m just saddened that you’ve become a part of an oppressive cultural mechanism.
If you ever decide to try fairness and equality as a method for furthering your message, please consider reaching out to other progressive organizations. NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, might be a good place to start: http://www.naafa.org.
Lesleigh J. Owen, Ph.D.