Oh Lush… really? Did you have to?

// 3 September 2008

Given that most companies in the business of selling ‘beauty products’ generally employ some dirty sales tactics to hawk their goods, Lush is generally a good thing in my books – as it relies on lovely texture, smell and colour, not making women feel bad about ourselves.

I also love that it stocks loads of vegan products and doesn’t test on animals, emphasises low packaging, recycling, fair trade, etc. But… is it me, or does this stunt not smack a bit of PETA?

Basically, to illustrate the plight of sharks, Lush had performance artist Alice Newstead pierce herself and string herself up with shark hooks in their Regent Street store. And, also, they’re launching a new product called Shark Fin Soap.

In many ways, it doesn’t seem as bad as the PETA campaigns – after all, Newstead is an artist who specialises in suspension. But… well… It’s still ‘selling’ the cause based on images of a woman being strung up bleeding from hooks, isn’t it? Even more problematic, I suspect, is the way that the Metro in particular has posted such graphic close ups.

Ultimately, I’m still not sure what I think about this one – but maybe Lush should stick to the soaps and stuff.

*Yep, some of it is pretty expensive, but not everything – the solid shampoo!

Comments From You

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 3 September 2008 at 11:20 pm

A couple of xmases ago, the Sheffield branch had a woman dressed as an elf on a rotating platform in the window. I noticed the men ogling her outside before I saw her. Concern was duly raised…

But, yeah, I do love Lush for the focus on loveliness rather than beauty and body fascism.

Lindsey // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:42 am

And to think, I was annoyed when I noticed they’d started putting little blue cartoon men in their catalogue next to products that are sufficiently not glittery that men might want to use them. Obviously this is ridiculous as the guy who worked there told me glittery shampoo was his favourite…

Redheadinred // Posted 4 September 2008 at 12:27 pm

Huh? What pictures of a woman being hung up? I didn’t notice any.

Redheadinred // Posted 4 September 2008 at 12:28 pm

Oh wait, I’ve seen it now. Disgusting. I’m so sick of this.

Clare // Posted 4 September 2008 at 1:35 pm

Hmmmm. As part of the body mod scene myself I don’t really see the sexism here – performance suspension is undertaken by both sexes, and judging by the photos it would appear this stunt had very little to do with gender, and all to do with raising awareness of animal rights – I would hate to see female performance artists censored just in case they objectify themselves.

Besides, what’s wrong with the graphic close-ups? Suspension is just that – graphic. There’s blood & hooks – that’s the point. The photo’s aren’t sexualised, she’s not in pain (despite appearences suspension doesn’t hurt when performed correctly) – they’re just pictures of what she was doing.

Soirore // Posted 4 September 2008 at 3:48 pm

I’ve written to them complaining about this. I get practically all my products from them but will not any longer if they are going to use women suffering pain and torture (even when it is voluntarily) to promote themselves.

Jesswa // Posted 4 September 2008 at 6:18 pm

Hm…I see your concern here, but I think I’m going to disagree on this point. Ms Newstead’s methods, I think, differ from those of PETA in a few significant ways: she isn’t naked (nor is she sexualised), and whereas PETA seem to use women as stand-ins for animals to express the vulnerability of the animals – there’s something definitely very gendered about the Women as Meat thing – Ms Newstead is a professional suspension artist, who was presumably “hired” for use as

a) a dedicated believer in her cause and

b) a suspension artist.

I don’t believe her gender truly figures into her decision to protest in this way, nor Lush’s decision to utilise her services – rather, it is her ability as an artist, first and foremost.

I think the only “problem” with this stunt is in the coverage of the Metro photographer, who seems to be a little too much into the grizzly close-ups.

That said, I’d be interested to read what anyone else has to say on this – there could be something quite significant I’m missing.

Cara // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:50 pm

Agree with Jesswa.

This ad isn’t objectifying women.

My only problem is that it makes me cringe to think of the pain – like that stop smoking ad with people with fish hooks in their cheeks.

Masochist, yes. Sexist, no.

Soirore // Posted 5 September 2008 at 10:01 am

I agree that as Ms Newstead is a performance artist what she does with her body has different meaning. But there is a contextual issue. If she had protested in a gallery or other space this argument would hold. But she was in a shop window which changes the meaning for me. Her body in a shop window can never be seen purely as a site of demonstration, art and protest but is also linked to commodification and the female body as non-active or dead and an object that things happen to (like meat in butchers shops). I also think that use of bodies in this way can never be free of gendered understandings.

Also, the article I read stated that she worked for the Lush store so I don’t think her identity as an artist is what is being valued most in this instance.

Jesswa // Posted 5 September 2008 at 4:06 pm

@Soirore – That’s an interesting point (about the context of a shop window), I hadn’t thought of that before.

But I do wonder, if this connection hasn’t occured to many other people – especially feminists, seeing as we dedicate ourselves to this kind of analysis – if the link is so unapparant as to…I don’t know, not matter? I realise this is an example of very bad phrasing, as it trivialises the use of women’s bodies as commodities, but I can’t think of a better way to phrase it just now.

Of course, this raises the issue of how obvious sexism (if that is, indeed, what this is) needs to be before it is considered important…

However, I still personally don’t see that there is a problem with Ms Newstead displaying herself in a shop window. If this is her art, then surely anywhere can be an artistic space. So why not a shop window? That is a place, after all, used entirely to best display the products on offer, often in an artistic way. This is definitely an artistic interpretation of what shops selling shark products have to offer.

I’m not sure it can be argued that her job is what Lush value most in this instance. More a stroke of very good luck, I think, that an animal rights campaigner and suspension artist happened to work for the company. Regardless of anything else, the most important thing is Ms Newstead’s skill and willing – otherwise, regardless of her gender or occupation, she simply would not be used in the protest.

Soirore // Posted 5 September 2008 at 5:27 pm

Jesswa – You’re probably right about the potential sexism not being apparent to everyone. Maybe there is a tendancy to look too deeply at things. But what’s important is that we are thinking critically about it regardless of our ultimate conclusions. After all critiquing something and deciding that you don’t find it sexist is just as important. I wouldn’t like to think that my approach appeared to be a “sexism everywhere ALERT” type response, the issues are clearly more complex than that.

Lucie // Posted 7 September 2008 at 2:34 pm

Going out on a limb, I disagree with what’s being said here.

Just want to say that I do know Alice, and she is very dedicated, professional and an amazing suspension artist. I really don’t believe that this way in any way sexualised or that her gender figures into this. She loves to put a twist on traditional suspensions and I think this was a very active co-operation between herself and the company.

Suspension isn’t torturous, especially for her. That’s not to say that I can vouch for her anti-objectification credentials (because I don’t know her that well), but I don’t think this particular action was deplorable.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 7 September 2008 at 6:02 pm

Browing the internet I came across a link to this, which sheds some light on Lush’s use of women. I always liked Lush too, but this is disappointing. :-(

Ask me why I’m naked – Lush Seattle branch publicity stunt

Leigh // Posted 8 September 2008 at 11:46 am

While the Seattle stunt seems naive and stupid (for a start, why weren’t there men participating, assuming that the state laws on exposure are not biased to penalise men more than women for public nudity as the UK laws have been) I have to object to the response to the shark protest.

Sorry, what is the problem with the artists choosing to protest in this way? Would it be bad for a man to use body suspension or let their own blood for this cause? And Why can’t the woman use her own body to sell a cause? It’s her body to do what she chooses with. Sorry Jess, it seems you are having problems seeing female bodies as agents not objects?

Catherine Redfern // Posted 8 September 2008 at 1:01 pm

Hi Leigh,

For me the issue is that it always seems to be women’s bodies that are, in the main, used in this way (think of PETA’s stunts), not men and women equally. Why is it always women who seem to be used in this way?

If we we are in a situation where women’s bodies are always used for publicity because:

a) women’s bodies = meat


b) women’s bodies = sex


c) womens’s bodies = animals

…but men’s bodies aren’t used because presumably they don’t signify those things, it’s problematic for me. If Lush – or anyone – wants to do a “naked” stunt, they should use equal numbers of men and women, if they have to do it at all. Otherwise, it does seem to be playing into – and perpetuating – the women as sex/meat/animals thing.

It is not so much critiquing this individual incident (for me) but rather piecing this together with all the other similar individual incidents and thinking about why it always seems to be women’s bodies used and what messages this sends out.

Leigh // Posted 8 September 2008 at 2:04 pm

@ Catherine Redfern

I agree entirely with your points about women being treated as meat to be put on display, and add that these stunts generally feed the social prejudice that women’s bodies are to be looked at, and therefore any body put on public display should be female and attractive (and, ipso facto, that any public woman must be attractive). The suspension demonstration is probably an exception and the critique unfairly directed at the performer in this case. We can only be sure that this was a factor if the store contacted male suspension artists and turned them down on the basis of their gender.

Do you have the store’s contact details? We could phone them up and ask them.

Lucie // Posted 8 September 2008 at 10:06 pm

Just thought this link might be of interest – it’s Alice briefly talking about the suspension in a Modblog article.


With respect, I think that you have to bear in mind that there are very few suspension artists who have previously managed a Lush store and as such become very involved with such a cause – her gender really isn’t an issue in this case. Lots of people perform in different ways, this is just her thing. Although it is unfortunate that the Metro photographer felt obliged to do such an awful shoot of it.

But by all means it would be interesting to hear the official Lush line on this, as well as what Alice herself feels about the accusations.

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