Not so Lush

// 27 April 2012

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Close up photo of the face of a pretty white guinea pigThere’s lots of debate currently going on through our Twitter feed around Lush’s publicity stunt to highlight the cruelty of testing cosmetics on animals. It’s a performance piece in which the female actress artist plays the role of the animal while a man restrains, force feeds and performs horrible tests on her which essentially look like torture. In a shop window.

I first heard about the campaign this morning and started to watch the video [MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING] of the stunt, but was so disturbed and upset that I had to stop a few moments in. I’ve actually found it hard to focus on my work this morning because of it and still feel shaky and sick.

Lush’s campaign manager has defended the stunt with this blog post, where she says:

I am very aware and very sad that campaigning groups (and all sorts of other groups, industries etc) have capitalised on titillating images of women – or worse – on images and storylines that encourage the abuse of women. It is a depressingly simple way to cause a stir whilst reinforcing certain power structures. It is a way of generating ‘attention’ that both I and Jacqui [the actress artist involved] condemn.

We did not perform a sexy version of oppression or create a teasing ‘naughty’ campaign. Instead – led by Jacqui’s desire to perform an endurance piece that would respect the actual suffering of millions of animals – we performed a version of oppression in which we are all complicit to challenge women and men to consider the dark secrets of a beauty industry that insists it exists to make us ‘feel good’.

It was a performance of violence (not violence against women) where – unsurprisingly – the oppressor was male and the abused was vulnerable and scared.

We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. […]It would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse.

The crux of her argument appears to be that they needed to draw upon the oppression of women through violence and abuse in order to draw attention to the oppression of animals through violence and abuse. This implies that the general public care about violence against women and don’t care about violence against animals.

But this is clearly not the case. I think most people would agree that cruelty to animals is a bad thing; in fact, as a nation we appear to care more about the abuse of animals than the abuse of women, given that we give more to donkey sanctuaries than charities supporting female victims of violence. It’s a sad fact that plenty of the men targeted by Lush’s stunt will have committed violence against women themselves, or used sexually violent images to get off on. I somehow doubt that they care more about women being hurt than fluffy animals being carved to pieces.

So where’s the logic in using a woman for the campaign? Why not fill their shop windows with photos of tortured animals, show undercover videos from animal testing labs or perform the stunt using realistic models of animals? I can only conclude that they did indeed want to “cause a stir”.

Like PETA, Lush have capitalised on the fact that women’s bodies garner attention and, like PETA, they don’t seem to be particularly bothered about any collateral damage.

One in four women have experienced male violence, which means that a quarter of the women who walked past the shop window or clicked the link to their video and saw a woman being tortured may very well have been reminded of their abuse, with all the upset and trauma that entails. And not a trigger warning in sight. Do Lush think we need to experience trauma ourselves in order to care about the trauma experienced by animals? I know I don’t.

Furthermore, by knowingly and intentionally using the oppression and abuse of women as a springboard to raise awareness about the abuse of animals, Lush are drawing attention away from the first form of oppression and onto the second. Ignore the fact that this is a woman being tortured: imagine if she were an animal! Yeah, violence against women is bad, but look what your cosmetics consumption does to animals!

This approach would be justifiable if violence against women was universally regarded as a terrible issue of grave importance. But it isn’t. Victim blaming is rife; services for victims are woefully underfunded and just this week thousands of people have pledged their support for a convicted rapist. We desperately need to draw attention to violence against women, not use violence against women to draw attention to other issues.

In this context, Lush’s actions are crass, insensitive and actually damage many of the people who care about the issues they are trying to raise. As one of them, I am hugely disappointed in the company, and will never be shopping there again.

NB: I didn’t watch any more of the video as I felt myself getting triggered and spacing out (thanks, Lush!), so I haven’t got the full picture and would welcome other people’s comments.

Image of a guinea pig – and animal I care about very much despite not watching the whole of Lush’s video – by WOAW, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Diane S // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:02 pm

Very well said. For me the sad thing is that as well as undermining the struggle for women’s rights, the campaign’s intentions to draw greater awareness to animal testing and what we can do about it (I’d love to know, but I don’t want to see horrific images of women OR animals in order to find out) have failed.

I think the issue is that women around the world are abused, trafficked, sold into slavery, treated like chattel by their husbands/fathers/random men and, it’s very possible, treated like the artist in this simulated situation. So Lush might think they’re doing something very daring and transgressive, but they’re actually portraying real life for a lot of women.

Anna // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:02 pm

I feel that completely misses the point.

Is it not obvious that the performance piece isn’t saying that cruelty to animals is worse than violence against women, but rather the message is “You wouldn’t stand by and consciously let this difficult sight really happen to a human, so why let it happen to animals?”

As another statistic in the huge proportion of women that have experienced the ugly side of male violence, I do find scenes of rape and abuse hard to watch. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating its place in art.

Acting out scenes such as these allows men to witness brutal behaviour in a moral, social context. We will never be able to change the dark undertide of society that tells men it is OK to act with violence unless we face the issue head on, and show it for the ugliness that it represents.

I for one commend the girl in the piece for using her physicality – which she is more than entitled to do as a performance artist – to make a sensational impact on an issue that she is passionate about. Would you have stopped Carole Schneeman from performing naked and extracting a scroll from her vagina, expressing her female identity in a way that has been remembered across daces?

I really do applaud this website so please take this as debate not criticism. But sometimes I worry that feminist thought spends too much time attacking good people to get enough of the population onside.

Anna // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:02 pm


Victoria // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:03 pm

Totally agree with you here. Irresponsible shock-marketing for the brand, and very poorly thought through in terms of the imagery.

Vicky // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:03 pm

I agree. At first I was in two minds about this, as the woman’s costume wasn’t ‘sexy’ and it didn’t objectify the female body in the same way that PETA objectified women’s bodies with their campaign against the meat industry. But the fact that the victim was played by a female actor and the torturer by a male shows that they were quite deliberately trying to tap into social stereotypes surrounding gender violence – women as passive, voiceless, in need of protection, etc. – in order to inspire people to have concern for animal welfare.

This puts me in a difficult position. I have three local retailers that sell cruelty-free shampoos and soaps: an incredibly expensive local business that sells shampoo at £15 for quite a small bottle, the Body Shop, and Lush. Body Shop is also overpriced for an unemployed student; I can’t afford £4 for a tiny bottle that will last me a week at most. I love using the Lush shampoo bars because not only do they last for weeks, there’s no plastic packaging involved – better for the environment. I’m torn. I really disagree with what Lush has done with this campaign, but I don’t want to return to buying plastic bottles of shampoo that aren’t guaranteed to be free from animal testing.

Naomi Mc // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:06 pm

This is disgusting. I couldn’t watch the film either and stopped after a couple of seconds. The point of a campaigning film is to change peoples’ minds/inspire action to meet your campaign ends. NOT just cause a stir/get in the press. On this basis I believe it spectacularly fails. They need to do some market research: did this stunt change the way you felt about animal testing or did it make you think Lush was an attention-seeking, manipulative organisation?

lil1 // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:12 pm

I wholeheartedly disagree that using a male subject – imagine in exactly the same manner, no variations – wouldn’t garner the thinking and introspection that the campaign supposedly wanted to achieve. What a surprise, they opt for the ususal eroticised gender violence instead.

I don’t eat meat, or wear or use any product that comes, or has been used on, an animal. All this campaign has done is to anger and alienate me.

Well done Lush, thanks for giving me something else to boycott.

Ruth Battrick // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:29 pm

Well said. For the best of reasons Lush have made a big mistake. Take down now! Misguided or not I, and I’m sure many others won’t shop there again until its gone. Although you may attract a different type of customer you probably don’t want..

Christine // Posted 27 April 2012 at 2:42 pm

I watched all of the video and it is made very clear that this is about making people more aware about animal cruelty. They are trying to get people to sign a petition urging the EU to issue an outright ban on animal testing, and to start nit picking and trying to make it a feminist issue detracts and undermines what is a very real issue. The woman who took part did it of her own free will and because she was passionate about the cause, and all of the commentary was by women in support of what was going on.

You were within your power not watch it, but you did knowing what you were getting, it’s almost like you read the comments and were looking to be offended. You also turned it off and anyone who doesn’t like can turn it off or look away.

Of course they wanted to cause a stir, sometimes that’s what’s need to draw attention to the issue, it’s not condoning violence against women, it’s not going out of it’s way to hurt victims. It’s saying very clearly that violence and cruelty in any form is wrong.

Gillian Love // Posted 27 April 2012 at 3:04 pm

OK, so I’m really conflicted about this. In my eyes, there is no sexualisation here – is any woman wearing a jumpsuit immediately ‘sexualised’? Her outfit is surely not the source of the concern. And as for the gag, people are pointing out it’s used in kink, but it is also an instrument used in medicine and animal testing. I honestly can’t see that this is blatant sexualisation – compared to, for example, PETA.

The issue of violence – if we accept there is no sexualisation and glamourisation of it, then can a woman never be a part of such a protest action, with violence being performed against her body? We are all too used to seeing women’s bodies in the media being violated or harmed; but I would add that more generally, we are also inundated by male bodies being harmed (any video game, action movie, army movie etc.).

So basically I’m asking what the specific *gender* reservations there are about this. If the concerns are about triggering people, I totally understand that. But otherwise, I’m worried that we’re saying women cannot take part in things like this for fear of representing violence against *all* women, and that, conversely, if it were a male performer we wouldn’t care as much that he’s contributing to the cultural idea that men can take ore pain, and are always involved in violence. I’m keeping abreast of this and taking in people’s arguments, because as I said I’m very conflicted about it.

Anita // Posted 27 April 2012 at 3:14 pm

I agree with much of what’s been said above about the power of this campaign (Gillian, Christine, Anna).

I do think the f-word should change the wording of this article. It’s been made clear repeatedly that the woman involved was a performance artist, as was the man – I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to describe her as an ‘actress’ which implies she was employed and directed by Lush to fill a function they had devised as part of their campaign – rather than a key player in the development of the performance. This may seem like a small distinction, but when considered as the creators of the performance rather than simply performers in it, the genders of the subject and the ‘scientist’ start to matter less. These are skilled artists who happen to be a man and a woman, not a man and woman chosen by Lush to carry out gender-specific roles.

lil1 // Posted 27 April 2012 at 3:24 pm

I don’t feel it being supposedly bereft the ‘overt’ sexualisation that we are now used to seeing makes it not exploitative in any way – why the seemingly deliberate depiction of a young, slight and obviously vunerablised female body if it wasn’t tapping into the same inappropria, and why isn’t that subtle and inciduous treatment just as bad as overt pornifying? I watched the video the whole way through and had tried to commment, before I had seen the other responses. I came to my original conclusion. It really angered me, and for a good reason. It’s remeniscent of some of the same crap I’ve seen before but that doesn’t mean that people like me are looking to be offended.

Now their intentions may be commendable but that does not take away the means with which to highlight their cause wasn’t completely wrong. It has hurt a lot of people. Let’s not just undermine that and suggest they’re overreacting.

It isn’t the female body obviously that garners this attention but treatmeant and recording of it does. It’s there.

I really don’t think an EU ban on cosmetic vivisection will be forthcoming from campaigns like these. And all it has made me do is talk less now about the disgusting defilement of animals and railroaded itself by provoking me with its sexism, so now I’m talking about that instead! Which will partly show, the message Lush sent out was obviously the wrong one.

Al // Posted 27 April 2012 at 3:25 pm

I hadn’t thought before about the possibility of “triggering”, so thanks for raising that. The “collateral damage” issue is an interesting and tricky one; how far is it acceptable to risk upsetting or even traumatising some in order to raise mass awareness in others? A question to which I don’t have an answer (I imagine there’s no straightforward one) but I’m glad you’ve set me thinking about it.

Elsewhere in the post I think you make some unfair statements and accusations:

I disagree with the claim that “we appear to care more about the abuse of animals than the abuse of women”. I think, given the choice (and many of us do have this choice), we’re more willing to engage with the issue of animal cruelty because we find it less painful and uncomfortable to engage with, not because we consider it more important. Perhaps this is naive of me but what little anecdotal evidence I have suggests humans care much more about other humans than about other animals. Given the opportunity to prevent an instance of domestic or sexual violence or to prevent an instance of animal abuse I’m not convinced most people would choose the latter.

The answer to the question, “Why not fill their shop windows with photos of tortured animals, show undercover videos from animal testing labs or perform the stunt using realistic models of animals?” is simple: the purpose of the stunt is to ask, “how would we like it?” We frequently see images of animal abuse in the news; the goal of Lush’s stunt was to reframe it. In fact, it supports my argument above: we’re more likely to be shocked and moved by a demonstration of human abuse than by one of animal abuse.

The words you put in Lush’s mouth, “Ignore the fact that this is a woman being tortured: imagine if she were an animal!”, are the wrong way round. Lush is saying “Ignore the fact that these are animals being tortured: imagine if they were humans!” Your “yeah, violence against women is bad, but look what your cosmetics consumption does to animals!” is unhelpful moral equivalism. The stunt makes no comment on the importance of the fight against domestic or sexual violence; it’s plainly making a statement about animal rights.

I agree that the logic behind their casting is sexist (against men and women); the claim that “it would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse” is as offensive as the suggestion that the “vulnerable and scared” party must necessarily be female. And I sympathise with people who are triggered by the imagery. But I’m still not convinced that this stunt exists at the expense of any other movement.

loobyloo // Posted 27 April 2012 at 3:27 pm

I am horrified that women are making links between this film being ‘erotic’ and that it also emulates the abuse of women. I do not see abuse, or this film, in any way to be ‘erotic’. Does the fact that a women does something with her body and not her brain make it implicitly erotic?

It is also true that women are most likely to be complicit in animal testing, because it is largely they who use them, or regarding toiletries, the bulk of them. It is also women who choose to/are manipulated to participate in the objectification of women, so how would a male ‘victim’ make that particular point? I do think the film and it’s message would have been improved, however, by having a woman ‘scientist’ as well as a male, to remove the gender polarity.

And they are artists. Not artists on adverts for supermarkets and all the exploitation those represent, but for a soap shop with an ethos that it upholds. They also co-devised the piece. This gave them artistic control, status as artists in the real world. This is worth something in this feminist artist’s opinion. How would it be if it was taboo for women artists/actors to ply their craft as low-status characters in the performance realm? How pro-women is that?

As for ‘triggering’ women’s experience of abuse – yes, it might; as might so many other things in our world. As a former domestic abuse project worker myself, I can assure you it’s sometimes the most ordinary images, objects, and songs that can provoke that. But the context is made clear in this film: animal abuse. It wasn’t meant to be ‘nice’.

The film was also of a performance, with interjected documentary. The context is distinct. It is stated overtly. Whatever else we read into it, is very much in the eye of the beholder.

The Goldfish // Posted 27 April 2012 at 3:48 pm

Worse than lacking a warning, in the e-mail I got yesterday it read, as Lush’s advertising e-mails always do, as my e-mail platform doesn’t support images:

“This e-mail contains lovely pictures, if you can’t see them, please click here.”

Johun // Posted 27 April 2012 at 4:22 pm

Setting aside the merits of Lush’s particular performance, surely the views expressed in this article and some of its comments should be looked at in relation to artistic expression and creative freedom. There are two recurring points of view that troubled me, and seemed like reductive, knee-jerk reactions. I will now list them, and forgive me if I’ve misunderstood anything that’s been said.

1. A depiction of a male human being behaving violently towards a female human being cannot transcend being a literal depiction of male violence towards women. This was clearly a performance in which both characters are representing something other than themselves. What’s the issue here? Should female performers not play “victim”-type roles?

2. The other attitude seemed to be that any depiction of male violence towards women is an intentional, cynical attempt to garner attention by titilating men. This piece was in no way eroticised, unless you see something inherently erotic in non-sexual interaction between a man and a woman. Yes, it may arouse men who are particularly into sadism, just like footage of an animal being tortured might arouse men who are particularly into watching animals get tortured. That would not make the arousal of men one of the intended goals of the work.

Finally, I think a statement like this: “It’s a sad fact that plenty of the men targeted by Lush’s stunt will have committed violence against women themselves, or used sexually violent images to get off on.” should really be more specific or carefully worded. Plenty? “Plenty” has no place in facts, sad though they may be. And why on earth would these men be targeted by Lush? Surely the “male sadist” and “people who want cruelty-free soap” Venn diagram is two circles with a foot of blank space between them.

JP // Posted 27 April 2012 at 4:32 pm

I would be ok with this had it taken place in a private space, and had all people wishing to see it been issued with a warning that it contained disturbing material. It’s not cool to have something like this in broad daylight in a shop window on a busy street where, essentially, you’re removing people’s choice of whether or not to see it. It also horrifies me that children might have been exposed to it – a scene like this in a movie would get at least a 15 rating.

Helen // Posted 27 April 2012 at 4:34 pm

Anna:”But sometimes I worry that feminist thought spends too much time attacking good people to get enough of the population onside. ”

Your argument could equally be made against animal rights advocates – whom in this case have made women feel dehumanised and degraded.

Personally I expect better from people like Lush – who have just utilised women’s bodies and the frequent, prevalent violence against women to make a point. Don’t think I’ll buy from them again.

Helen // Posted 27 April 2012 at 4:41 pm

“trying to make it a feminist issue detracts and undermines what is a very real issue.”

Hmmmm. Genuine query here; are you trying to say that violence against animals is a more pressing issue than violence against women?

Laura // Posted 27 April 2012 at 4:46 pm

Thanks Anita, that’s a good point – I’ve amended the post.

Al // Posted 27 April 2012 at 5:03 pm

Helen said:

“Hmmmm. Genuine query here; are you trying to say that violence against animals is a more pressing issue than violence against women? ”

Helen, I think that’s part of the problem that pervades this article. There’s no need to force these issue to compete; they can co-exist. We can fight AIDS and famine without making a statement about which is more important; we can appreciate Beethoven and The Beatles without having to choose whose work is better; and we can fight for women’s rights and animal rights without insisting one takes priority over the other.

The stunt itself is clearly intended to be a commentary on animal rights, and on animal rights alone. So I think Christine’s suggestion that you undermine the intended discussion by turning it into a feminist discussion is a fair one.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 27 April 2012 at 5:47 pm

Thanks for this great post, Laura. You’ve expressed a lot of the concerns I have, and that I have seen from others.

A key point, for me, is that this didn’t happen at a theatre or a gallery, it was in a shop. If it suggested, “you wouldn’t let this happen to a human, so why let it happen to an animal?” then it was misinformed to start with! People do let it happen to humans, to women! They hear their neighbour being regularly beaten, or they don’t question a bruise on a friend’s girlfriend’s face, or they walk by as a woman is yelled at and abused.

@Vicky Apparently there are some online stores that sell handmade soap, they could be worth exploring for shampoo bars?

@Christine – maybe Laura was in her power to not watch the video, but the passers-by in Oxford Street that day weren’t. It only takes a few moments of being triggered for a survivor to have a full-on traumatised, PTSD reaction of flashbacks, nightmares and terror which can last for weeks or longer.

@Goldfish – God, that’s awful.

Of the many discussions I have seen about this on twitter, facebook, here and youtube, I’ve not seen one person turn from pro-animal testing to anti-animal testing as a result of the video. I’ve only seen certain people say it was justified to highlight and raise awareness of animal testing, and others say it was horrific and triggering and inappropriate. So even if their intention was purely to raise awareness and change minds, I fear they have failed because that is not the discussion that I am seeing taken place.

Christine // Posted 27 April 2012 at 6:45 pm

“Hmmmm. Genuine query here; are you trying to say that violence against animals is a more pressing issue than violence against women?”

Definitely not, what I am saying is that the author is trying to give a feminist critique of a stunt that does not impinge on women’s rights, but indeed was vehemently supported and instigated by women about another matter entirely. In doing so I think the author detracts from that good work with a rather acidic and frankly bombastic portrayal of what was performed, harming both that cause and the credibility of feminism.

the picky girl // Posted 27 April 2012 at 7:59 pm

This was truly horrifying to watch. In fact, I turned it off, but then I thought – maybe I should see if there is any connection made, and I didn’t find it. I turned it off again.

I agree with some of the other comments that the argument made here is weak in places, specifically as I don’t see this as an overtly-sexualized woman. However, the dynamic with male in dominant role, female in submissive is obviously there, sexualized or not.

My biggest beef with this is that, other than the sign at the top of the exhibit, there’s no real link between what is occurring and animal testing. Visually, it’s quite a leap. Instead, I see a woman being tortured. Period. I disagree that seeing this violence against a human is more persuasive than seeing it against an animal. In the US, there are commercials with mistreated, abused animals that are extremely effective. ( )

I don’t think the issue is so much “who do we care more about, animals or women?” I think that, as in many marketing campaigns, it simply misses the mark. It did not at all make me think of animals. It made me think of horror films, and that horror drives all else from my mind.

Gillian makes a good point about violence and the portrayal of it against men and women, but I think that typically, we aren’t bombarded with images of men being tortured. Killed, yes, and not that that violence isn’t horrific, but more often than not, the torture scenes involve women. It’s why I can’t watch any crime shows after dark.

I think there was likely a more effective way of provoking a response that directly connected the violence with animals.

Matt // Posted 27 April 2012 at 7:59 pm

I could not disagree with this blog post more.

Firstly, you are trying to critique a 4 minute and 12 second video, when you’ve only watched “a few moments”? Are we talking a few seconds here? It seems like you’re massively pre-judging the whole video, and aren’t even prepared to sit through the whole thing before you form your opinion. I completely understand that some of the scenes in the video are upsetting and distressing to people, and no one ought to be forced to sit through anything that would distress them. But you have made the choice to click on the link, press play, and have consciously formed an opinion on something, when you haven’t viewed the whole thing. How can you form a reasoned and rational opinion on something when you’ve not viewed the whole thing? For instance, imagine an anti-violence against women campaign video, where the first minute is devoted to shocking and graphic imagery of violence against women in the media. If you only sat through 30 seconds of that video, you could easily mistake it for being pro-violence against women. My point is, having made the free choice to watch the video, knowing you may be making comment on the video/campaign, you seem to be unfairly pre-judging the material in the video, and closing your mind to the rest of the video, thus giving an unfair impression of the video.

Second, you are right that a man could have played the “lead” role in the video, but your criticism of the choice to have a woman in the “lead” is somewhat unusual. Unless you have evidence to the contrary, we can assume that the woman in the video freely chose to be in the video. What gives you, or anyone, a right to tell someone that they cannot portray a character in a fictional video? In fact, the comment from the Lush spokesperson suggests that the woman in the video actually chose to perform this piece herself, which makes her more than a hired person put in a role. She *wanted* to perform this role, why should she be condemned for her choice? It seems that the banner of “feminism” here is being used to stifle the choice of a woman to express herself in a way that she chooses. I completely agree with Johun. The tenet of this blogpost suggests that female performers should never play “victim” type roles in any kind of performance art, for fear of the possible misinterpretation that violence against women is ok.

Finally, had you watched the whole video, I think you might see that there is a positive message her for both anti-animal testing and anti-violence against women groups. They are both portrayed as abhorrent and despicable, which they both rightly are. I don’t see why one needs to obsess about the gender of the person in the “lead” role of the video. It seems to me that this outrage is somewhat manufactured, and unhelpful.

Just my two penneth anyway.

Holly Combe // Posted 27 April 2012 at 8:05 pm

As I said on our Facebook page, I think Lush could have perhaps advertised what was about to take place (on the window) and then put on the performance in the shop, letting people decide for themselves about whether to come in and view it.

I really don’t see why Laura is being given such a hard time by some commenters (particularly on our Facebook page) for objecting to what is essentially an advertising campaign. Bringing social messages into such a thing (in this case about animal testing) means Lush must expect to be held to account if some of their target audience say it isn’t working or that it makes them feel angry and alienated.

Something I really take issue with in this campaign is Lush’s framing of it. My first thought after viewing the film was that its insensitivity seemed to stem from some post-feminist point that animals have not yet achieved the rights of women (i.e. they’ve failed to consider that the imagery evokes abuse against women that really does go on). However, their assertion that it would have somehow been “disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse” is just mind-bloggling. Here, their reasoning seems to be “Men don’t suffer systemic abuse. Women do. Let’s exploit that.” I assume Lush are aware that human rights abuses and torture do not exclusively affect women so I’m inclined to wonder if this means they are playing on misogynistic framings of women as animals (i.e. hunted as prey, used for others ends). At the very least, it seems they are using systemic abuse of women for sensationalism.

dangeroverboard // Posted 27 April 2012 at 10:28 pm

I want to applaud you for using a clear and adequate trigger warning for the video in this post. I hope someone from Lush reads this – if not for the very well-argued content, then for the warning, because goodness knows they really, really need to learn when to do this themselves.

I can’t even bring myself to get upset about them brushing off people’s interpretations of the work as misogynistic with ‘oh, well that’s not what we meant’. I’m just so, so angry that such a clearly, violently triggering piece made its way into a public shopping space and people’s email inboxes with absolutely no advance warning in the first place.

Claire Donnelly // Posted 28 April 2012 at 10:48 am

Firstly- I am a Lush customer. I have been for a long time, and prior to that was a customer at Cosmetics 2 Go, the previous company owned by the person who started Lush, which sold similar products. I spend a *lot* of money there each year. I get a lot of birthday and christmas things from there, and a lot for myself. I also used to go to the Lush owned B Never shops which have now folded. I went on the forum and enthused about things, etc etc.

I’m also an abuse survivor. Seeing the video, which I couldn’t finish watching, made me angry, sad, disappointed and nauseous. Mostly sad.

Then I read the blog. THAT was where the anger got stronger. If they’d apologised, or shown some empathy….but no. They doubled down and basically said, “yeah we know some people have been upset by it, but…” and that feels like a massive slap in the face to me and everyone else who has been affected in this way. I am hurt by their actions and until they apologise or show some sign they Get It, I will not spend my money with them again.

I’m not going to get caught up in spurious arguments about artistic expression and “but she chose to do it!!11!!” and about whether is is sexualised or not, the bottom line as far as I am concerned is this: Lush put those images in a shop front and in their email without warning. The aim of the campaign is presumably to make those who don’t think about animal testing think about it. The result of this stunt is that people who are already against animal testing and Lush customers are upset, disappointed and WALKING AWAY. Because I’m not the only one. Mission accomplished?

Gillian Love // Posted 28 April 2012 at 2:26 pm


“Your argument could equally be made against animal rights advocates – whom in this case have made women feel dehumanised and degraded.”

As I said in my comment, I am a feminist and an animal rights activist. I am also a woman, and do not feel dehumanised and degraded by this. So stop trying to speak for all women.

I am appalled that there are feminists claiming that a) if any woman acts out violence being done on her body, she is harming all women, and b) this stunt was ‘sexualised.’ If you found it sexual or erotic, you may have sadistic tendencies and that’s part of you. But you’re making major leaps and bounds to suggest that Lush deliberately made it titillating.

Finally, we need to bear in mind the main source of anger should be that Lush could have made much more effort to avoid needlessly triggering people by warning them more about what was going on. That applies to male and female victims of abuse.

sandra baker // Posted 28 April 2012 at 3:18 pm

The arguments stated in support of Lush here in the comments are:

– The artists performing in the Lush window should be allowed to create their performance without being criticised, it’s art and even extreme violence has a place in art.

I don’t wish to comment on the artistic merit of the performance in question, I’m sure the artists involved worked hard to put this together. The point here is not about nitpicking at the artists themselves, rather Lush, the company who has been instrumental in putting it together and promoting it to passers by and customers, and anyone who may come across it online.

– The images weren’t sexualised, and this was not the intention of Lush. The ad was not meant to ‘titillate’.

I believe this, and it didn’t cross my mind when I saw the video that it was meant to be, or could be taken in a sexual way, or be representative of sex. That’s just me though, others possibly did take it that way. Either way I don’t think this is what’s being objected to, more that the violence and themes of torture are what’s at issue.

– Women are largely complicit in animal testing because they are the largest consumers of cosmetics.

But is it women at the heads of the cosmetics companies who allow horrific animal testing to continue? No. Nor are women at the head of government that is preventing legislation against animal testing from being enforced. And yet the female consumer is, I feel, being humiliated here.

What this video does is contribute to the normalisation of violence towards women. And if Lush don’t retract their video, that’s effectively what they’ve achieved. The problem with violence against women isn’t just about domestic violence. It is endemic in society, and Lush should have known better than to subject their consumers and the public to this hideous scene.

I feel I should point out, that I am wholly against animal testing and have hitherto been an avid supporter of Lush products.

sarahfogg // Posted 29 April 2012 at 8:36 am

Having watched the whole video, I wonder if we’re looking at this backwards. Rather than criticise Lush for what seems to be an honest attempt to raise awareness, perhaps we should criticise the people who do produce similar images for titillation?

I think what’s happened is that eroticised violence, especially against women, has become so common in the media everywhere from prime time TV to pornography, that all violence against a female body reads as erotic whether we mean it to or not. From the look of the performance, the last thing the the artists wanted was for it to be erotic or titillating (unlike PETA), but it reads that way anyway because eroticised violence has become so normal. The female artist is even wearing a bodysuit that makes her appear to have NO sexual features, it’s the violence itself which seems erotic, not the context in which it’s portrayed. The idea that violence is an acceptable part of sexuality is so pervasive that I don’t even think reversing the roles would have done anything to de-eroticise the piece.

If it’s impossible to depict any violence without unintentionally referencing something people use to get off on, even to make a serious point, then we really need to get people to look harder and more critically at our entire visual culture, and question whether violence should really be seen as an acceptable part of normal sexual practice.

shatterboxx // Posted 29 April 2012 at 11:05 am

“…we performed a version of oppression in which we are all complicit to challenge women and men to consider the dark secrets of a beauty industry that insists it exists to make us ‘feel good’.”

It may not have been there to titillate or produce cheap laughs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exploitative. They knew full well the impact it would have, precisely BECAUSE of the worldwide problem of violence against women (usually) perpetrated by men. That’s not OK in my book.

Also, the implication of ‘how would we like it?’ is problematic as they’ve specifically chosen to use a male character abusing a women – to me, there’s too much of a women = animals parallel. As well as this, I don’t see humans in the same way as I see animals – it doesn’t mean I don’t care about this issue, it just means I won’t respond to this depiction in the way they want me to. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Also, the fact that there was no thought given to victims of abuse or other vulnerable people who would walk past and see this. I’m not able to watch it myself, but it sounds like it could trigger all manner of responses. It beggars belief that they’re defending their actions towards women in general when they’ve given no thought to these people, many of which will be women.

wtium // Posted 29 April 2012 at 2:57 pm

Not that relevant to the feminist aspects of the post but I just wanted to point out that Lush are taking the piss slightly here. Testing of cosmetics on animals has been outlawed in the UK since about 1998 (I remember it well, being an uppity 6th former at the time). Sadly, pointlessly, it does happen elsewhere in the world. But not here. Consequently I’m always confused by Lush. They never make it clear who they’re trying to stop testing cosmetics but they make out that it’s local :( It just makes everyone hate “scientists” more. Add to this a incredibly demeaning advert and you have a perfect storm of controversy. Harumph!

lil1 // Posted 29 April 2012 at 7:50 pm

What is frustrating here is a lot of the comments seem to want to rationalize people’s responses to the piece, as containing an eroticized exploitative undercurrent, as merely an interpretation conditioned by being exposed to it elsewhere – and I find that a little patronising. The artists have little to no control over what the ones operating the camera are capturing and it seemed to me amore than a bit obvious, that the woman’s slight build among other things was appropriated (not unavoidably) to have shots that dwelled on an innapropriate spectacle of her body in a way that WAS objectifying – coupled with the context of violence, it made something extremely offensive.

Whatever people’s disagreements on the the incontrovertible fact is that Lush have failed. I’ll leave my views at that I think.

Helen // Posted 1 May 2012 at 10:30 am


“As I said in my comment, I am a feminist and an animal rights activist. I am also a woman, and do not feel dehumanised and degraded by this. So stop trying to speak for all women.”

You’re right. I should have said ‘some women’ – particularly women who have been subject to domestic and sexual violence.

“If you found it sexual or erotic, you may have sadistic tendencies and that’s part of you. But you’re making major leaps and bounds to suggest that Lush deliberately made it titillating.”

At no point did I say I found it titillating. Accusing me of being a sadist because (as a sexual assault victim) I find using violence against women degrading, is over-reaching and unpleasant. This kind of violence is routinely used in pornography and that’s why people sometimes associate it with the media style of sexualisation used on women.

Helen // Posted 1 May 2012 at 10:38 am

Al: It’s a fair comment but not one I have to agree with.

The two issues can absolutely co-exist. However violence against women is a feminist issue and is still pervasive. Lush and PETA have utilised a feminist issue in order to make a point, therefore they have made it a feminist issue.

I am absolutely pro animal rights, and at perfect liberty to object to their advertising techniques, especially because I expect better from these groups.

Helen // Posted 1 May 2012 at 10:46 am

“Definitely not, what I am saying is that the author is trying to give a feminist critique of a stunt that does not impinge on women’s rights, but indeed was vehemently supported and instigated by women about another matter entirely.”

Another commentator made the (very valid) point that no-one can speak for all women or all feminists. That goes for this critique as well. While the artist presumably had nothing but good intentions and I’d support her right to do what she wants with her body wholeheartedly, I would also defend my right to critique her work.

Personally I – and others I know – find the constant depiction of women being subjected to violence difficult to handle, from a personal and political perspective.

Al // Posted 1 May 2012 at 11:30 am


“The two issues can absolutely co-exist. However violence against women is a feminist issue and is still pervasive. Lush and PETA have utilised a feminist issue in order to make a point, therefore they have made it a feminist issue.”

I think we’ll just have to disagree that Lush has utilised a feminist issue to make their point (though I agree that PETA often does, and as such I don’t think we should lump together the two organisations or their actions). As counter-intuitive as it first sounds, that this stunt portayed violence against a woman doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes any comment about violence against women; any more than (for example) a senseless physical attack of a black person by a white person necessarily says anything about the attacker’s attitude to race.

The summary of my point is that the two people in the stunt represent humans and non-humans, not men and women. The stunt uses a human issue (not a feminist issue) to make a point about animal rights, and that’s a comparison we should all be encouraged to make. That Lush wanted people to play specific gender roles based on sexist assumptions is deeply disappointing, but I’m still not convinced that they’ve hijacked or undermined a feminist issue to make their point.

Helen // Posted 1 May 2012 at 2:10 pm

Al: I have to admit my perception may be coloured by PETA and their campaigns, which have been a lot more severe.

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