Tuesday, January 01, 2013

PETA Couldn't Care Less About the Ethical Treatment of Women

Hope you're enjoying this holiday season! This week is traditionally my blog-cation and so instead of writing new posts, here is a favourite of mine from back in 2009.
My sister received this invitation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) last week. It invited her to a veggie dog lunch hosted by two Playboy "playmates" clad in lettuce bikinis.

Sadly PETA has a long tradition of objectifying women to promote their message and I feel that PETA's campaigns do more to contribute to body image issues among women and normalizing their objectification for the population and other advertisers, than actually promoting such things as vegetarianism.

I think the message PETA's trying to convey is that vegetarianism is sexy, and if you feel that nearly nude playmates and porn stars epitomize both sex and health then maybe they are doing a good job. Judge for yourselves. Head over to their youtube channel and you can watch plenty of videos with scantily clad young women in their "sexy celebrity videos" section which also include endorsements from porn stars and another with women in bikinis making out. Interestingly, of the 25 "sexy celebrity videos" only three involved men and of those, only one was scantily clad (Dennis Rodman).

PETA, I'm not buying it and frankly I can't imagine that the best way to promote the ethical treatment of animals is to objectify women.

I decided to write to Ashley Byrne from PETA to hear what they had to say for themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly I have yet to hear back from her.

Here's my letter and right below it is a video from the event my sister was invited to. Watch the video and let me know if you think that those women in lettuce bikinis did anything for the promotion of PETA's cause.
Dear Ashley,

My name is Yoni Freedhoff and I’m a physician in Canada with a special interest in nutrition and obesity. I’m also a blogger and currently I’m writing a piece about your recent event held at the Rayburn House Office Building and the advertisement featuring a lettuce clad Playboy Playmate and of course a meet and greet with Playboy’s Playmate of the Year.

My concern of course is how events and advertisements like these serve to objectify women and in turn contribute to disordered body image in the population. Did you know that studies in the United States have shown that almost half of girls aged 6-8 want to be thinner (1), that stigmatization based on weight and looks can begin as early as the age of 3 (2) and that body image distress is one of the strongest predictors of developing an eating disorder (3)?

Frankly I find PETA’s use of objectified women in their campaigns to be surprising given your mandate and I’m wondering if you might have a comment regarding why the ethical treatment of women is seemingly not of consequence to you?


Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD CCFP Dip ABBM
Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute
575 West Hunt Club, Suite 100
Ottawa ON K2G5W5

1. Dohnt, H., Tiggerman M. (2006) Body image concerns in young girls: The role of peers and media prior to adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 35(2):141-151
2. Cramer, P., Steinwert, T. (1998) Thin is good, fat is bad: How early does it begin? J App Dev Psychol. 19: 429–451
3. Striegel-Moore RH., Bulik CM. (2007) Risk Factors for Eating Disorders. Am Psychol. Apr;62(3):181-98.

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  1. PETA... People Eating Taste Animals...

  2. Rebecca10:26 am

    PETA has many of us vegans shaking our heads, too. I know that if I received an invitation like that, as a woman, I would not be at ALL interested in attending. Since I believe there are way more female than male vegans at this point, I question PETA's tactics at appealing to the sorts of men this would entice, and would love to know their success rate in converting said men.

  3. Anonymous12:07 pm

    I would be interested to know if, three years later, you had received a response of any kind to your inquiry.

  4. Hi Dr. Yoni:

    I'm a man, a lifestyle vegan, and an active PETA supporter. These PETA events are fun, and the women involved do this voluntarily, which is more than can be said for the animals who involuntarily participate in the diets of omnivores. I strongly respect women and women's rights, but I also enjoy lighthearted fun. In the case of campaigns such as this one, PETA is trying to alleviate animal suffering by reaching out to a demographic who are not being reached by other methods. Why be so critical of an organization that is trying so hard to promote healthier living and reduce the horror experienced by over 9 billion animals that are needlessly slaughtered in the US alone each year for "food", when healthier food is available? I greatly respect the advice and information you provide on health and nutrition, sir, but why not leave feminist issues to real feminists?

    1. Wow!!! You really do not know what the word feminist means, when you say "...why not leave feminist issues to real feminists?". If one believes in supporting women's issues and liberating women rights, that makes one a feminist. Yes, there are famous feminist like, Fanny Wright, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth and Gloria Steinem, just to name a few. But you do not need to be famous to be a feminist. So let the good doctor speak, because he stands up for women's equality and rights. So that would make Dr. Freedhoff, as you like to put it a "real feminist".

    2. Anonymous3:11 am

      PETA kills more animals than it "rescues"


  5. Anonymous4:53 pm

    Eric: Ever heard of the expression Two Wrong's Don't Make a Right?
    Sexist behaviour is sexist behaviour, no matter who points it out. And anyone is free to call it that. Just how do you define a "real feminist" anyway? Using women's bodies to attract attention makes Peta's message and image cheap and frivolous. Should models or porn stars be role models for anybody?
    You have not addressed the matter of body image with so many young girls thinking they are too fat. How do you know that the men who come to your events don't stop off door some cheeseburgers or a big juicy steak afterwards? I think that the people who plan these events want to attract photographers, and they are not thinking very hard beyond that.

  6. It's true that PETA SOMETIMES uses attractive, slender women to promote veganism. They do a lot of other things as well. And they don't just exclusively use women, they also use men for some of the same events. I know because I've volunteered to do this type of event. PETA is not advocating that women must be slender to be attractive, that's where you all are missing the point. ALL VEGAN WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL REGARDLESS OF BODY TYPE. PETA is simply staging entertaining events to promote animal welfare and encouraging people to adopt plant based diets. The average vegan is healthier, with lower weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, taking fewer meds, etc., than the average omnivore. What do you think will get more publicity, a press conference to talk about those things or scantily clad, extremely healthy women and men who embrace this lifestyle? Call it sexist if you'd like, I call it effective advertising and well designed marketing. If you would like to see my before and after pictures and read my story of profound weight loss and transformation through a plant based diet, my story is posted on my blog here: http://vegandinnerparties.com/thank-you-mr-clinton/ Regarding my suggestion to Dr. Freedhoff about sticking to what he does best, as a medical doctor with exceptional writing and critical reasoning skills, he can accomplish much more with his fact and evidence-based posts about nutrition and obesity than he can with opinions and perceptions about women's issues and criticizing what other organizations do to promote healthy nutrition and reduce obesity.

    1. It seems that men need some liberation. Why not put Ryan Gosling in a lettuce bikini next time?

  7. There is absolutely no evidence that supports the notion that women who live in societies with more restrictive ideas about how they should dress somehow fare better with body-image issues. In fact, if you think about it, women who live in societies that allow them to make their own choices about their bodies have more rights and privileges than their more restricted counterparts, which, in my opinion, can only make women feel BETTER about themselves.

  8. Hi Yoni - I really wonder sometimes who at PETA comes up with these campaigns. They have also had a history of engaging in weight bias. You might recall that back in 2009 they had a billboard campaign in Florida that featured a headless overweight women in a bikini with the slogan "Save the Whales – Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian." The Obesity Action Coalition and others effectively pressured them into ending the campaign - but it was seen by thousands (http://www.obesityaction.org/newsroom/news-releases/2009-news-releases/oac-calls-on-peta-to-immediately-end-campaign-stigmatizing)
    Perhaps this is the result of relating better to animals than your fellow human beings?

    Happy New Year to you!


  9. PETA gets attention with these kinds of stunts but I'm not sure it reflects positively on the organization or its message that they can't come up with any way to get their point across that doesn't involved naked or near-naked women. I remember the "I'd rather be naked than wear fur" message, as well as it's campaign where for some reason, women were in cages. They seem to have a lack of imagination and a lack of respect for women.

    I don't think that this is lighthearted and fun. It seems to me that well-cared for animals would be better "spokespeople" for PETA's message than silly people in sillier outfits. I'd rather pay attention to groups like the ASPCA, who have an serious commitment to caring for animals.

  10. Those huge surgically implanted silicone boobs don't go along with protecting animals aka humans aka women. Would Peta support collagen for my pet bunny's ears?

  11. Anonymous4:45 pm

    Shorter Eric- 'shut up and sing'.

    "PETA is not advocating that women must be slender to be attractive, that's where you all are missing the point. ALL VEGAN WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL REGARDLESS OF BODY TYPE."
    So why don't these pictures show average vegan women, without silicone, with all the normal variation you get in real life?

    "What do you think will get more publicity, a press conference to talk about those things or scantily clad, extremely healthy women and men who embrace this lifestyle? Call it sexist if you'd like, I call it effective advertising and well designed marketing."

    I don't see many men.

    So basically you're saying if sexism 'works' to further another cause, embrace it? Would it be right to hold a bunny-slaughter to promote feminism?

    This stuff is what Peta is all about- not saving animals. Didn't they kill some 18,000 'rescued' animals in late December? Not to mention their notoriously bad kill rates at their shelter. http://yesbiscuit.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/peta-partners-with-a-local-ac-unit-in-killing-19000-animals/


  12. Anonymous9:44 am

    I am tired of this feminist crap.

    1. Anonymous10:02 pm

      Well bully for you, dickhead.

  13. Harsha Pandav10:39 am

    Really mature of PETA to keep up with these. I've been a vegetarian 20 years now, don't buy leather or fur either. I used to support PETA at a point, but stopped when I realized that my hard earned money was going to paychecks for little nude nymphos instead of true animal welfare. PETA has made a public joke about themselves by doing this, as well as by the silly campaigns where they tend to bully people into hearing them out, like throwing tomatoes at models, say.

    Genuinely hope they wake up and smell the coffee.

  14. Anonymous9:28 pm

    Peta needs to wake up. They want to portrait vegetarianism as a sexy lifestyle. I totally agree, but do we have to do it with vapid, insipid, airheads who can't even spell PETA, yet alone the word - vegetarian? There are SO many gorgeous, sexy and brilliant women out there who could champion the campaign in an intelligent and sexy manner and bring elegance, class,and sophistication to the organization. The message would still resonate the same without the sleaze and without cheapening or deflating a certain demographic.

  15. Anonymous8:18 pm

    Sorry Peta,
    I have seen many overweight vegetarians:(