PETA gives you body image issues?

One of the featured posts in the inaugural Big Fat Carnival discussed sizeism coming from an interesting place–radical activists. A lot of people, including animal rights activists, have some issues with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Yet vegankid raised a really interesting point from a new perspective on the PETA debate in her piece, which I read while eating teriyaki tempeh over brown rice.

PETA uses fat phobia as a tool. In ad campaigns, PETA tells viewers that “meat makes you FAT!” In GoVeg kits, PETA stresses that a good reason to go vegetarian is to lose weight. Because, gosh, who would want to be fat. I mean yeah it would be nice to stop oppressing the animals, but also you can LOSE WEIGHT in the process! How exciting!

For those of you that haven’t yet figured this out, eating meat does not necessarily make you fat, and being vegetarian isn’t a guarantee of slenderness. I, for example, was a plump vegan. Your weight is determined by a wide variety of environmental, genetic, and sociological factors. PETA, I note, doesn’t offer extensive dietary recommendations–magically, once you turn vegetarian, the pounds will start dropping off, you see.

Alas, it’s probably a good advertising scheme for PETA. Many Americans, especially teenage girls, are concerned about their weight. Teenage girls being rather impressionable, I’m sure PETA is well aware that they can be brought into the fold with promises of a smaller dress size. However, as vegankid notes, a lot of people (especially teens) use veganism to disguise an eating disorder, with the old “oh there’s nothing vegan here, I’ll eat later” trick. I’m not certain that it’s socially responsible of PETA to be promoting veganism as a weight loss strategy, at least not without proper nutritional advice. It’s peculiar for a social justice organization to be ignoring a growing (so to speak) sector of American society, isn’t it?

One of the biggest complaints I have about PETA is that I feel like it alienates the masses through “extreme” activism. Although PETA certainly isn’t as radical as, say, the Animal Liberation Front, PETA does sometimes get up to some extreme stunts. For more moderate vegans and vegetarians fighting for animal equality in more subtle ways, PETA can be very frustrating. Just as some progress is made in one sector of animal rights, PETA goes and does something silly, sending us back another step.

Sometimes, in order to win converts to a cause, one should “play moderate” in the process, in order to be more accessible. PETA, apparently, hasn’t yet learned this activism strategy, or taken it to heart, at any rate.

PETA also uses a lot of objectification in their ad campaigns–scantily clad (thin) women, for example. In fact, PETA’s ad campaigns are probably the only arm of the company which does reach out to the masses and try to establish common ground. It unfortunately happens that common ground lies in well established, patriarchy dominated territory. PETA sometimes seems to be struggling with corporate image in search of a noble goal–animal equality. But it distresses me, as it does vegankid, that PETA has made the choice to ignore the fat proud. PETA certainly isn’t ignoring fat people, perse, if it’s targeting advertisements at people with size issues. Obviously, fat acceptance activists are all fat because we eat meat and are unhealthy, and it’s probably pointless to try and convert us to the path of righteousness. Although there are a lot of fat vegan animal rights activists. Even though there are clearly skinny carnivores. If PETA had an ad campaign saying “eating meat makes you JEWISH,” the response would be unmitigated fury. As well it should be. But, as usual, it’s ok to marginalize fat America, since we’re not really people.

What PETA is doing, really, is encouraging a culture of body image issues and eating disorders. Veganism is not an eating disorder, but it’s a handy camouflage. I think PETA needs to consider using “FAT” as a motivational tool–don’t they want long living, healthy vegans, not skinny emaciated specimens that look as though they are about to drop dead? Shouldn’t everyone fighting for animal rights be welcome, not just the skinny and “fit”?