Lush have caused a bit of a storm around their latest campaign to raise awareness of cosmetic testing on animals. They staged a publicity stunt in their London store which involved a female performance artist being treated as an animal test subject. The images from this stunt have been posted around Lush's social media pages and were emailed to people on their mailing list, and have caused a lot of distress, as the whole set up is extremely evocative of violence against women. The test subject is clearly a woman, and she is shown being restrained and essentially tortured by the male scientist. We are not talking vague parallels here, we are talking a woman being restrained by her ponytail whilst liquid is shoved down her throat, amongst other things. The video that Lush made of the performance can be seen here (but MASSIVE TRIGGER WARNING FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN).
Lush have fanned the flames somewhat by posting a message on their blog in response to criticisms that the stunt was in very poor taste given that the imagery was very obviously evocative of violence against women, and no trigger warnings about the potential distressing nature of the content were given when they shared the video (never mind to the poor people walking down the street when the stunt was occurring!). Lush's campaign manager writes:
“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.”
Lush's response, if anything, proves that the criticisms of them are justified: this was not an error of judgement, but a calculated use of the imagery of violence against women to get across a political point about cosmetics testing. Not only have Lush completely failed to apologise properly to the women they have offended, triggered and distressed – and believe me, those women definitely exist, I am one of them – but they also try to justify the parallels they clearly drew between violence against women and testing on animals. If there's one thing women don't need, it's a supposedly ethical company equating women with animals and using it to make their point.
Criticising Lush will likely make many activists uncomfortable, as Lush is known as a company which stands firmly behind its ethical beliefs, and gives money to activist organisations. If this were a larger more commercial company using such imagery in an advertising stunt, for example, I very much doubt anyone would hesitate to criticise their conduct. However, being a good person is not a justification for doing a bad thing, and the same applies to Lush. No matter how fluffy, ethical and lefty your company may be – and no matter how good your point is – you cannot use the abuse of women to get that point across.
You can also read RHUL FemSoc member Megan Wright's views on the Lush controversy here.