In keeping with the tradition of its parent organisation of using women's bodies to grab eyeballs for animal rights activism, PETA India has released a poster featuring a strategically covered Sunny Leone on a bed of red chillies. The caption reads: Sizzling Sunny Leone proclaims "Spice up your life, go vegetarian!"
As was only to be expected, the poster has raised the hackles of some social media users who believe that such "vulgarity" has no place in Indian "culture". This morality argument is, of course, questionable considering the kinds of violence we're able to forgive in the name of culture. But PETA's blatant objectification of women demands that questions be raised.
From labelling women's bodies according to meat cuts to inserting naked women in posters for the heck of it, PETA has done it all. One of their ads titled 'Veggie Love' even had women simulate sex with vegetables to promote the vegetarian life! They've also run some extremely controversial campaigns like their Holocaust one – which compared victims in concentration camps to animals, and humans exploiting animals to the Nazis.
PETA's point is quite simple - animals and humans are the same. Their campaigns, therefore, intend to shock you into having that epiphany. However, one wonders why PETA only uses conventionally “perfect” bodies, specifically those of women, to drive home their point. If their intention is to make the public empathise with animals by imagining their own human bodies in their place, why not use people (including celebrities) who have the usual body flaws? And why are the nudes almost always women?
If the intention is to "reform" and not titillate, PETA's campaigns are far from moving anyone towards that direction. What does the Sunny Leone poster suggest? That going vegetarian will give you a body like hers? Or that your sex life will be spicier because you went vegetarian? Neither of these claims is factual and PETA is no better than your average deodorant or bike commercial that “sell” women's bodies to sell their product.
PETA fails to acknowledge that in the patriarchal and misogynistic world that we live in today, women already are meat. The female body is so sexualised – with each part of it fetishised in popular culture – that their campaign equating women's bodies with that of animal meat doesn’t highlight animal rights so much as undermine the cause of women’s rights to their bodies. As is apparent with the kind of sexual comments that their posters attract.
PETA India has, so far, been conservative in its advertising when compared to campaigns its parent organisation has run in other countries. The Sunny Leone ad is almost "chaste" when you put it next to some of their other posters.
However, it's important for the organisation, which prides itself so much on ethics, to reflect on their advertising strategy and ask themselves if they're not adding to the already toxic levels of misogyny in the country. Sure, people will talk about the ad. But they are just as likely to do it over a bucket of KFC chicken as they are over a plate of salad.