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A Vegan Fashion Statement on Gender and Class

A Vegan Fashion Statement on Gender and Class

An exciting new clothing line, VAUTE, has launched in Brooklyn, New York featuring completely vegan fashion that is both eco-friendly and functional.  Vaute Couture has been receiving tons of positive media attention from the likes of Oprah.com and TEEN VOGUE.  Vaute achieves great style without the ethical compromise…at least for Nonhuman Animals.

A high profile vegan company is something we should all be excited about.  Normalizing vegan culture is hugely important for breaking down negative stereotypes about ethical living and Nonhuman Animal advocacy.  However, that media presence also brings with it a responsibility to the humans as well.  In previous articles with One Green Planet, I have discussed the harmful consequences of presenting a particular vegan demographic to the public:  one that sexualizes women and presents a largely unrealistic body type.  Vaute appears to be somewhat typical of the modern fashion scene (and the Nonhuman Animal rights movement) in portraying sexualized and objectified women who are extremely thin.

While I was pleased to see that Vaute’s models are racially diverse, their models (mostly women) are, for the most part, thin…very thin in fact.  Research has shown that thin media images increase body dissatisfaction, particularly among young girlsThis exposure is also linked to eating disorders, which not only affects girls and women, but also boys and men.  For these reasons, my excitement over the successful new vegan company is understandably tempered.

Vaute models are shown in poses that insinuate sexual availability, submissiveness, and lack of agency.  Again, this is not atypical.  Sociologist Erving Goffman has noted that women in advertisements are frequently shown with agape mouths, awkward and unbalanced positions, vacant stares, or leaning on (or being held by) men.  All of this is intended to reinforce stereotypical gender roles for women in a patriarchal society—vulnerability, dependence, and sexual servitude.  In many cases, the models are wearing pink or purple wigs or have bows in their hair.  Sometimes they are shown with juvenile makeup, postures, and expressions which effectively infantilize them.  Sometimes the models do not even appear to be real women at all, but rather colorful dolls strewn on faux fur carpets or propped up as though they lack any agency…or heartbeat.

While this utilization of the female body is typical of fashion advertising and might seem harmless, the sexual objectification of women (and the sexualization of childhood) has serious implications in a culture that systematically devalues girls and women and trivializes (and sometimes condones) violence against women.  Check out Caroline Heldman’s TED talk on sexual objectification or for more information on how this phenomenon proliferates in the media, how to spot it, and how to combat it.  Another excellent resource is The Codes of Gender, a film that sociologically deconstructs gender representations in the media.

Another concern with the rise of “high fashion” veganism is the issue of access.  Products for sale from Vaute and Natalie Portman’s vegan shoe line, for instance, can cost several hundred dollars.  One of the prevailing negative stereotypes about vegan living is the presumed affluence required to sustain it.  This is not to say that more expensive products should always be avoided—sometimes price reflects living wages, ethical sourcing, etc.  However, the glamorization of such products and the uncritical celebration of pricy vegan accessories could reinforce the notion that veganism is only for the middle and upper classes, that veganism is “too expensive.”

Vegan companies that pride themselves in ethical business products should pay close attention to how their practices may be hurting vulnerable groups (specifically lower socioeconomic status individuals, children, and women).  It is absolutely commendable that the welfare of oppressed Nonhuman Animals is being prioritized, but the suffering of oppressed human animals must also be considered.

Photograph by Anthony Two Moons.  Used with permission from VAUTE.

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