“Fame is like a suffocating castle besieged by the enemy.” – Mehmet Ildan
Would Beyoncé be condemned by environmental activists were she not a superstar?
While the news of Beyoncé doing lip-sync during the President Inauguration rocked the pop music world, the world of environmental activists quaked with outrage against her Christian Dior fur coat and mink lashes. Just in February, our beloved Beyoncé was harshly criticized by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for her Super Bowl outfit– a scanty costume allegedly made from python, cow and iguana. Now she is under fire again for her new pair of skin sneakers (it surely is not so hard to imagine her closet as a museum for passed-away animals). According to various sources, this particular pair of sneakers is made from five different types of animals: ostrich feathers, stingray leather, calf’s fur, crocodile leather and anaconda leathers. Some fashionistas may stand in awe of this exotic combination of animal skins, but animal activists recoil in horror of this combo. PETA said, “Today’s fashions are trending toward humane vegan options, and Beyoncé’s Super Bowl outfit missed the mark on that score.”
PETA wrote in their letter against Beyoncé’s Super Bowl outfit, “What does it mean when one of the most popular musicians in the world endorses the fur trade in such a dramatic way?” Their outrage is not totally unfounded. As a superstar who was ranked by Forbes as one of the most powerful celebrities (#16) and the most powerful women (#32), with over seven million followers on Twitter, Beyoncé undeniably has a strong influence over her fans. Her hairstyles and her fashion tastes are closely monitored by not only paparazzi, but also her zealous followers. What is Beyoncé conveying to her fans through her animal-skinned outfit? Let us just enjoy lavish and glamorous outfit at the expense of those poor dead animals?
Reading Hey, Beyoncé, It’s Your Look, but Maybe His Moment (The New York Times), any animal activists will jump up in alarm when they see a torrent of comments gushing ‘great outfit’, ‘excellent design’ or ‘I’m in love with that outfit’. Indeed, the outfit is glamorous. Still, do these fashion-lovers and Beyoncé-lovers ever think about those animals beaten and skinned to create that beautiful costume? Have these people seen the video footage on Chinese Fur Farms made by the Swiss Animal Protection (SAP)? The word disturbing does not even begin to describe the viewers’ feelings.
Many of Beyoncé’s fans criticize PETA for its harsh comments. There have been arguments like, “PETA is a bully- it actually does nothing substantial in protecting animal rights” and “What if the animal is already dead?”
I am not Beyoncé’s anti-fan, nor am I a PETA supporter. However, I must say that Beyoncé’s fans have totally missed the crux of the matter when they criticize PETA’s effectiveness in protecting animal rights. The issue here resides with Beyoncé’s choice of outfit. PETA merely happens to be the one pointing out her rather inappropriate choice. The latter argument upon dead animals is even more out-of-touch. Here’s the fact: a great amount of animal skins utilized in the fashion industry are illegal. According to the report of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the extremely lucrative ($1 billion for the year 2012) python-skin trade in Southeast Asia more than often is illegal trade. Furthermore, even with agreements and legislation in place- take for example the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species- poor enforcement and lack of manpower often makes it impossible to ensure that the animal trade is legitimate and cruelty-free. Furthermore, there will always be financial incentive to be involved in illegal trade. According to the report by ITC, a piece of snake skin that a villager in Indonesia might sell for $30 will end up as a bag in fashion boutiques in France or Italy selling for $15,000. Who can be certain that the piece of python skin used for Queen Bey’s sneakers is legal?
Celebrities have a choice to live their lives, just like a John Doe does. From one point of view, celebrities, as employees of the entertainment industry, fulfill their roles by entertaining the masses. However, for others, given their ‘obscene’ amount of income and status, celebrities have greater social responsibility as well. Therein lays the big question: who is to define and outline “social responsibility” for celebrities?
It is not that Beyoncé has not done anything to give back to the community. Her representative once released “an abbreviated list of the unselfish work Beyoncé has done and continues to do”, listing tens of charity works involving Queen Bey like donating 100K in 2008 to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund to aid Texas victims of Hurricane Ike or performing at numerous charity concerts. It will be unfair to compare celebrities’ “Charity To-Do Lists”; yet one cannot help but wonder about Beyoncé’s sincerity in her contribution. While most of her charitable works are in terms of donation (which is, of course, not a difficulty for Queen Bey, who, together with her husband Jay-Z, makes the richest celebrity couple), celebrities like Harry Belafonte played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, being one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidant; George Clooney is a huge supporter for the Darfur cause, and has done many concrete acts aside from giving his money away. It is time celebrities like Beyoncé uses their powerful influence to rally the masses for noble causes. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts are good platform to promote debate and endorsement of humanitarian and environmental works. Their popularity and stardom status are effective leverages.
As role models for millions of fans from all walks of life, celebrities are therefore partly responsible for their influence upon their fans’ choice of goods also. Beyoncé, while we understand that you love Isabel Marant’s design, you should consider PETA’s recommendation, “We hope that Beyonce will choose to wear more clothes from her own clothing line, which features faux fur, and that one day, she’ll go completely cruelty-free”.
Being a celebrity means bearing a huge responsibility. That includes how one dresses as well.