Exhibition Video

I had my exhibition show yesterday for my independent study, which I have been working on all semester. As the semester is drawing to a close I will be posting finished work posts, along with information like my artist statement and materials used during my show. This is one such post.

When I first started my journey into a cruelty-free lifestyle, I was getting frustrated when people would feign interest or even empathy for the cause, but continue to go and buy products from companies that supported animal testing. I know that I’m not going to change everyone’s lifestyle, but I think that the idea of animal testing is something that people don’t get passionate about because it’s not something that is advertised frequently, or even mentioned in mainstream media as often as other social issues are.

Because of this, I knew that for my show I wanted to create a video that got to the root of these ideas. At first, it was going to be something very G-rated, like me painting my friends’ faces to look like beat up animals. However, that proved to be too difficult to organize, but also it didn’t touch on my point as strongly as I would have liked. During my research into what actually happened during animal testing trials, I stumbled across a video from the BUAV (now known as Cruelty Free International) that included undercover footage from inside a lab.

After seeing this video, I immediately had my idea. I was going to film myself doing my daily makeup routine, and intersperse videos from this BUAV video. My intention behind this video was to create a juxtaposition between the mundane activity (for me at least) of doing my makeup, with the atrocities that are occurring in this labs, to inspire a commentary on the idea of ignorance behind consumer habits, and that many people do not know what happens before some products are released to market. Additionally, I wanted people to come face to face with the realities of the conditions within the labs.

Below you will find the video that I created for this exhibition. Underneath the video will be the full BUAV video if you want to watch that. The songs used are Musique par le ballon by Emil Berliner and Space Me Out feat. Egle Sirvydyte (Mario Basanov Remix) by Downtown Party Network.

Child-Friendly Villages

The last bit of research I did into the cosmetics industry was in regards to companies’ involvement in the perpetuation of child slavery in order to mine mica for eyeshadow products. During this research, I uncovered that major industry leaders, such as L’oreal and Estée Lauder, are involved in an initiative called “Child-friendly villages” to break the cycle of child slavery in the developing world. As a Social Entrepreneurship major here in college, I was interested in doing more research into this initiative to understand how it’s set up, and to see if it actually is producing the desired results.

There is an article published back in 2008 in the India Times about these villages, which indicates that these villages have been around for a substantial amount of time, at least 6 years before the cosmetics industry decided to get involved. This initiative appears to operate on both a national and a community level basis, which helps to significantly increase accountability and willingness to participate in the desired behavioral changes. Often times with social initiatives, especially those lead by NGO’s from developed countries, individuals will come in head-strong and ready to enact change, but they do nothing to involve the members of the communities actually affected by the problem at hand. This only serves to perpetuate the problem even more because the local populations are not trained or educated on how to fix the issues at hand.

With these child-friendly villages, members of the communities affected are elected to a represent their communities on a national board. By doing so, each representative is able to present the story of their village and express their needs in order to get unique solutions, rather than trying to have and NGO implement a “one size fits all” approach. The individuals on this national board then serve as the heads of a smaller community-based group that works to ensure the programs and solutions are being implemented correctly, and that the families within their villages are not working against their cause. By keeping everything community-based, it makes the individuals in the villages more likely to work in favor of the new initiatives rather than against them because the changes are being mandated by individuals in their communities, and most likely these head individuals have been affected by issues such as child slavery.

As mentioned in the last research post I did, the main purpose behind these child-friendly village initiatives is to get the children out of harm and into the education system. Often times the children are forced into slavery because of the conditions of their home-life, and usually due to lack of education. If their parents were not educated, there is a lesser chance of the children being educated because no value is placed on the importance of an education and the power it has to break cyclical poverty. Many of the children who are representatives in their communities for these initiatives from the national board  have developed dreams of becoming teachers, lawyers, and doctors as a result of the

Many of the children who are representatives in their communities for these initiatives from the national board have developed dreams of becoming teachers, lawyers, and doctors as a result of the empowerment they’re given through education and through helping their villages improve their future by forcing families to get their children into the school system. Doing so also placed pressure on the other organizations to help increase the education system in these areas in order to keep children out of the cycle of poverty and slavery. In the India Times article, it states that

In the India Times article, it states that in the years since this program was established, 238 villages had converted to the status of child-friendly, while 43 were in the conversion process. One village head was able to convince 48 families to enroll their children in the education system within one month of being appointed to represent his village on the national board. To date, over 100,000 children have been rescued from child slavery as a result of the initiatives of NGO’s and the national board, and that number is sure to rise with the increased involvement of large multi-national companies such as those involved in the cosmetics industry.

Obviously, these villages have been established from a good amount of time, and have clearly proved effective enough, so vouching support for them is a strong business move by those large cosmetics corporations. It’s nice to see that many organizations are placing a great emphasis on sustainability within their supply chains, but as a social entrepreneurship major, I can only help but to wish that these efforts were more preemptive. It seems that these corporations are attaching their name to something that has proven to be effective rather and that will look like good PR, rather than looking to attack this issue earlier, assuming they knew about it at all before 2014. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that these organizations are taking a stand at all, but I’m coming at this from a viewpoint of risk-taking attacking an issue head on through new and innovative solutions rather than tacking your name onto an already existing solution. Nonetheless, any effort to increase global sustainability is a big win for all parties involved, and I can’t wait to see if these corporations continue with increased transparency on their involvement and efforts so that we as consumers can feel informed about the progress being made on these issues.

What Makes Change So Hard?

While this website and subsequent independent study have come about as part of my art minor requirements for graduation, my main area of focus is within Social Entrepreneurship. I declared this major after much discussion with my mother over what would be the best fit in terms of working towards my final goal – create my own makeup company. Along the way, I’ve had to opportunity to study a handful of prevalent social issues, which is ultimately where my passion for cruelty-free cosmetics come into play. After watching the video mentioned in my very first post on this site, I realized that within the cosmetics industry, there exist multiple areas in which the principles of social entrepreneurship can be applied in order to both increase profits but also promote sustainable livelihoods for all people around the globe.

As I started my venture into mapping out my plan for my final portfolio of products, I knew I wanted to incorporate something to spread a message about the child labor used in farming mica to create cosmetics products. However, I realized that I couldn’t base all I knew of this topic off of one video I watched. Thus, I set out to find more research and stumbled upon some pretty interesting pieces of information.

The exposure of child labor within the farming of mica, and thus within the supply chains for many cosmetics companies, was exposed slightly over a decade ago. You would think that the exposure of this would be enough to kickstart major changes in these provinces to prevent this and find more sustainable ways to obtain such a vital ingredient. However, as often is the case, the developed world, i.e the places where resources are plenty, has pushed other causes to the forefront of their minds. Thus, child labor continues to exist within supply chains.

Of course, coming from a social entrepreneurship stance, I know that it’s not as simple as sending people with resources into these areas of need. Instead, solutions need to be established at the local level in order to empower these populations and provide them with skills and opportunities that bring about better livelihoods than farming mica would. Teaching these individuals transferable skills, or getting them into classrooms instead of the mines, proves to be entirely more beneficial for both their futures and the immediate community.

I was excited to see that big name companies like Estée Lauder and L’oreal have been attached to social initiatives like “child-friendly villages” and the National Resource Stewardship Council Summit in order to help provide substitutions like funding for child-friendly villages to help children subjected to working in the mines instead find safety within the classroom. Additionally, they have committed to being extremely traceable in their supply chains and suppliers, in order to work towards sourcing only from legal mines.

However, while these steps are good, much like animal cruelty, other companies have yet to come onboard. It’s interesting to me that these large companies, that happen to be supporting animal testing while they sell in China, have committed to working towards ending child labor. What’s to say that one issue is not more pressing than the other when in reality they both equally deserve attention and commitment to change in order to protect all lives. I’m interested to monitor the progress of these villages to see if the support of these large companies is able to make a significant amount of change in sustainable mining practices. If so, who’s to say that these corporations can’t also have a large impact in the fight to end both child labor and animal testing.

As a Social Entrepreneurship major, it is nice to know that the dreams I’ve been holding onto for years now won’t go to waste, as there remains both large gaps for opportunity, and existing trends for the success of social enterprises and initiatives within this large industry. I’m excited to watch this industry evolve to become more sustainable and focused on the triple bottom line as our earth’s resources continue to run scarce.

Resistance to Change

I haven’t been cruelty-free for long, just a little over a year now. I have very distinct memories of watching Legally Blonde 2 in high school but not really thinking there was any fact behind the comedy when it came to the animal testing talked about in that movie. Don’t get me wrong, I knew animal testing was a thing that happened in the cosmetics industry, but I blissfully and very optimistically believed that it wasn’t present or prevalent in society. So, for 20 years I went through life buying whatever makeup struck my eye or was being hyped up in commercials and magazines everywhere.

Because I was so blissfully unaware of the situation, I think this is was made me so shocked when I stumbled upon a post on Pinterest titled “2016 cruelty-free cheat sheet.” With my optimism, I figured everything would be cruelty-free because if science has a way of cloning animals then it certainly has had to have figured out a way to remove animal testing from its chemical testing process. Finding this post was a true awakening for me. Immediately that Saturday I sat down and devoted however long it was going to take to completely purge all items deemed not cruelty-free from my life. I didn’t care that I had already purchased the product and thus supported the company in their testing, I wanted everything gone.

My friends certainly didn’t complain when I gifted them hundreds of dollars in makeup, because really who is going to question when your friend hands you a bag filled solely with Tom Ford lipsticks. But the more I started telling people why I was giving away all these products, the more I began to notice something strange happen: Not a single person truly cared. Whether I was in the bathroom of my sorority house talking about toothpaste as we brushed our teeth, or standing in the aisles of Sephora as my friends piled items into their basket, no one who I told cared one bit that they’re supporting the continued testing, and dare I say torture, of innocent animals.

Maybe I’m in a unique position because in my major the principal of empathy is emphasized over and over again. Maybe I empathize with the animals, as strange as that sounds. I’m not trying to insinuate that my friends aren’t empathetic, but I’m trying to understand and rationalize why my closest friends aren’t bothered to change their lifestyles like I was when I found out a treatment I thought was so ancient was still being practiced BY LAW in some countries.

I’ve started noticing one of my friends has become more conscientious of companies that are cruelty-free or not when we’re out shopping. I’ve even noticed her recently be compiling products that are cruelty-free as well. Who’s to say whether her change in habits is because of the amount of time we’ve spent together, or due to the quantity of big name brands that are openly transparent about their cruelty-free status I cannot say for sure. However, it is reassuring to see that it is possible to influence another’s actions to help support your cause, it’s just a matter of pushing through their comforts of purchasing the same tried and true products that they gravitate towards everytime they’re in a store.

Maybe it’s a behavioral change rather than a state of mind that needs to be changed in order to get people more motivated to take part in the cruelty-free movement. I find it disheartening when individuals don’t care about how their actions can affect the lives of innocent creatures, but that in itself seems to be a huge issue radiating across this country especially. Through the art pieces I’m working to create, I would love to dig deeper and explore why people are so receptive to my changing lifestyle but are hesitant and often times highly resistant to taking the leap themselves.

Guinea pigs, Rabbits, and Rats – Oh My!

Today was the first day of my Independent Study, and naturally, my first instinct was to actually look into what goes down during the animal testing process. Obviously, I had a basic understanding of what happens inside those laboratories from wonderful classics like Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & and Blonde,  and from a friend sharing tales her mother’s job, which was to conduct this testing process. However, I didn’t know more beyond this, and figured if I was going to spend a whole semester dedicating time to exploring this process and how a whole industry is hiding this to their consumers, I wanted to be more informed.

What I was really interested in, apart from the nitty gritty of the specifics, was why rabbits? Rabbits have become the face of the cruelty-free campaign. Just look at the certification standard of “Leaping Bunny.” Even a simple google search of animal testing results in a page chalk full of rabbits, sprinkled in with some mice. What makes the bunny so prone to being a target for laboratories over any other animal that’s out there?

The answer is quite simple actually in that rabbits are docile. Sure, they have teeth and claws, but apart from Donnie Darko and the one-off mall Easter Bunny, when has anyone ever really been afraid of rabbits? Being so docile makes them easy to be restrained, as they always are for added insurance that they can’t fight back. Additionally, rabbits are cheap to maintain as animals, and can reproduce quickly, providing the labs and scientists with a plethora of test subjects once the old ones inevitably die off. The biggest selling point for labs is that rabbits have no tear ducts. This makes them especially useful for eye irritation and corrosion tests. They can cry out any chemical placed into their eyeballs, so they retain more and are thus more susceptible to portraying the full effects of whatever they’re exposed to.

Apart from rabbits, the next most popular animal to undergo testing within the cosmetics industry are rats/mice. It’s already a well-established fact that rats are used heavily within the scientific community to test a number of illnesses, vaccines, etc. Similarly to rabbits, rats are easy to come across, docile, and can reproduce quickly. Unlike rabbits they do have tear ducts, so aren’t much good when it comes to an eye test. However, mice and rats are said to have characteristics that resemble those of us humans. Due to this, scientists favor rats for every test under the sun, apart from the eyes, assuming that whatever reaction occurs within the mouse population is more than likely to occur within the human species under the same product exposure. As I am not a scientist, I can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of this assumption, but we are not rats for some key evolutionary reasons, so from a consumer’s point of view I cannot get behind any claim that starts with “It had this effect on mice so…” because I am not a mouse.

The last animal that appeared during my research into cosmetic testings were guinea pigs. I was surprised to find them here because according to the PETA website, guinea pigs, unlike mice, are protected under the Animal Welfare Act. This means that there are increased regulations when it comes to utilizing these animals as test subjects. One would think that this would deter scientists from opting into testing on them, but there is a key factor that proves to outweigh the negatives. Guinea Pigs have been shown to have biological similarities to humans. Due to this, guinea pigs are only used during certain skin test that look at the external reactions to certain products, but they’re still being forced to sustain themselves within adverse living conditions. It just goes to show you that even though something may be protected, if the pros outweigh the cons anything can be possible.

It’s quite disheartening to read about all of this information and uncover that ultimately the sole reason these creatures are targeted are due to their docile nature and brief similarities to another species that is deemed superior. There is research out there, especially through Humane Society International, regarding changes in practices that prove to be both safe and efficient, but it is clear that these haven’t become as nearly accepted as the animal testing practices. In fact, there are whole countries out in the global market that require, by law, the practice of animal testing.

What does animal testing prove in the long run? It proves that we, as humans, have the ability to control and manipulate the lives of other creatures to create less than substantial scientific claims. In this era of scientific innovation, claims made during animal testing process, especially within the cosmetics industry, hold little to no merit. There’s already vast amounts of research about what chemicals work, what mixtures are safe, and what are not. You’d be hard-pressed to find a company that is seeking to venture into new chemicals or new territories. Sure companies seek out different formulations of the same mixtures, but they still stick with the same tried and true ingredients because antiquated science told us it works and it’s safe. My pH balance is not the same as a rabbit, or a guinea pig, or a rat. They aren’t the ones wearing the products on a daily basis so they should not be forced to endure the testing.