I felt sexy once. I was thirty-eight and had a full-length fake fur coat. I was already vegan and stuck a big “IT’S FAKE!” button on the coat, but the attention I got while wrapped in something that imitated animal fur was extraordinary. Men looked at me lustfully, and women looked at me jealously. Everyone seemed to be giving me credit for having more money, more style, more sophistication, and tons more sexiness than I did. For awhile, I liked the attention. Then it started to get uncomfortable. Until people got up close and could either feel the fabric or see the button, I was getting perks for looking as if I’d bought into unspeakable cruelty and exploitation. I wore that coat for one winter, and it went in the box for Goodwill the next.
So “sexy” has never been high on my “how you feel about yourself” list. That’s why I went through several days of mental angst before the entering the “Peta’s Sexiest Vegan Over 50” competition this fall. I’d have far more readily entered a contest called “Most Attractive” or “Most Vibrant” — those seem far more health and attitude. I wouldn’t have felt qualified to enter for “Fittest Vegan Over 50,” although I might have promised to go nuts at the gym and enter next year. But “Sexiest”? Ooo, that’s tough. Maybe because I went to Catholic school….
But it’s Peta, and of all the animal rights groups out there, this one has used human sexuality to benefit nonhuman animals effectively from the first “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign decades ago. Peta actually runs three “sexiest” contests every year: your basic “Sexiest Vegan” (I see that one as ravishing twenty-somethings), “Sexiest Vegan Next Door” (I think of those winners as in their 30s, possibly 40s, really good-looking but accessible), and “SVO50” — the mature but hot category. I admire the way Peta operates these contests, choosing both male and female winners — one past winner is transgendered — and I’m especially pleased that they have the over-50 category. We can be sexy (we can even have sex, as creepy as that might strike those younger), and we can be effective for animal rights in some very important ways.
For starters, a high percentage of vegans in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s are as healthy and vibrant as others half their age. Now, I realize that a lot of older people are eating well, living well, and doing well. How much of the vegans-stay-healthier-longer thing has to do with diet, how much with engagement in a dynamic liberation movement and the sense of community that provides, and how much is simply luck and heredity, has yet to be determined, but I want to make vegans. If the fact that I’ve reached sixty-six with all normal lab numbers, no meds, energy to spare, and a pleasant enough appearance is sufficient aspiration to encourage others to stop eating animals, then I’m willing to strut my stuff — the wrath of Sister Mary Benedict notwithstanding.
The competition process was nerve-wracking. I don’t like competition. Any one of the finalists could have been deemed “sexiest” by many measures. Reading what people wrote who voted, though, was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had. People wrote about being influenced by my books and lectures, about attending Main Street Vegan Academy and how it changed their lives. Some people wrote that simply observing my life as a vegan inspired them, proving what I’ve believed all along, that veganism is, in itself, activism, because people are watching and taking note. Of the people who voted publicly, the youngest one I know of is eleven, and the eldest 93. They inspire me right back.
I plan to post “Sexy Elder Vegan Chronicles” as the year of my “reign” alongside male winner Joel Kahn, MD, progresses. My intention is to look at animal rights from the perspective of someone who was around before the term was coined, and to observe vegans proceeding through life and note how we do. I want to study speciesism and ageism and see where these dual wrongs intersect; and go out into the world with the knowledge that women who are no longer having babies are in a unique position to make this world safe for everybody else’s babies — human and otherwise. I want to work hard on my own health and fitness and report not only the results but the process. The fact is, self-care does get harder over time — whether you’re vegan or not. With history, one collects injuries, physical and emotional. Despite the optimistic Chinese restaurant dish, “Long Life and Happiness,” anybody who lives long in a youth-obsessed culture has to deal with being disregarded and diminished by much of society as whole, and fight for personal happiness while at the same time fighting for one’s cherished cause. If there’s something about growing older as a vegan that you want to read about, let me know. I’m prepared to delve deep, find answers, and share those with you.
Victoria Moran is the author of Main Street Vegan and eleven other books, and she is currently serving as “Peta’s Sexiest Vegan Over 50,” with male winner Joel Kahn, MD, of Detroit. Listen to Victoria’s Main Street Vegan podcast at www.unity.fm/program/mainstreetvegan, and check out the documentary in pre-production for which she’s producer, The Compassion Project. No offense intended with the Peta2 tee-shirt. Read it: “Vegan After Fifty.”