As a vegan—especially a vegan woman—you’re sure to come across other vegans touting the health and beauty benefits of veganism. A vegan diet, they say, cleared up their skin, helped them lose weight, healed their hitherto unexplained ailments. Their stomach is now flat, their hair shiny, and friends keep commenting how they look 10 years younger. The internet is full of accordingly named vegan websites, from Oh She Glows to Skinny Bitch, and vegan cookbooks are titled Raw Vegan Radiance or Appetite for Reduction. When celebrities talk about how their dabbling into veganism gave them „much more energy“ (Bill Clinton) or “their body back“ (Beyoncé), this only adds to the public misunderstanding of veganism as the latest wellness fad.
It’s good that veganism’s myriad benefits allow for successful vegan advocacy towards a broad range of people, but promoting veganism as a beauty secret or a health cure does not help the vegan movement in the long term.
Attaching health and beauty claims to veganism suggests that veganism is about you (rather than the animals or the planet), and it sets people up for disappointment, and thus only temporary veganism.
When you promote veganism as a pathway to beauty and wellness, you’re promoting it as a means to an end, rather than the end itself. You’re suggesting that veganism is in principle self-centered, rather than outward-directed. It’s something you do for yourself, rather than the animals you’re saving or the planet you’re protecting. It also downgrades veganism from an ethical lifestyle to a mere diet. As a health-and-beauty vegan you could still enjoy that kale smoothie on a leather couch and exercise that sexy body of yours during horseback riding. I bet most people who are „vegans“ for health and beauty reasons, are not actually vegan by mine and other ethical vegans’ standards, that is their diet is plant-based, but their toiletry cabinet, free time, and wardrobe are not.
Besides relegating veganism to a self-centered body boost, touting the health and beauty benefits of a vegan diet also sets new vegans up for failure and a short time—rather than a lifetime—of veganism. If you recruit new vegans with concrete promises of noticeable change—such as radiant skin, slimmer waistlines, or increased physical prowess—you’re basically inviting them to stop being vegan if your promises don’t come true. I know that studies testify to some health benefits of plant-based diets, such as lower cholesterol, but most beauty and fitness claims surrounding veganism are not backed up by scientific studies. So when someone goes vegan and after half a year his ailings do not magically disappear and people do not comment on his good looks, this new vegan will be disappointed and ditch veganism. Or worse yet, when during his first months as a vegan, he feels fatigued, becomes ill, or notices a rash—probably completely unrelated to his new diet—he will be more likely to blame it on veganism. Veganism has failed him. If, on the other hand, you’re vegan for ethical reasons, you cannot be disappointed, because you’re not doing it for an outcome. The point of your veganism is to be vegan, so simply by being vegan, you have been „compensated“ for your efforts. You do not need a youthful appearance in order for it to have been „worth it.“
My only reason for being vegan is that as an anti-speciesist it’s the only way to live. But I understand that other vegans are motivated by other reasons. And I suppose the animal that’s not being eaten doesn’t care if you didn’t eat him or her for environmental, religious, health, or any other reason. (Although anti-speciesism really is the only motivation that also protects animals from being used for entertainment or testing.) But being vegan because someone told you it would make you more beautiful, does neither do justice to veganism’s implications for the other beings on this planet nor to its urgency. It proposes that being vegan is about your body, when really it is about billions of other bodies and the planet-body they live on. And it promotes veganism as a means to an end, and when that end never comes, chances are you’ll demonize the means. The world doesn’t need more quick-fix vegans; it needs forever-vegans.