Women and Meat in Art and Fashion: A History

You know the MTV Video Music Awards were boring when basically the only thing we’re still talking about a day and a half later is an outfit — but at least the costume that’s dominated the entertainment news cycle since Sunday night was worth discussing. Yes, friends, we are talking about Lady Gaga’s meat dress. PETA snarkily guessed that Gaga stunk to high heavens and was covered in maggots by the end of the night, but a Reuters blogger noted that the outfit “was not dripping, nor was it smelly or sticking to her skin.” Butchers are weighing in (see what we did there?) to take shots at the garment’s poor-quality cuts of meat, despite the evidence that it was locally sourced.

While we suppose there is some kind of ethical debate to be had here, we meat eaters sure aren’t wading into it. Instead, we’d like to put the meat dress in some context for you, with this history of women and meat in art and fashion, from the ’60s through America’s Next Top Model — including a sculpture that some are accusing Gaga of copying.

Carolee Schneemann

Among the best known of feminist artist Carolee Schneemann’s works, her 1964 Meat Joy performance featured what The New York Times delicately describes as “eight bodies ecstatically cavorting with wet paint, plastic, rope, paper scraps, raw fish, dead chickens and sausages in front of an audience.” The fleshy romp, which has been performed many times since its debut, was meant as a Dionysian celebration of naked human sexuality. As Schneemann put it, “the life of the body is more variously expressive than a sex-negative society can admit.” Watch a somewhat blurry, but as far as we can tell generally safe for work, clip from a Meat Joy performance above.