I raced home as fast as my ugly Dolcis shoes would carry me, though the chunky heel, fashionable in the 90s, really impeded my speed. I had a mission: to prove my teacher wrong. Because if he was right, then the world was a terrible place.
Once home, I frantically gathered together all my beauty products and began checking them against the list we’d been given in Modern Studies that afternoon. The list was of all companies who tested their beauty and household products on animals. I was appalled to see that my teacher had been right! All the body sprays with nonsensical names, the perfumes that made my sensitive skin itch, the old bits of make-up I used to smear on Tiny Tears…they were all tested on animals. Even my favourite deodorant that allegedly made me smell like lilies was not cruelty free! This surprised me because the TV advert, with its depiction of naked people cavorting in a forest running from wolves, fooled me into believing it was a natural product made only of lilies and fresh air siphoned from rainforests. I could only hope that those wolves were chasing down the nudes to inflict the same torture on them that had been inflicted upon their fellow creatures.
I filled a poly bag, likely from Razzle Dazzle or Woolworths, with all the products manufactured by these deplorable companies and resolved not to use them again, even if it meant I would never again smell of lilies or Mischief or even, an Illusion. Then I began on the bathroom cupboard. My beloved Timotei would have to go! I couldn’t believe it – I modelled my hair on the woman’s in the advert who washed her long flowing locks in a waterfall only to metamorphose into a kingfisher. Granted, I was yet to transmogrify into a tropical bird but my hair was ever so lovely. It became apparent that aside from mum’s Oriflame products, everything else had been tested on animals: Crest toothpaste, Wash ‘n’ Go shampoo, Radox bubble bath and even the Vicks Vapour Rub that mum used to rub on my chest when I had a cold. I didn’t understand why this was happening – why did animals have to suffer for us to smell clean and look good?
Knowing what was happening to animals for the sake of vanity hurt my tummy but I couldn’t un-know it. Now that my eyes had been opened, I saw that animal cruelty was everywhere I looked. It was in the butcher shop windows; it was the in lorries transporting farm animals to their final destination; it was what hunters did to the cute baby seals that featured in our Athena posters; it was the poor dolphins getting caught in nets so we could enjoy tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches. It was literally everywhere and it made me furious. I’d always favoured animals over people and my love for them did not discriminate – I even had an insect cemetery in my garden when I was younger to ensure the poor beasties had a proper resting place.
One friend in particular was as outraged as me and together we dreamt of storming the animal labs and setting them all free, or tying ourselves to trees, or stowing away on boats bound for the Antarctic so we could save all the seals. Until we were old enough to adorn camouflage and commit crimes in the name of all abused animals, we did what we could: proudly wore our WWF T-shirts, wrote to Greenpeace, gave those lorry drivers the V's and stopped eating meat. Although the cause was horrifying, it at least gave us something detached from the mundane school chatter about which boys were less gross than others. We really thought we would change the world.
One Saturday afternoon, we took to our bikes and cycled along the old railway line, as we often did to escape the ordinary. We veered off the railway for the return journey and took the road that ran alongside the River Dee. The road was lined with thick wooden telegraph poles and upon approaching the first one, to our disgust we saw a poster advertising a circus that was coming to town. The demented grins of clowns seemed to taunt us so we stopped our bikes and raged at the injustice of it all. How dare the circus come to our city and have the audacity to advertise their animal cruelty along the South Deeside Road! But what could we do? Should we phone the council and ask that they be removed? Maybe we could call the police to report the animal cruelty? No, it was up to us now. My friend ripped the poster down and stuffed it in her Aztec-patterned rucksack. We didn’t generally do things we shouldn’t because being grounded sucked, so a mixture of feelings reverberated around my insides. Imagine if someone alerted the police to our vandalism? Imagine if someone told our parents? We quashed those doubts by reminding ourselves that we were making a stand for those who could not stand for themselves. We were the voice of abused animals!
Impassioned, we carried on our journey but the same gaudy poster was on the next pole, and the next, and the next so we tore each and every one of them down until our woven backpacks were straining at the seams.
By the time we were back in the city with the weight of the circus on our backs we were exhilarated and proud of ourselves. We may not have changed the world but fuelled by the fire in our bellies, we had taken action. Now we were proper animal activists, albeit very sweaty ones. The cycle and the adrenaline had generated quite a stink and I was momentarily sorry I’d binned my deodorant but thankfully, I had Fuzzy Peach from The Body Shop on hand to mask the whiff of teenage rebellion.