I started noticing it six, or so, months ago: some particularly “veggie heavy” recipes in the annual family exchange, a few Pinterest posts tagging “Meatless Mondays.” It was a slow build, but soon enough my teenage cousin was visiting my family, sitting at my mother’s Sunday table and refusing bacon: “I’m a vegetarian.”

“Excuse me, what?”

It’s true, came the reply—she’s sworn off turkey on Thanksgiving, her beloved ham roll-ups, burgers, hot dogs, and of course, bacon. The only silver lining is that she’s still eating cheese (otherwise I don’t know if our home state of Wisconsin would ever forgive her!).

My cousin is off to college this fall and will likely be packing newly acquired vegetarian habits in the U-haul along with her bedding and shower caddy. I’m all for choice, so don’t mistake this commentary as a means of publicly shaming my cousin into changing her ways (she doesn’t even know I’m writing it), but rather as a means of illustrating a growing trend—and target for animal activists: students who want to try vegetarianism.

We’ve seen the advertisements: PETA claiming that dairy products cause teen acne; the Meatless Monday campaign which blatantly targets school-aged children with cartoons and caricatures; and visits from activists like the Humane Society’s CEO, Wayne Pacelle, to college campuses like, most recently, Colorado State University.

Teens and young adults make fabulous targets for animal rights activists because, according to speakers at the 2013 Animal Rights National Convention, they are incredibly susceptible to trends. It’s sad, but true: The more the animal rights activists can make “going vegan,” hip, sexy and trendy, the more likely they are to attract new members and the next generation of activists.

Groups like PETA have a long history of not only targeting teenagers and young adults, but also of objectifying women in an effort to produce catchy advertisements that generate a lot of buzz, both positive and negative. Certainly, it would seem clear that PETA subscribes to both the theory “sex sells” and that “all press is good press.”

However, a few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement that really crossed the line, and, at the risk of generating more buzz for the undeserving animal rights organization, I just had to blog about it.

The advertisement features 16-year-old singer Samia Najimy Finnerty posing with her guitar and a boldface slogan that reads "Vegans Go All The Way.” The idea behind the campaign is to encourage vegetarians to take the next step — go all the way — and cut out all meat and dairy from their diets. Yet the play on words has sparked polemic due to Finnerty's age and the message the poster could be sending to its young, impressionable demographic. 

PETA even went so far as to call Finnerty their “youngest pinup” in press releases and interviews about the campaign.  

Their controversial advertisements tread a dangerous line between tongue-in-cheek and legitimately inappropriate —oftentimes the latter. This advertisement is particularly harmful because it plays on the sexualization of young women in order to garner appeal for the vegan lifestyle. What message is this sending to youth?

Sending the implied message that vegan girls are “sexier” or somehow sexually promiscuous sends the completely wrong message. It's not even about alleged health benefits or consumer choice any longer; instead, advertisements like this suggest that living a vegan life makes young females more attractive to males. Sexist much? 

I find it astoundingly hypocritical that an organization claiming to care about animal welfare and the non-exploitation of animals chooses to routinely exploit women’s (and now girls’) sexuality in order to produce inflammatory and outrageous material, and then bask in the press and attention.  I also find it ironic that the members of PETA, particularly female members, stand for this blatant hypocrisy day in and day out, one advertisement after another.

I can’t help thinking of my cousin when I see an advertisement like this and worry that she’s become caught up in the sensationalized version of the “truths” that PETA and other animal rights organizations tell about the animal agriculture industry.

I think the real reason I’m most upset is because smart, beautiful, confident young women like my cousin will unfortunately be lumped into a movement that routinely exploits one group of beings to elevate the status of another.

You can bet your bottom dollar that when Thanksgiving rolls around she’ll go toe to toe with me in a debate about animal welfare, health and the merits of the animal rights movement.  While I don’t agree with her decision, I am proud that she’s not making it to garner male attention and appear more attractive to them.

The only real attention whore here is PETA, and I for one think they should “stop going all the way.”