A few months ago, Samia Najimy Finnerty was another 16-year-old preparing for summer vacation. Now she's the poster-child for a teen sex debate she didn't bargain for. The daughter of actor Kathy Najimy and musician Dan Finnerty —a budding performer in her own right — posed for PETA's controversial July campaign featuring the attention-grabbing headline, "Vegans go all the way." When news of Finnerty's age sparked a public outcry, the teenager found herself at the center of a heated debate on everything from slut-shaming to exploitation. Everyone's got an opinion on the topic, but we wanted to hear from Finnerty herself. So we asked her.
What’s it like being a teenager at the center of a conversation about sexuality?
It’s hard because being a teenager there are all these other sort of things that you have to deal with and sexuality is a huge part of that and I feel like it’s sort of everyone’s right to be able to openly express that and talk about that.
Did you have any creative input with the campaign?
The pose was totally OK with me and everyone in my family but they originally put a background of a bed and sheets behind me. That was a little bit too much for me, just because I’m 16 and not totally ready for that kind of exposure yet. I appreciate what PETA does with the joke of it and the sort of pun that they’re doing. I knew that it would be controversial and not everyone would understand — or love — what they’re saying, but I think it definitely got the message across.
How did you get involved with PETA?
I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life. Two years ago I became vegan. I’m pretty strict about it. I generally don’t eat dairy and I never eat meat. My mom is involved with PETA, she’s done a couple campaigns for them. The head of PETA, Dan Matthews, is a good family friend and he invited me to come and be the face of the vegan campaign.
Was it scary to put yourself out there as a public figure?
I think it was definitely difficult to make that decision to put that picture out there but I think it’s important to show that to people.
Do you think that shaming of girls is more prevalent because of social media?
Definitely, yea. With Facebook and Instagram there are all these ways for girls to put out images of themselves and a lot of them don’t go away ever. So that’s another thing that affects us, definitely.
This is actually a topic you're exploring in another project. You're one of several young women in the New York Fringe Festival Show, Slut: The Play.
"Slut" is based on a couple of different rape cases that happened here in New York and one that happened in Steubenville, Ohio. It’s about this girl Joey who gets sexually assaulted by three of her best friends in a cab. She opens up about it and a lot of people don’t believe her and say that she’s doing it for attention. They say that even if it did happen to her she shouldn’t have been in that position and there were precautions that she should have taken to not have been in that position. We’re trying to get across the point that there is no way that that should have happened to her. There’s no reason for anyone to be sexually assaulted ever. So it’s just about slut shaming and rape culture in society right now and teenage girls and how it affects them.
So what is slut-shaming exactly?
Slut-shaming is putting this label of slut on anyone for being sexually active or sexually promiscuous. A lot of times it happens even if they aren’t sexually promiscuous. It’s a way to make anyone feel shameful about being sexual — especially being a sexual teenager.
Have you felt any of that through the campaign?
I don’t read anything about me on the Internet. I’ve learned that it never ends well, but I’ve definitely felt it just in my life and just being a teenage girl. I don’t think any teenage girl has ever not had that experience — being ostracized or criticized for being who they are.