Friday, 1 June 2007

Fatty fatty boom boom

Indian Airlines air hostesses are being grounded for being "too fat".

I wish I could say this surprised me. Air hostessery(?) is one of the very few professions left in which female employees are explicitly required to meet certain standards of attractiveness, and it's certainly the only profession I can think of in this category where physical attractiveness has no implication whatsoever for a woman's ability to do the job.

When I was a child, all of my girl friends wanted to be air hostesses when they grew up. It was seen as a glamourous career, on a par with being a model or an actress.* I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up, because quite frankly the idea of flying a plane appealed to me much more than the idea having to smile for several hours whilst serving coffee to rude businesspeople. Astigmatism may have quashed my dreams of becoming an airline pilot, but I would still rather stick with my publishing job than one in which I had to mince around in a pencil skirt and smile as if I was on a drip-feed of Prozac. Goodness knows I'd need a drip-feed of Prozac if I was having to live on celery and rice cakes.

Indian Airlines are citing physical fitness as the reason for monitoring stewardesses' weight. Fair enough in extreme cases - I can see that a seriously overweight air hostess is probably less physically fit than slimmer colleagues. If however it came down to a situation in which a knife-wielding maniac had to be restrained by a stewardess, I'd feel much safer if she had a BMI of 25 rather than 19.

If physical fitness really is the concern, then perhaps airlines would like to put their employees through a fitness test instead of standing them on a scale. And if agility is so important, why do their uniforms consist of high heels and pencil skirts?

With the exception of professions in which employees' appearance is directly related to their ability to do their jobs, airlines are the last bastions of body fascism in the workplace. There's justifiably a lot of press these days about reducing one's carbon footprint by avoiding short-haul flights. I'd say refusing to support companies that treat their employees like this is another very good reason to avoid flying wherever possible.

*Personally I think it's worrying that little girls always seem to aspire to careers in which they will be mercilessly judged for their looks, but this is another rant for another day.

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