Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Too Ugly to Work?

I thought that yesterday's story took the cake as far as being the most ridiculous thing I've read in a while. But this story comes close:
There's no in between. You're either Abercrombie hot – or you're not.

Kristen Carmichael discovered she didn't fit the clothing store's self-described "sexy, effortless style" when she was pulled from a sales position on the floor of the NorthPark Center store and shoved back to the stockroom to fold clothes.

This was after they'd rated her face.

The college student who was in Dallas for the summer and her female co-worker had received a 0 ranking on a district manager's monthly audit. The report, posted on a wall in the office, included the question, "Do all female models currently working have beautiful faces?"

There were two choices, 0 and 5, with the higher number signifying an approval rating for the models – an Abercrombie & Fitch term for sales representatives. The same question for the male models had both 0 and 5 marked – a mix.
Maybe this should come as no surprise at a store that refers to its sales reps as "models" (I wonder what anyone who considers "associate" or "barista" to be over the top would think of this), but it's still amazing that the company doesn't get more criticism for what some people would consider openly discriminating against the, umm, "aesthetically challenged" like this. (Do you think that the people who come down on the wrong side of this policy would get more attention if they formed a noisy advocacy group or something?)

Don't misunderstand me--I'm not suggesting that any other group assume the mantle of professional victimhood, nor would I dare tell a company how to uphold its "image" (I would never ask Hooters to hire, say, a morbidly obese woman as a server and put her in one of those skimpy little outfits). But Abercrombie has already gotten in trouble for outright discrimination in the past:
The company agreed in 2005 to pay $40 million to a group of Latinos, blacks, Asians and females who accused the company of advancing whites at the expense of minorities.
I guess it just amazes me that there are enough people out there that buy into this line of thinking enough to buy the company's clothes, much less work there.

Here's the telling paragraph for me:
Sales people function as the store's advertising and are handpicked by current employees, said Joshuah Welch, a 26-year-old Dallas resident, was hired two weeks ago as a manager and told to recruit people who walked into the store looking "all-American, clean, wholesome, or the girl or boy next door." He said stocking employees, on the other hand, are told not to speak to customers.

"It's a hierarchy of hotness," he said.
Get that? They can't even speak to customers. It's one thing to go for a certain "look"--even the attorney for a couple of people who sued the company noted that it's not illegal to discriminate against ugly people (wow?) as long as race or gender weren't a factor--but to treat people as somewhat less than human because of it just seems like too much to me. Carmichael, the former employee quoted above, pretty much sums it up:
"It just seems so superficial and kind of stupid," she said. "I don't think I'm the most attractive person in the world, but I don't think I'm so hideous you have to shove me into a back room."
Any thoughts, of course, are welcome in the comments.

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