08:44, July 28 62 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-28 08:44:03
Why should a job ad make me think, ‘am I attractive enough’?

There was an eruption of anger this week when a Shoreditch jazz bar posted a job advert looking for “extremely attractive” staff. The responses broadly divided in to two categories: the “so whats” and the “oh gods”.

The first group says: “So what? We all know this practice happens anyway. It’s bar work, not working at Nasa. At least they’re being honest about it.” This isn’t driven by any kind of bigotry, but the overwhelming feeling that this is just the way the world is, however unfortunate it might be. The words “extremely attractive” can be seen as vague enough that it’s easy to believe that everyone – of all races, religions and creeds – is in the firing line, and therefore no one in particular. And to some extent this is true – but some people will always be at the front of that queue, singled out for exclusion first. And this is where the “oh god” brigade come in.

Am I thin/pale/gender-conforming enough to be considered attractive? Does a disability come under “extremely attractive”? Does a hijab? For women, the age-old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma sets in. Is makeup “extremely attractive”, or am I supposed to magically fit unattainable beauty standards without drawing them on to my face? If I wear too much make-up, will I be considered unprofessional, slutty even? If I wear too little, will I be considered a slob?

We wince at the prospect of having to be comfortable wearing heels all day; weighing up whether the accentuated ass-and-tits effect outweighs the awkward gait and the pain. Ultimately, we will decide that this is about survival of the fittest in the most superficial sense; that being a “strong woman” has never been considered traditionally attractive by this type of employer, and so it’s best to sit back and look weak, pretty, and unable to run away.

But concerns about such employment practices are born out of something very serious. The boldness of using such a statement in a job ad – a phrase that can be so easily seen as “plain speaking” – encompasses a range of hidden prejudice. In this area of London, built on swathes of immigration, would the term “extremely attractive” be reserved for locals? Or is it more a sinister signal that this place is only for the new, paler trendy elite in the area, who sit on every high street, segregated in coffee shops and jazz bars musing on how the community doesn’t seem to integrate?

Would the three black boys who were turned away from a similar jazz bar in Shoreditch last year – on the basis that this wasn’t “their kind of scene” – be considered attractive? Does it pertain to the east London cockney accents, the pidgin Bengali and everything in between?

It is when we start asking these questions that the divide between the “so whats” and the “oh gods” becomes very clear. For some people, equalities legislation is just a well-meaning but out-of-touch measure in a world where prejudice is inevitable – normal, even. For others who know this discrimination intimately, it is the only leash on the unchecked prejudice which will otherwise prevail. First they come for the “ugly” – but soon enough it’s back to “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” signs in the window.

So for all of those tempted to think this is just about a company coming out in the open about a practice that is prevalent but hidden away, I have two words for you: oh god.