Beauty and the Business

For a long time, airhostesses have been regarded as the prototypes of the ideal host. Though the aviation industry is growing at a fast rate, and, requires staff of all kinds in different numbers, certain stereotypes (or should we say requirements?), just do not seem to fade away.

This long-debated issue once again came to focus recently when Air India and Indian Airlines (which have come together due to a merger) as well as Alliance Air grounded a total of 43 air hostesses and stewards, for being “overweight”. Significantly, out of these 38 are air hostesses and only 5 are stewards. Clearly, this debate is as much about gender as it is about who is qualified for what job.

These are stereotypes which we seem to have accepted long back. No wonder then that popular advertisements depict an aspiring air-crew member resorting to fairness creams and weight management tactics to gain employment. Far from blaming such advertisements, one should regard them as a clear mirror to what society is and how it thinks. One wonders how these ‘requirements’ came about? After all, isn’t the main responsibility of the air crew to ensure the comfort of the passengers? Does it matter whether they are fair or dark, tall or short, thin and over-weight? One may argue that this industry is one of cut-throat competition where appearances play an important role. But conversely, let us not delude ourselves into believing the natural traits of certain people in certain professions. They have been consciously created by us, to add a façade of glamour to what is essentially a profession of hospitality. Now, air hostesses are supposed to be doll-like figures with a perfect combination of height, weight, complexion and looks. Is it a wonder then that a lot of real people who enter this industry and are well-suited to it, fall short of these ‘requirements’?

As mentioned before, there is an issue of gender here as well. One cannot help but notice that these rules of appearance are much more stringent for women than their male counterparts. It is then a question of conformity to expectations that women are supposed to uphold. However, making this a gender-specific issue is not the solution. This problem relates to the society as a whole and the arbitrary assumptions it places on professions which are based on very different needs. At the end of the day, this could also be treated as a basic question of human dignity. This issue keeps recurring in different ways every time. Perhaps, this opportunity should be used to review the situation and act upon it.

Ipshita Ghosh


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