Filed under: consumerism, India, media, News and politics, sexuality, women
Anyone else see that movie?
Anyway, here’s an interesting and somewhat depressing article from the Guardian website about India. Are we exporting our social hang-ups right along with our call centres?
India grounds hostesses who are ‘too fat to fly’
National carrier faces legal backlash from cabin crew suspended for being overweight
Amelia Gentleman in Delhi
Sunday November 5, 2006
How thin should you be to be a brand ambassador for modern India? This question will be addressed at Delhi’s Supreme Court this week, as lawyers argue over whether Indian Airlines, the state-owned carrier and a national symbol, can fire its air hostesses for being too fat.
Eleven employees, recently grounded for putting on too much weight, claim that the airline has changed its vision of the Indian feminine ideal – abandoning the more buxom prototype in favour of a more westernised, skinny model, which staff see as ‘unattainable’.
Indian Airlines will argue that this is a case of selecting the ‘best ambassadors’ to represent the national airline, and the country as a whole, and will also claim that thinner employees are more agile and better equipped to tackle terrorist incidents and other emergencies.
‘They want to discard the heavier women and bring in newer, thinner models,’ said Sheela Joshi, an air hostess who was grounded after a spot weigh-in found she was 1.9kg over the prescribed limit for her height.
Distressed at the prospect of losing her job after 25 years with the company, she went on a crash diet, and now eats only one meal a day to try to keep within the limit. She has been allowed to fly again, but describes the process as demeaning. ‘This is our national carrier and should represent the dignity of Indian culture. These new policies are humiliating to women.’
An internal memo earlier this year warned cabin staff they would be banned from flying if random weight checks found them to be over a fixed weight, set out in a company chart. Although weight guidelines have always been in place, previously they were not rigorously enforced. Lawyers for the cabin crew unions say that around 130 members of staff have been temporarily suspended without pay for putting on too much weight, although most are now back at work.
The court will rule this week on whether the airline is within its rights to stop paying staff, grounded because of their weight, and lawyers will decide whether it is a breach of constitutional rights to discriminate against overweight staff.
At the root of the dispute is a struggle by the government-run airline to survive in an increasingly competitive industry where new private companies are aggressively marketing their cheap tickets and short-skirted employees.
The advertising of air travel here has a pre-feminism 1950s feel to it, with companies like Kingfisher Airlines (run by beer baron Vijay Mallya) selling young, leggy hostesses in scarlet heels and skimpy red skirts as part of the brand. Mallya prides himself on personally selecting his air hostesses and refers to them as ‘walking models in the air’. Another new airline, SpiceJet, dresses its slim and fresh-faced ‘Spice Girls’ in tight skirts and heels.
‘If you look at the cinema, you can see how attitudes are changing. Twenty years ago the stars were bigger, rounder. Now all that matters is the slim figure,’ said Joshi, 48, who was grounded for weighing 64.9kg instead of the required 63kg.
‘After 25 years, the airline seems to be saying, “you are worn out, we want a younger face”. They want supermodels, not air hostesses, and they’re setting us unattainable goals. But actually passengers want a polite and caring service and most are more concerned about flight safety than looks. Experienced cabin crew are better in a crisis than new people recruited for their appearance.’
But Indian Airlines officials stress that the appearance of their staff is a matter of commercial survival. ‘Air hostesses are the airline’s brand ambassadors. Passengers are held captive inside the aeroplane staring at the flight crew for hours; you form an opinion of the airline from them. It’s a cosmetic issue, but it’s crucial,’ said a company lawyer.
‘Indian Airlines used to have a monopoly, but now the skies are open and the business is very competitive. Why would you fly Indian Airlines when staff at other companies are so very tall and attractive?’ [emphasis mine]
The question of weight was also vital in helping to prevent terrorist attacks, he claimed. ‘Staff need to be fit enough to control crazy guys who are trying to take over the flight. Weight is an indication of fitness.’
Listen up Indian Airlines. Your women are gorgeous just the way they are — no skin whiteners or weight loss needed. I know trends come late to your part of the world but the walking skeleton thing is out and healthy and voluptuous is in. Beside, the people who tell you that you need to be paler, taller, thinner or whatever else are just trying to sell you something.