When we think of a flight attendant the image that comes to our mind is of a young attractive woman in form-fitting clothes or a sari, wearing a constant smile on her face. Right? A flight attendant’s job requires quick action and easy mobility in case of an emergency. Yet why are they put in such restricting clothes?
The history of flight attendants or air hostesses goes as far as the 1920s. The initial flight attendants were only men. The first female flight attendant was hired in the 1930s. The first female flight attendants were nurses and wore typical nurse’s uniforms. But by 1936 female flight attendants rapidly increased and replaced all the male ones.
And along this time, the airline companies had realized how exploiting their sexuality will receive more customers into their airlines. The flight attendants were selected more for their appearance than anything else. The advertisement that appeared in ‘New York Times’ for hiring an air hostess in the late 1930s goes like this:
“The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weigh 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health”
Even years later, even in today’s world, the sexualisation of flight attendants have not stopped. Even though the working conditions have considerably improved for them. In earlier days flight attendants were fired from work once they got married and in the 1960s and 70s, some airlines had their flight attendants in short miniskirts to hotpants.
Today the usual attire for a flight attendant is form-fitting knee-length skirts, a shirt, and a blazer. They are usually required to wear heels and makeup is a must. These ladies are still required to be physically attractive and always polite. Even though many Asian airlines have their flight attendants in traditional clothing, and these clothes are often less sexualised, they still do not serve the purpose of free mobility.
At the beginning of every flight journey, the flight attendants tell us what to do in case of an emergency. One sentence included in this is that “in case of an emergency if the flight has to be landed on water…”. What you wear on a flight as a passenger is your own freedom. But unfortunately, the air hostess in saris and other traditional clothing would be forced to swim in them in those emergencies where the plane needs to land on water. The short tight skirts won’t be much of a help either.
A vast majority (two-thirds) of flight attendants experience sexual harassment in the course of their careers, including sexual assault, inappropriate touching and sexual comments both by colleagues and passengers. This could be because of the over-sexualisation of an air hostess in general and/or because of these form-fitting sexualised clothing.
In the past few years, we have seen a change globally where the air hostess’s uniform is changing to trousers, and they are allowed to wear no makeup. However, we have yet to see the effects of this positive change in our country. The majority of the airlines in the world still put their female flight attendants in restricting clothes – may it be a tight skirt or a sari.
This is 2022, and situations for women are getting better all around the world. Yet why are the working conditions of flight attendants more or less the same as a few decades ago? Till when will we sexualise this job and put them in clothes that can even threaten their lives in case of an emergency?
Article written by
– Poorna Krishnan