Some economist named Glen Whitman wrote a post called Pan Am and the Economics of Hot Flight Attendants. In it he claims that deregulation lowered air fares and made paying for hotness in your employees prohibitively expensive.
Megan McArdle, responding to the post, theorizes that a whole bunch of things (like unions and anti-discrimination laws) made it impossible for airlines to fire people if they gained a couple pounds or hit the ripe old age of thirty (Oh, the horror!). Moreover, as more women were flying, less airline customers cared “whether the stewardess has a nice rack.”
A lot of people complain that there is too much sexualization, that everything is about selling sex. I actually think there might be too little sexualization. I don’t necessarily care that someone wants attractive people pushing their product. I care that the definition of attractive is what a middle-aged, white, heterosexual man with the maturity of a fourteen year old is supposed to like.
Our world institionalized and socialized prejudice and economic privilege. It ensured that most people with money to spend were going to be middle aged, white dudes who would certainly hide it if they were gay. So it stands to reason that the airlines would hire the employees that those people were supposed to like.
Which makes me wonder. If there had been no unions or anti-discrimination laws, but only the growing economic power of women and POC – along with the growing visibility and acceptance of homosexuality – would flight attendants look much different than they do now? (Hello scantily clad rent boys flying shuttles to circuit parties.)
It is an impossible question, of course. Because the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, unions, and all the rest had a direct bearing on the economic power of the people I am talking about. But the point I am trying to make is that the idea of what is beautiful is subjective, cultural, and individual.
The problem with the way sex is sold now is a problem of whose narrow definition of beauty still reigns supreme. The problem with the way sex is sold now is that it still reflects very real power imbalances, economic and otherwise.
I’m not particularly attracted to skinny, blonde, white women under thirty. I’m not the only one.