Only The Beautiful Need Apply


Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to shop in a large retail store in here in Canada; once owned by Canadians but now in the hands of foreign ownership. It’s the kind of store where there are several floors of merchandise, from men’s and ladies wear to sporting goods and home furnishings.

Upon walking in the doors on the street level, we found ourselves having to travel through the department selling fragrances, perfumes, cologne and make-up. The aromatic assault was truly dizzying, as there were with no exaggeration, twenty-five counters of competing products, all of which were staffed by women, and in the aisles the customers traversed, there were a handful of more women distributing sample products, and some occupied applying makeup and fragrances to customers being taught how to best apply various products.

What struck me was that these women all shared a few things in common. First, they were all very well attired. Most had high heels, they wore skirts or dresses, sharp blazers and blouses, fashionable jewellery. and while there was no standard uniform, there was a unity of presentation that communicated beauty and style. And the women themselves in those clothes were beautiful themselves to the eye. Be they blonde, brunette, redhead, black or even greying, each woman was truly beautiful on her own, but together, they were formidable.

They were like Sirens luring Ulysses and his sailors to their doom; irresistible to the eye, though I heard no singing. Their smiles were all punctuated with lipstick or gloss, their eyes set like jewels in the midst of eye liner and shadow the colour of which accented and adorned. While there were a variety of heights among them, from short to tall, each was fit, trim, and attractive. I could without much effort visualize that time of year only a couple of months past when men must have been drawn to the store with no clear idea what to buy their own ladies’, only to leave some time later with an assortment of products these Sirens would place into their bags and ring up at the till. And all the while, batting eyelashes, briefly issuing a coy look, leaning in just enough to intoxicate with their perfume, weaving their spell and long enough to extract the funds from their wallets.

As an Employment Counsellor and Sociology graduate, I always find myself watching people go about their trade, observing people and the skills they employ, and how effective or not they are in their profession. And so it was not unusual for me then to ponder how the employer in this case only had beautiful women doing the job. There were no males working here. And while I personally think there is beauty to be found in all people, we are not all universally blessed with physical beauty, but you wouldn’t know it to walk around in this department. So how is it then, that the employer is able to employ only females and only the physically beautiful of that gender?

Now you might wonder at or even guess the name of the retailer to whom I refer. And likewise, you might wonder why I am being so very careful not to name them outright. The truth of the matter is that I do not find this retailer to be unique in this practice. In fact as we strolled along the busy main street and went in and out of two other large stores, I found the same.

I know of course what they are selling is an image; an promise that if you buy their products and apply them as instructed, you or the one you buy them for will look like these Sirens too. The illusion is hard to resist when you have the evidence standing right in front of you batting those lashes. Unblemished, they know only too well that the number of people who buy the illusion is larger than the number of people who will rival them in the end.

I don’t really judge the employer for hiring and placing these people on the floor one must encounter upon entering. On other floors there were men and women both, and while they were also dressed well, they were entirely different, and you would be able to pick them out as different were you to be asked to do so if they were inserted into the beauty department. So it was really more the placement of the hired personnel. The tactic must be working or the practice and placement would change.

This employer was marketing and branding to maximize the assets available. When applying to work in a large retail store, you’ll be asked to indicate the department you’d like to work in most. Some people are better suited for some jobs than others based on their skills, knowledge, attitude, qualifications and experience. One’s physical appearance is like any other qualification.

And the women in this case? I say good for them if this is where they desire to be. They may be here out of choice or perhaps they feel limited by their beauty for all we know, and would rather be doing work in other departments where they’d be valued for other qualifications and interests. And maybe they’d prefer not to be in retail whatsoever but are trapped by a tight economy.

Just an interesting observation. Oh and yes, I did escape without buying a thing!

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5 thoughts on “Only The Beautiful Need Apply

  1. You won’t find any woman who is not beautiful and thin and fit working in those departments. Image is very important. You want the employees to all have the same image. This is understandable for these kinds of positions.. Unfortunately, I find this is the case in almost any kind of job. In our society women are only acceptable if they are young (or fortunate enough to be able to pass for younger), slim and beautiful. Your title “Only the Beautiful Need Apply” is unfortunately, the prevailing attitude.

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    1. It is most unfortunate Deb. It could do wonders to a persons self-esteem to be included in this group, especially if one viewed oneself as ordinary but loved the selling of the products.
      I bet such a person would do well if accepted by the others.

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  2. Although I understand the author’s premise, I found this article very difficult to read because of all the sexist language:
    “They were like Sirens luring Ulysses and his sailors to their doom; irresistible to the eye, only to leave some time later with an assortment of products these Sirens would place into their bags and ring up at the till.”

    “And all the while, batting eyelashes, briefly issuing a coy look, leaning in just enough to intoxicate with their perfume, weaving their spell and long enough to extract the funds from their wallets.”

    These women are trying to earn a living. Many of them are supporting families. Being stuck in (typically dead-end) hourly retail jobs makes it all the more difficult to do so. I’m sure none of these “sirens” would appreciate the author’s characterization of them.

    yes – the entire retail industry embraces the “beauty sells” approach. this practice is as old as the industry itself. The author can make this point without the degrading depictions of the saleswomen.

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    1. Great to read your reply Stacy, and very thoughtful of you to take some time and share your views.

      Did you notice at the end I said, “And the women in this case? I say good for them if this is where they desire to be. They may be here out of choice or perhaps they feel limited by their beauty for all we know, and would rather be doing work in other departments where they’d be valued for other qualifications and interests. And maybe they’d prefer not to be in retail whatsoever but are trapped by a tight economy.”

      I think this sums up my views. In choosing the words I did, the Hiring Managers would likely say I nailed it; this is what they are hiring those very women for, and it drives sales. It doesn’t mean I hold those views myself.

      I worked in retail in a large store as did my mother and my wife. I personally heard from those responsible for the hiring that they put the most beautiful women in the beauty department. Is that right? No.

      As an Employment Counsellor working with social assistance recipients, the majority of those I help are women; women who are discriminated against for their poverty, their single-parent status, their poor appearance, gaps in their history and their looks.

      Perhaps it might occur to you and those who do the hiring that what I wrote of is not only deadly accurate, but discriminatory and things should change. If only it would provoke a response and change in behaviour on their part as it did in getting you to contribute.

      A sincere thanks for sharing.

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