China And Qatar Want Flight Attendants To Be Young, Single, Skinny And Female

Just like American airlines did in the 1960s

Flight attendants
A university in China sponsored a beauty contest for would-be flight attendants. Photo: Laszlo Ilyes

In China, some young ladies attend university for a chance to enter a beauty pageant. But it's a very specific pageant, with the promise of employment at the end—a university-sponsored beauty contest for would-be flight attendants. 

Qingdao University recently sponsored one of these competitive events, which brought together women who had been recommended by four different universities, Headline Asia reports. The women posed in their bikinis on stage while a panel of judges evaluated them on their weight to height ratio, the shape of their legs and whether they wore glasses or had any scars. Additionally, Headline Asia continues, the women had to be younger than 25, between 5' and 5'9" and be single. 

Qatar Airways, however, goes a step further than that. An International Transport Workers' Federation report explains that women working for Qatar Airways who decide to get married or get pregnant will likely be out of a job: 

For example, a standard hiring contract for thousands of the airline’s female workers reads: "You are required to obtain prior permission from the company, in case you wish to change your marital status and get married. And: The employee shall notify the employer in case of pregnancy from the date of her knowledge of its occurrence. The employer shall have the right to terminate the contract of employment from the date of notification of the pregnancy. Failure of employee to notify the employer or the concealment of the occurrence shall be considered a breach of contract."

These requirements are, at the very least, anachronistic—they aren't all that different from U.S. airlines' rules for female attendants up until the 1960s. A 1966 flight attendant classified ad, published in The New York Times, read, "A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children were considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2" but no more than 5'9", weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses." BoingBoing turned up another vintage airline ad that notes: "Sure, we want her to be pretty...don't you? That's why we look at her face, her make-up, her complexion, her figure, her weight, her legs, her grooming, her nails, and her hair."

Fare Compare describes the situation back then: 

These restrictions are reminiscent of the so-called golden age of flying in the U.S. – probably best exemplified for younger people by the recent TV series Pan Am. Back in those days which ran through the 1960s and in some cases the 1970s and beyond, many U.S. airlines required flight attendants to be young (under 32) and single. There were other burdens too like weekly weigh-ins and a girdle requirement.

In 1965, however, American women began pushing back on some of these restrictions. A Northwest attendant filed a claim with the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the grounds that male attendants didn't have an anti-marriage clause in their contracts, and the commission soon found "reasonable cause" that women working for the airlines had in fact been discriminated against. In 1968, the EEOC ruled that being a woman wasn't a legitimate qualification for determining whether or not someone could become a flight attendant. 



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