CBC on Discrimination – appearance

I just had a telling experience with the CBC in Vancouver. Their show “On the Coast” was doing a piece on the discriminatory experience of a young women who applied for a job at Joey Restaurants. She went through their training period (which consisted largely of tips about how to dress and apply makeup), but at the end of the week was told she didn’t have the look they wanted they told her. She cried, was humiliated, and let the CBC know about this awful experience.

The CBC asked a human rights lawyer about this type of discrimination. He said, on air, that it wasn’t against the law.  This is correct, since the BC Human Rights legislation prohibits discrimination on lots of grounds, including race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age (over 19), criminal conviction, political belief, and lawful source of income, but it doesn’t prohibit discrimination on the basis of how one looks.  Any official complaint would go nowhere. Then an historian on sexuality explained that discrimination on the basis of looks is a part of history and it is well-known that looks are an important part of the service in bars and restaurants. It’s just the way things have been and are.

I’d been asked for comments for a taped interview and was told it would be part of the program. I certainly acknowledged that people were not formally protected against discrimination because of appearance and that it has been a long-standing practice in the restaurant industry. But my main point was that there have been ways that workers were protected in the past and could be in the future. I cited the significance of trade unions in protecting workers. Airline workers were a good example: there was a time when women were routinely fired as flight attendants when they aged and became less conventionally attractive. This has changed. My message was that trade unions are in a position to protect workers from this kind of discrimination and that the restaurant industry needed much better worker protection that trade unions could give.
But I also stressed the need to extend the prohibited grounds for discrimination in B.C. This has been expanded considerably over the years to protect people from discriminating employers and landlords.

Did I mention that none of this made it into the program? The CBC’s ultimate message was that discrimination on the basis of appearance is just the way things are and we need to learn to live with it. And, since the young woman in question found another job, well…… it all turns out well.


  • Marjorie, the CBC doesn’t want to hear it because they have clauses in their own on-air staff’s contracts about appearance, maintaining weight, etc., etc.

    A similar thing happened to my step-daughter. So sad to see young women who grow up believing they are equal, learn otherwise the hard way.

  • As I moved from Ontario to Alberta I suddenly noticed a severe shortage of fabric in the way waitress uniforms are manufactured. In other words, not only do they pick you based on how you look, they make you dress like hookers.

    Very disappointing and embarassing (I am the father of two teenage daughters). Is this even worse in BC?

    My oldest one is currently looking for a summer job… I am definitely steering her away from the foodservice industry (except maybe Timmies).

  • This appears to me to be clearly discrimination on the basis of sex. Are men held to the same standards as women with regard to their appearance? Doubtful. Women in services are told they have to wear make-up or high heels, be skinny, etc and these are all particularly directed towards a standard of beauty that is applied to women on the basis of ideas of what women are supposed to look like, to be feminine etc. Therefore it is a human rights issue.

  • I like that businesses have at least a few legal means to mark themselves in ways that help me determine that I don’t want to patronize them. For that reason I hope that this doesn’t become an area where the government intervenes. Cactus Club Cafe in White Rock (being a chain, I suppose they all have similar policies) seems to staff itself with similar hiring rules to those of Joey Restaurants. My one and only experience there (I will NOT be returning) is that to a dumpy looking (but rich!) guy like me, exterior beauty seems to often come with a repellant personality. I don’t need to be abused when I trade my hard earned money for a meal. If there is a way to have these noxious folks congregate and mark themselves such that I can easily identify and avoid them, so much the better. Be careful what you wish for. Something will be lost if you force the inner ugly to hire the inner beautiful.

  • It’s interesting that you mentioned Cactus Club because Jacob Richler has a ridiculous review of it on page 89 of the current issue of Maclean’s (dated June 21).

    The opening line is “What I am presently surveying – aside from the most fetching collective of waitresses.” Later, Richler writes about “the gorgeous, peppermill-toting waitress with the effortlessly warm smile.”

    Wikipedia offers the following assessment of his work: “perhaps better suited to private journal writing than publication.”

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