I venture forth and read the Gawker sites from time to time, because sometimes I am a catty bitch and I want company. The last time I did it, I found a piece about "pretty person jobs" and the role they play in this, our total-shithole economy. Despite being on Jezebel, there are actually a couple of reasonably intelligent points buried in there, particularly the one about how pretty-person jobs are not universally awesome or degrading.

It took me forever and a day to say 'fuck it' and start writing about gifted-kid issues online. The sheer overwhelming hostility in the comments on that piece are why I don't write more about pretty-person issues here. The hatred and resentment from people who perceive themselves as not part of the smart/pretty in-group -- and it is very much about their self-perception; attractive and intelligent people are just as apt to be delusional as anyone else -- is some of the trolliest trolling troll-bait I've seen outside of politics and religion.

For the purposes of a discussion on employment opportunities, I'm one of the "pretty people". This does not mean you think I'm pretty. Attractiveness and attraction are very individual things. What this means is that the person who does the hiring for jobs which are geared towards pretty girls thinks that other people will think I'm pretty. People who spend their time estimating what large populations think en masse are notoriously inaccurate, especially when they're trying to reduce complicated human things down to the lowest possible common denominator. All you can really get from this is that physically, I meet the majority of a set of mostly arbitrary criteria that marketing people think is a checklist for "sexy chick". This is about 85% total stupid genetic accident, and 15% me recognizing that I'm more likely to get the job if I wear a push-up bra to the interview.

Not all jobs that hire based on this criteria are degrading. A lot of them are, and the ones that crush your soul do so for the same reason a lot of retail positions make people struggle home at night and weep bitter tears, which is that they're structured specifically to discourage you from ever having opinions or a personality or a life outside of work. Catalog and catwalk modeling are quite indifferent to whether you're a genius or dumber than an entire box of special-needs hammers. They are much like working sales floor at a large retailer, in that the only thing your employer cares about is that you can show up, be or at least fake being sober, prop yourself upright for a few hours, and get your ass into the required pair of corporately-sanctioned pants. Waiting tables walks a fine line between horrible and reasonable -- they want you to emit some sort of life signs, but not too much, and god forbid you display a personality trait or sense of humor that the customer doesn't happen to like. In general, the freer you are to say "yeah, I won't be doing that" when your bosses get a bee in their collective bonnet over something, the more the job won't grind all of the happiness out of you.

They are not also not, as many people assume, a kind of "unskilled labor" that gets compensated at a disproportionately high rate. They're more akin to carpentry than working on an assembly line -- physical but requiring some specialized knowledge. "Pretty person" jobs don't just want you to have a certain basic physical structure. They also want you to be able to adorn yourself in a certain way which sends the social message 'please look at me and consider me attractive'. Styling yourself for public consumption is a skill -- I should know, I had to learn it. It's just a skill that's widely denigrated, as the sort of thing indulged in as a hobby by the leisure class. I was flummoxed when I was cleaning out my life in preparation to move across the country and I realized that I couldn't get rid of the tackle box of makeup, stuff which society (even a lot of "feminist" parts of society) had repeatedly told me was silly and vain and shallow, because I needed it for work. It was utterly bizarre.

(Paradoxically, even though people turn up their noses at "beauty" procedures and sniff things like 'vanity, thy name is woman!', it is widely assumed that you, as a woman, will naturally be doing all of this anyway, whether you really need it for your vocation or not. It takes a metric fuckton of time, effort, and money to keep yourself looking the way a pretty-person job requires you to look. It never crosses anyone's mind that this is a lot of expense that you wouldn't be laying out if it weren't necessary for you to keep working, so it never crosses anyone's mind to compensate you for all the shit you have to buy and all the hours you have to spend off the clock smearing it on and wiping it off. Hell, no one even acknowledges that it takes time and effort in the first place, unless they're pulling you aside to tell you you're not doing enough of it. If you get pissed off at employers taking the cost of their crappy polyester uniforms out of the paychecks of new hires, then you ought to be apoplectic when you see how much it costs to have a functional makeup kit for acting or modeling.)

Telling someone in one of these jobs to "shut the fuck up already, you're pretty, what are you whining about?" when they mention what is wrong with them essentially says that their appearance is so fundamentally valuable that being genetically lucky in that regard should more than make up for any other bad thing that happens in their lives, and automatically gives them an overwhelmingly better existence than you'll ever have, and they therefore have no right to complain. Your effort to reduce the value of their looks is backfiring. Please correct. If you would never dream of telling someone enumerating the bad points of working at Wal-Mart, "shut the fuck up, at least you have a job!", then why do you think it's okay to do the same to someone who's trying to tell you that working as a cocktail waitress isn't all fun and games?

Also, anyone who tells you that your life would be perfect if you were just prettier is lying through their shiny white teeth. The dirty little secret is that they're not telling you that because they want you to make some effort to be prettier. They're telling you that because they're comfortable being jackasses and want to blame their jackassery on some imaginary fault of yours.

The other thing that really irks me is that the commenters are conflating two very different situations when they rant about pretty girls, one of which was not even addressed as part of the article. Nobody's really complaining that hot women get all the stripper jobs -- you could get a decent argument going over why the standards for "hot women" are narrow and moronic, but there's a tacit recognition that when the job is "to be attractive in front of people" then hiring according to attractiveness is a legit thing to do. There's some minor griping about how those jobs are restricted to people who look a certain way, but yannow, professional basketball is also restricted to people who are ungodly tall and can dunk. Some occupations have prereqs.

Where most of the cries of "STFU!" are coming from are people who have experienced the chaos that occurs when someone is hired due to attractiveness for a position that actually requires competence. Frankly, I am with them 100% there. I've had smart-person jobs, and pretty-person jobs, and desperate-person jobs, and I've never been in any doubt as to which ones were which -- I'd be mad as hell if I found out someone hired me for a smart-person job because they thought I had nice tits. They're figuring that I haven't bothered to become a useful human being because I could coast on my looks, which is insulting to say the least. (Also inaccurate, as they're assuming their willingness to ignore my qualifications or lack thereof in favor of my cup size is the normal way to think -- pretty uncharitable to the rest of the world, wouldn't you say?) I may be better able to handle myself in this situation than a lot of people, since I have this idea that brains-wise I actually am qualified for pretty much anything that doesn't demand specific technical training, but you bet I'd be giving someone -- probably a lot of someones -- several large pieces of my mind before handing in my notice. An employer who lies to me about that is almost certainly going to be lying to me about a lot of other things, and I for one am not interested in sticking around to find out what.

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