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Beauty and the Bar: How Aesthetic Labour is employed within the Hospitality Industry

Beauty and the Bar: How Aesthetic Labour is employed within the Hospitality Industry
Author: Grace Clayton
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Title: Beauty and the Bar: How Aesthetic Labour is employed within the Hospitality Industry

Abstract: This conference paper specifically looks at aesthetic labour within bar work and it also highlights examples from the airline industry and discusses how politics has played a part and magnified within the media. Aesthetic labour is illustrated in a negative and positive perspective throughout the paper. This paper discusses how this form of labour can negatively impact upon an individual’s mental health and has the potential for sexual harassment. It also reviews how aesthetic labour is being incorporated into an organisation for competitive advantage. An advantage for not only the organisation, but for the employee.

Key Words: Aesthetic, Sexual Appeal, Labour, Attractive, Bar Work, Ideal Body

Aesthetic labour can be encompassed by an organisation to promote a competitive advantage. As Howson (2010) explains when hiring physically attractive staff, it will allow a customer to feel ‘special’ when communicating with attractive individuals. Therefore, to repeat this ‘special’ feeling, customers want to return to the service. This is defined as alluring and seducing the customer and being a non-verbal influence, according to Warhurst and Nickson (2009:390 and 393). Research suggests that staff members who work within the bar industry enjoy making themselves more money, for example, in more tips, to make themselves more economically stable. Warhurst and Nickson (2009:397) claim that staff “emphasize their sexual appeal” in order to generate more sales. An example from Warhurst and Nickson (2009) who researched into the American bar, Hooters. Hooters state that “sexual appeal is legal and it sells” (Warhurst and Nickson, 2009:396). According to Davies (1991:76) an individual who takes pride in their appearance, are said to be those individuals who will be reliable to perform to the best of their ability. It is argued that women who have a family, will not have the time to apply makeup when getting children to school and themselves to work on time (Davies, 1991:76).

However, sexual appeal does have distinctive limitations, as this can place women in vulnerable situations. Adkins (1997:95) identifies this exploitation by staff being “the product” of an organisation. Further disadvantages of employing this form of labour can impact an individual’s mental health. Howson (2010) states that a person’s mental stability can be affected as in order to “fit in” they may use extreme dieting or other body modifications such as surgery or self harm to fit into not only society, but to fit in to their work culture. McDowell (2009:184) recognises the pressures that female employees face when wanting to achieve the “ideal body”. Individuals wish to conform to how their peers look when in the work place. Hooley and Yates (2015:441) indicate that staff who wish to change themselves may create a resentment against their colleagues who do gain attention from customers and from their social groups, in other words they wish to also gain popularity amongst their peers. Other industries have recognised aesthetic labour, to the point where it has been magnified in the media and in politics. Within the paper, examples are given regarding British Airways and a receptionist who was made to wear high heels but she refused.

The paramount aim of the conference paper is to explore why and how aesthetic labour is used within the hospitality industry. One participant was used within a 1 hour interview, in order to understand how they experienced aesthetic labour culture when working within a bar. The participant had made reliable comments that aligned strongly with the literature. As the fundamental purpose to deploy aesthetic labour within the workplace is for the organisation to generate more profit. Keeping in mind the disadvantages which place young female employees in a vulnerable position. Research from this study also indicated that there were some employees who like to flaunt their bodies to customers, are labelled as extrovert as recalled by Davies (1991:81). This is in comparison to staff who want to work their shift without gaining the attention, who are labelled as introvert (Davies 1991:81).

Moreover, the participant was asked to wear a certain attire when at work. This works in conjunction with the research conducted by Warhurst and Nickson (2009:399) by an organisation employing a certain dress code for staff to wear, in order to generate a corporate image for customers to remember the service by. Therefore, due to the ‘sexual appeal’ that an organisation incorporates, will most probably generate more male customers, and word of mouth will probably be used which will enable the organisation and the employees to generate more profit. It is argued that women are used as “sex objects” when wishing to generate more sales (Hooley and Yates, 2015:441). As choosing a certain attire to wear, when there is no dress code for a certain night of the week, women are still expected maintain a certain dress code when needing to gain attention in a male-dominated surrounding (Hooley and Yates, 2015:441). The study has contributed to existing knowledge of aesthetic labour by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of this labour. However when discussing the specific role of “shot girls”, it is unexplored, as wearing erotic attire can improve sales, in comparison to an employee who wants to be covered up who will not generate sales.


Warhurst, C and Nickson, D. (2009) Who’s got the look?’ Emotional, Aesthetic and Sexualized Labour in Interactive Services. Gender, Work and Organisation, 16 (3) 386-403. Available from: http://www.academia.edu/25294941/_Whos_Got_the_Look_Emotional_Aesthetic_and_Sexualized_Labour_in_Interactive_Services Last accessed 9/5/17

McDowell, L. (2009). Working bodies. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell

Adkins, L. (1997) Gendered Work. Buckingham. Open Univ. Press.