Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Beauty in the East: what it takes to be a female flight attendant in Asia

 Photos of applicants for flight attendant stacked at an interview room of an Asian airline company 
(Courtesy of Kyle Burton)

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- "Crooked chin. Elf shape. Pimple spots." These are the words imprinted on Jessica's job application photo. The 28-year-old South Korean hopeful, who asked to be identified only by her first name, returned for her second stage in an intensive job application process for a popular Japanese airline. It is Jessica's dream to become a flight attendant, but she understands the competitive nature of the industry and is realistic about her chances.

It is not easy to become a female flight attendant in Asia. In South Korea, for example, new flight attendants should hold a university degree and speak fluent English. But one thing that sets this job apart from others is the emphasis on physical appearance. Priority is placed on physically attractive women and a face can often be a deal-breaker in the airline industry. Negative marks for female applicants for the Japanese airline include "uneven teeth," "no chest," "long torso," "acne scars" and "poor frame."

   Once chosen, flight attendants have to adhere to strict codes in physical appearance. First-time Korean Air flight attendants, for example, should be below the age of 27 and have a "healthy complexion" and "straight, white teeth." Asiana Airlines flight attendants can only wear skirts, are restricted from wearing glasses while in uniform and keep their nails manicured and about 3 millimeters long.

   There are weight restrictions placed on flight attendants at China Southern Airlines. Women must also be single and younger than 25.

   At Singapore Airlines, the color of lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish are all regulated by the company. The "Singapore Girl" is the face of the airline and a global icon -- she had once been immortalized as a wax figure at London's Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

   Many airlines in Asia are unmatched when it comes to in-flight customer service. Asiana Airlines won the World's Best Cabin Staff Award at the 2011 World Airline Awards, followed by Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Four of the top five World's Best Airline awards went to carriers in Asia.

This winning streak could be influenced by strict regulations placed on female flight attendants who are considered highly desirable for their etiquette, glamor and style. Uniformity is key when it comes to branding. They appear to have the same dress, style, and movements.

   Looking identical is no accident. Many women spend years perfecting the art of being what some call a "trolley dolly." Asiana Airlines flight attendants go through rigorous training to become top-notch in their field. The Head of Image Making teaches employees how to act, how to smile, and even how to apply their make-up "correctly." And that perfectly pulled-back hair is a non-negotiable.

The strict guidelines are not only a reflection of the homogeneous culture but also an homage to the etiquette and loyalty of Confucianism. The glamor, grace and delicacy of the flight attendants stem from traditional values and contributes to a memorable in-flight experience.

   But the women, and their advocacy groups, are now speaking out and criticizing the airlines for outdated regulations. The current regulations placed on women crew are sexist, discriminatory and a thing of the past, they say, adding in the West, such strict aesthetic requirements would be considered discriminatory and most likely illegal.

   Kweon Soo-jeong, a union representative at Asiana, says the female attendants agree they have to look tidy and neat. "But it is excessive that the company is crossing over the boundaries of a job requirement to dictate rules (on appearance) from one's head to toe," Kweon said. One of the strongest grievances is that the women are not allowed to wear pants for the uniform.

   Apparently due to continual business success, decision makers at the airlines appear reluctant to institute any changes. However, some companies are experimenting with alternative branding methods to get noticed. Hong Kong Airlines, for example, trains all flight attendants to learn kung fu while Cebu Pacific Air crew have been known to dance through their safety demo.
Some flight attendants accept the rules as inevitable.

   "It was part of the job description when they got hired, so they knew what they were getting themselves into," says a former employee of Asiana Airlines named Jade.

   "People look at (Asiana Airlines) and say that they should conform to Western standards because there is so much pressure on appearance. But people who fly with these airlines love the stewardesses and they enjoy the service they are getting. It's a unique experience that some people are less accustomed to in the West."

Source:    http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr

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