Physical Appearance & Work

Feb 17th, 2009, in Opinion, Society, by

Ross finds fault in employers' obsession with physical appearance.

The Camera Cannot Lie, But...

As a change from railing against Islamonutters or other categories of undesirable, perhaps I could provoke discussion of a phenomenon which I have noticed over my years here
when job-seeking.

I refer to the way a significant number of recruitment ads demand a recent photo from applicants.

Only last Saturday in the Jakarta Post there was some school in Bali (oddly unwilling to identify itself) which required such snaps from those who might aspire to be teachers of English Literature. What possible relevance has one's physical appearance to a knack for explaining Shakespeare?

We had a History teacher in high school who was nick-named 'Caveman' because of his ravishingly ugly countenance, but he was a great guy, who kept us all interested. We also had a Maths teacher known as 'Dolly' who was (once upon a time) a real looker, but nobody looked forward to her classes. Looks don't matter if you know your stuff.

I am often offended by employers who bar applicants under thirty years old (though I would be equally indignant were their freedom to be stupid restricted by Big Brotherly anti-discrimination laws) but I can just about figure out their reasoning. It is arguably true that younger people have more energy and/or ambition than us over-30 dinosaurs. And they are too eager for promotion to be stroppy!

But one's fizzog is surely not a disqualification for anything, unless of course one is recruiting bar-staff for Falatehan, where a pretty face is an undoubted prerequisite in the eyes not maybe of bosses but of many customers. And on the 'pretty' issue, I do suspect some Carrefour HRDs may have a photo-requirement, as their shop assistants are generally much cuter than rival supermarkets'.

But the frequency of this demand for office work and educational centres baffles. So what's the answer to the riddle?

I've asked all kinds of folks and disturbingly it has been suggested that the photo is a way to weed out applications from what are inexplicably defined as 'kampungan' types (which snobby locals claim to be able to identify by appearance) or maybe jilbab wearers, or non-wearers, or, in the schools arena, non-whites.

Having in the past taught English here with several very effective 'Afro-American' instructors, I have to say any such simple-minded discrimination would likely work to an educational institution's detriment, but if any employer really wants his company to be lily-white....well, it's up to him, but he really ought to have the guts to say so.

Let's have some input, please!


55 Comments on “Physical Appearance & Work”

  1. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    Aha, the Carrefour girls, and I thought it was only me who noticed that, such a high percentage of right little cuties with smiles that could melt granite, I especially love the jilbab girls, they’re often the prettiest (but then that could be related to my jilbab fetish).

    To answer your question, the photos required are passport sized so I presume it’s simply for file or record keeping purposes.

  2. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Pak Rosses,

    All Indonesian womanhood can be…

    Seksi

    Pak Rosses…

    It is up to us as lovers, poets, and ladies’ men, to bring out that Seksi, like strawberries bring out the flavor of champagne !

    (playing the Ukulele & singing, ACDC’s “Whole lotta Rosie” ):

    “she ain’t exactly pretty, she ain’t exactly small, forty two, thirty nine, fifty six, you could

    say she’s got it all !

    Grrrrr !

  3. avatar Ross says:

    Largely true, Achmad…
    … but I am still unconvinced, Berlian, that they only want pics for ‘records,’ as they should ask for those after hirng, not before.
    However, let’s hope it’s all innocent bureaucratic nonsense.

  4. avatar David says:

    I don’t know about Carrefour girls in Jakarta but I could swear that KFC has a deliberate policy of hiring sort of dumpy, plain women in their 30’s, nothing wrong with it, they’re just sort of bucking the trend of going for the young pretty girls, nice in a way….as for English schools, yes in some cases pretty sure they’re thinking about colour.

  5. avatar Burung Koel says:

    Given the ubiquity of passport-size photographs on other documents such as qualifications, it could also be a means of verifying that Person X is actually the same person as the one who gained the degree.

    Also, I’ve interviewed countless applicants for positions, both in person and over the phone, and I appreciate having a photograph to remind me/jog my fading memory of their interview performance when doing the assessment or write up at a later time.

  6. avatar Burung Koel says:

    Can’t comment on the KFC staff – never go in myself. At Carrefour, I can only quote Woody Allen in Manhattan, while catching a taxi with Mariel Hemingway:

    “You’re so beautiful tonight, I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter…”

  7. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Hmmm, Pak Burungs, perhaps you have thoughts on the theme elaborated in the article below…?

    Beauty, indeed, is in the eyes of the beholder!
    The Jakarta Post
    Sunday, 28 October 2006
    LIFEBITES

    By Thang D. Nguyen

    As my friend and I sipped our coffees oneSunday afternoon at Plaza Indonesia, he asked, “Don’t you think that many of the Indonesian women that white foreigners (buleh) go out with or marry are so unattractive?”

    “Not necessarily so,” I replied.

    Beauty, like many things in life, is bound by the rule of relativity. In other words, what one man considers beautiful is ugly in the eyes of another.

    Being an Indonesian himself, my friend’s view of a beautiful woman is that of a fair-skinned one, who has the look of a financially independent, educated, and classy lady.

    Thus, in his eyes, an Indonesian woman with a dark complexion is not beautiful.

    While my friend is entitled to his opinion of what is a beautiful woman and what is not, I don’t find anything wrong with foreign (white) men being attracted to dark-skinned Indonesian women.

    For an Asian man like my friend, these women surely look like maids.

    In most Asian societies, a dark complexion is the symbol of peasantry, hard labor, and life in a rural area. By contrast, a fair complexion is the symbol of high-society status, leisure, and life a cosmopolitan city.

    To a western man, however, a dark-skinned woman is beautiful.

    For one thing, this is because opposites attract. Ethnically speaking, western peoples are white by default. So, it is understandable that a western man finds a dark-skinned Indonesian woman “exotic”, or a white woman finds a black man attractive—if not sexy.

    Furthermore, a dark complexion now is considered a sign of leisure, or class, in most western societies, particularly in America.

    Before the Industrial Revolution and many technological inventions thereafter, farming in the West required hard labor and long hours in the sun. Thus, a westerner with a dark complexion would be looked upon as a farmer.

    Today, however, farming in the West is done with machines. Therefore, even white farmers don’t get a dark complexion.

    As a matter of fact, many westerners with a fair complexion now have to work hard to get a dark one. They spend hours in the sun or spas to get a tan.

    This is, of course, not something that a laborer or farmer has time or money for.

    It is no wonder, then, that white westerners desire a dark complexion or are attracted to others who have one.

    As I left my friend after our meeting, I passed by a few white men walking around Plaza Indonesia with chocolate-skinned Indonesian women and couldn’t help thinking of what my friend had said about beauty.

    Looking at these women, I could see why my friend would consider them unattractive.

    But, the men they were with could not have looked happier; perhaps, they found in these women the beauty they had been seeing in fashion shows or magazines in their respective countries.

    As for me, I was—and still am—just glad that we all have a different taste for different things in life.

    Indeed, the world would be a horrible place to live if we all liked or disliked the same things, wouldn’t it?

    Fortunately, the world is not like that, thanks to relativity.

  8. avatar Farah says:

    Few months ago.. got this phone interview from a recruitment company in jakarta, for executive secretary position.
    End up piss me off because they ask me if i know jakarta night life very much and able and willing to go to those places with boss after work hours for liasing and went abroad (requires passport) to go with him, if its necessary.
    I ask, if the boss is indonesian guy, she said, no hes a white man. I said “a-ha”.
    ….why i feel they are actually looking for the “boss indonesian wife” rather than a real secretary ??

    Maybe i am just too junglish now… but i decline the offer.. even after she call me for the 2nd time to raise the salary offer… (i could travel my self if i want to, and i dont want to start the drunk habit and the “as long as boss is happy” attitude).

  9. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Farah Yth,

    Good for you.

    🙂

    Achmad.

  10. avatar Andrew says:

    Can’t comment on the KFC staff – never go in myself. At Carrefour, I can only quote Woody Allen in Manhattan, while catching a taxi with Mariel Hemingway:

    Carrefour IS now on my list of places to go when I visit Indonesia.

  11. avatar Oigal says:

    End up piss me off because they ask me if i know jakarta night life very much and able and willing to go to those places with boss after work hours for liasing and went abroad (requires passport) to go with him, if its necessaryI ask, if the boss is indonesian guy, she said, no hes a white man. I said “a-ha”.
    ….why i feel they are actually looking for the “boss indonesian wife” rather than a real secretary ..

    Mmm..Really???, Most white guys…. I assume its ok to refer to chocolate guys then?

    I have some (ok a lot) difficulty believing this one. Sounds more like a bit like the ol kapung ladies gossip stories, something the dear ol things would love to believe and get all ticky about but the realities of international business would suggest not.

    Now more than one professional has fallen to mixing work and pleasure but even if a guy was looking for a “temporary play-wife” most international or professional companies have very harsh regulations on sexual harrassment…It would be extermely unlikley professional take the risk of endless litigation and potential career ruining allegations that would be the end result such a thing as Farah posts aka getting company staff to arrange a plaything on payroll.

    Why would you??..If you need company assistance to get a girl in Jakarta then..you should not be allowed to mate anyway. Particularly as (sorry to be blunt) but if a “wife on the side” is your need or want then Indonesia is literally a mana from heaven. Although on the downside, serious and committed relationships are inverse in supply.

    Of course, it may be one of any number of dinosaur local companies with the token westerner for prestige (?) value in a business culture that is 50 years behind. Unfortunately still far to many of them around but I don’t think being “white” or chocolate has FA to do with it.

    Farah…your chip is showing

  12. avatar Ross says:

    Oigal’s argument makes sense….. unless, of course, it was a fresh bule (in both senses, not just the usual one) -somebody newly despatched to Jakarta might not have sufficient clue to go through proper channels, and, bedazzled by the array of loveliness, seek an unprofessional short-cut.

  13. avatar ET says:

    4. 2 lbr pas photo uk 3×4
    5. Sertifikat lain yang mendukung profesionalisme

    I like the little word ‘lain’. It’s all very clear isn’t it. Your looks are also a part of your professionalism.
    Like in monkey kingdom they also choose the most handsome as their leader.

  14. avatar Mbak Sri says:

    @Farah
    uhmmm… yeah..what I have a hard time understanding is your response to the question. If i were in that position and was being asked question related to my scope of work which apparently require me to work overtime as to assist my boss beyond any secretarial/administration duties, I’d most likely ask the relevance of that task to the offered position, and where does it fall under. Does it fall under my job description, would i get overtime by doing so, what’d be required from me if that request occur, etc etc.

    I just dont think my employer’s nationality has anything to do with it. I dont think it has any relevance whether the employer is indonesians or bules or whatnots.

    Some companies preferred to have their staff extend their duties beyond desk works such as attending company’s event, entertain overseas client, and so forth. Its kinda nearly impossible that they’d imply (in an interview no less) on using u as an “escort”. Unless you’re applying to some sorta escort services, which i assumed u didnt

  15. avatar Mbak Sri says:

    Et,
    I think the word “lain” there is (translation) “any supporting documents/certifications you might have relating to the applied position”

    why so bitter? 🙂

  16. avatar ET says:

    why so bitter

    Because the sentence ‘Sertifikat lain…’ comes after the ‘photo’ as if of less importance and the photo is also a some kind of ‘sertifikat’.

  17. avatar Farah says:

    @ oigal
    First what ever chip you said, i am not a gambler (want to teach me to be one?).

    Its worse with the brown. I didn’t meant to really point finger at that. Maybe just some kampung gal gossip etc.
    But my company is one of world top 5 oil and gas company, 90 % of the WHITE GUYS work here have their “indonesian wife” and see them at least 2 days before leaving back to their country. Its not just office HOT GOSSIP because i made their expense report and travel request. One of them even had relationship with one of girl that work with him, cause her trouble, but that their choice anyway. White guys are good but they are not angel (not all of them).

    The recruitment agency that call me is also one of big recruitment company related in oil and gas industry. Well known to recruit people for middle east job, or other countries in same field.

    I even check the name of the woman who call me to a friend who work in Qatar that got his job from her also, just to confirm whether theres a misunderstanding or not. I am very careful about taking job these days.

    I know each company have rules about sexual harassment. And as woman that work in guys working territory (99% worker here at my office guys), i am very aware what harassment is. And the punishment is if they did that company could kick them from their job. I am aware of that. But that doesn’t keep me or other female safe from harassment.

    E.G few weeks ago, a driver call one of a girl here a whore in front of other male workers and made her as joke. She is married, just married actually. I can’t see the point why he did say that, just because she like to use tight jeans and blazer that show her body ? (i use that too like most of many working woman). She report to our head department, he is a white guy. You know what he said ?? “this is man world, you have to get used with that, if you can’t handle it, maybe you are not suppose to be here”

    …if some guy show you porn from their cellphone and push you to watch it is it a harassment ???? that happened to me and one of my friend. Who did that ?? a white old guy and said he is just joking !

    Indonesian guys in my company in the contrary much more open. They will ask you if you are single, and just simply ask if i want to be their youngest wife !! (no way !) and so on.

    Working in jungle with these guys who haven’t seen their wife or gf for more than half month sometimes a bit hard. You will start to believe the excuses they made to do so. But yes i know what my right is.

    I didn’t hate white guy, i didn’t meant to do some stereotyping. Sorry if i accidentally did it, but i didn’t meant to.

    I just hate JERK BOSS, whether he is brown, white, yellow, cream,blue or green.

    Its just the way the company that call me, i ask why she didn’t put the whole requirement/information on the announcement, and she said they will tell this other requirement after the interview (which is i’ve done).

    Maybe just my bad luck.

    @ Mbak Sri
    I did ask, the woman on phone just not really clearly explain. She did mention about the escort. Which is made me confuse.
    I know what secretary duty, its not my first 4 years here in the same field. I am aware of what i am suppose to do or not (or at least that what i believe).
    I’ve work with several expat and locals too. Its just the choice of places as she said made me questioned about the boss nationality, and i just accidentally made right guess about it.
    Theres some good and bad when working with both locals and expat. I just meet some bad and good, and this time write about the bad (i write good things about expat in my other posting anyway).

    Sorry once again guys, if i write something that not exactly a point here.

    I have to say, all of you more lucky than me then, never heard, never see, never GOSSIP anything like i just post.

    Just telling about my story anyway….

  18. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    I think I can well believe that a woman working in the oil and gas industry might find herself regularly subject to inappropriate behaviour from her male colleagues, this would be so even in western nations, I would imagine in Indonesia it would be even worse, anti-harassment policies or not.

  19. avatar Mbak Sri says:

    farah,
    my apology. must be horrible to have to go thru that in daily basis. I probly wouldnt last a day in your office. not condoning what the bule HRD said cuz it is obviously wrong, but hey, if you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. And i prolly would. In a flash.

    Well then, kudos for u, for refusing to be subjected to such situation.

    @ET,
    hmmm..really? dunno… seems like you maybe are reading too much into it.

  20. avatar ET says:

    Mbak Sri

    seems like you maybe are reading too much into it.

    Could be. Probably because having always been my own boss I hate the whole caboodle of recruitment, interviews, lickspittling… I’ve heard there are even courses of how to groom yourself before going to an interview. Yuk…

  21. avatar Mbak Sri says:

    yeah, but it comes with the job, aint it ET? especially if u’re the boss. Wouldnt diss those services tho, they come in handy to those who need em. after all, who would hire anybody who dresses and talks like a hobo in a job intv,eh?

  22. avatar ET says:

    after all, who would hire anybody who dresses and talks like a hobo in a job intv,eh?

    Well, I guess it all depends on what kind of business one is applying for. I can imagine that for fashion, modelling, public relations and other monkey business a perfectly manicured appearence is of the utmost importance, outstripping (pun intended) the more intellectual and character qualities a candidate might possess. I wonder if Albert Einstein in his later days would have stood much chance on the ‘casting couch’.

    Btw, what line of business are you in, Mbak?

  23. avatar Mbak Sri says:

    are ya calling einstein a hobo 😀 ? he he

    guess u’re right. I do also believe, taht showin up nice & clean to job intv is important. A sign of respect, even. No need to be excessively dolled up, cuz i doubt anybody would hire paris hilton-esque character for any job (well…maybe in escort services). Nice and clean, eloquent and well spoken. that’ll do.

    But again, U can dress all u want if u’re already in demand. thats another case all together. I guess no need intv if u’re sought after.

    Im in publication biz, ET. what line r u?

  24. avatar ET says:

    Mbak Sri

    Im in publication biz, ET. what line r u?

    I’m a handyman. I fix broken hearts.

  25. avatar Rob says:

    @ Farah…

    Gotta say that your relaying of the work environment you’re in has me wondering the following:

    Why do you stay?

    @ All

    I really do not see the relevance of appearance for a lot of jobs. I guess if you’re applying for a job as a bikini model then there is probably some expectation that you have a body that could pull off such a gig.

    Nevertheless, if one thinks about the over-licensing and permitting that goes on in Indonesia and the numbers of pieces of identification that one must have that requires a photo, then it hardly seems surprising that an employer would ask for a couple of photos too.

    In any event most offices now require a photo id for security reasons. So, if you do not ante up a photo at the interview stage you will probably be anteing one up somewhere down the track anyways.

    There are more important things in life than whether you are sending in a photo with a job application.

  26. avatar Oigal says:

    “But my company is one of world top 5 oil and gas company, 90 % of the WHITE GUYS work here have their “indonesian wife” and see them at least 2 days before leaving back to their country. Its not just office HOT GOSSIP because i made their expense report and travel request.”

    Mmmmm Maybe i was not clear, I have no doubt that many men (lets say that huh, instead of white guys or brown guys) have their “bit” on the side. The truth is Indonesia is one of those countries (rightly or wrongly and for a number of reasons) where it is “easier” to hmmm..have that bit. I would venture that 90% would be a bit much, perhaps its bit like where I work, the vast majority of people are good and honest familiy people but the percentage that are not, of course the ones noticed.

    Sexual harrassment is a unfortunate reality but my experience would say that an official policy of hiring someone as the extra funtime girl..bizarre and way beyond risky for the company.

    As Ross says..It aint normal and why are you there?

  27. avatar Oigal says:

    .G few weeks ago, a driver call one of a girl here a whore in front of other male workers and made her as joke. She is married, just married actually. I can’t see the point why he did say that, just because she like to use tight jeans and blazer that show her body ? (i use that too like most of many working woman). She report to our head department, he is a white guy. You know what he said ?? “this is man world, you have to get used with that, if you can’t handle it, maybe you are not suppose to be here”

    I sorry to hear that and I am as much as a chauvinist as you can get but if that person (?) worked for me both the driver and the hr guy would be out on their arse the same day!

    Porno’s pushed in front of women?? You have some real issues there, I would suggest you do indeed have jerk boss then because he is a fool besides the moral issues, he is exposing his company to a huge legal liability. Trick is tho, who will be the whisle blower, I guess. I can assure you it is not normal and not accepted…very strange indeed.

  28. avatar Chris says:

    Hi Ross,

    It’s the same with Indonesian stewardesses. When applying, they have to be under 23, not married, a certain height, and include photos. I would personally prefer a short, fat and ugly one with first-aid training, but maybe that’s just me…

    I once asked the Garuda stewardesses what they thought of the ones they see from Western airlines in Singapore. Their first comment was they looked “old”.

    Having said that, it doesn’t only happen in Indonesia. In Australia, Virgin Blue got in trouble for recruiting young, good looking stewardesses over experienced ones from the bankrupt airline Ansett. VB argued it was to fit their “youthful image”, but the Equal Opportunity Commission disagreed, fined them and ordered them to change their recruitment policy.

  29. avatar David says:

    Garuda hostesses have usually struck me as similar to Qantas ones, if you know what I mean…..or maybe I’m getting on the wrong planes.

    What you say about Virgin Blue brings up the issue that Ross mentioned about whether companies can choose to hire whoever they like on whatever criteria….says Patung trying to bring out the controversy..

  30. avatar Ross says:

    Well, I agree companies should hire whomsoever they wish, but they should be honest about it. If they don’t want oldies, or uglies, or nules, or pribumis, it IS their company and up to them, but they ought not to hide behind a request for photos.
    If I were hiring a secretary, I’d obviously choose a Jupe lookalike over a Pretty-clone. Might not get much typing done, but what joy to go to work each morning!
    Incidentally…I’m glad most contributors are using ‘stewardesses’ and ‘hostesses’ rather than the PC ‘flight attendants.’
    Australia is a great country but they have indeed beome infected with nonsense, evidenced by the breathtakingly awful ‘gals’ employed on Qantas. They tend to remind me of a pub landlady I knew in Cambridge who was endearingly addressed as ‘Granny Grow-Bag.’
    Dude’s Ansett story presumably explains this Qantas phenomenon.
    But Garuda girls aren’t anywhere near as bad, some cute, some less so.
    By the way, if – as it seems – some of you have a thing for uniformed ladies, try exiting the south doors of Blok M Plaza at lunchtime, as the Matahari staff go out to enjoy their break.

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