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they wear short shorts
and it's tacky
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)
pop culture

I find that I use the word "Tacky" in my vocabulary a lot; things look, sound and are generally tacky to my taste.

For instance, when people wear jeans to black tie formal events, I label it as tacky. The way some participants act on TV game shows is tacky. When couples dress alike, it's tacky. The way some people handle their dealings in general, is tacky.

You get the picture.

Tacky being the keyword here; I was looking through a community magazine-- you know, the kind with coupons for local businesses-- when I came across an ad for perhaps the tackiest thing since the phenomenon that is Hooters.

"MAKE FATHER'S DAY A KNOCKOUT" it read in large white capital letters against a maroon background. In a picture accompanying the "clever" pun were five young girls standing around an empty barber's chair, beckoning to the male potential customer.

Knockouts is the name of the place, hence, the "clever" pun comment; it is a place where a man can go and get his hair cut by "knockout" girls in short shorts and tight shirts.

It might make some men's mouths water; the idea of having a skimpily clad woman playing with their hair.

For others, it might conjure up what I like to call "mini throw up".

Why, oh why are there women out there willing to work in such tacky environments?

I've often wondered what would possess any self-respecting girl to even consider working at a place like Hooters, or the aforementioned Knockouts. I come up with very little to satiate my curiosity.

It can't just be the ability to wear shorts on the job, seeing as how office dress codes are deteriorating, and people are even wearing flipflops to work nowadays.

It can't be a sense of pride and dignity, because there's hardly any dignity in getting a minimum wage job based on your physical appearance.

It can't be the sense of equality and camaraderie with the opposite sex, because being ogled on the job cancels that possibility out.

So, if it's none of those things, then what is it?

Feeling sexy? I don't feel sexy when I'm ogled by totally incompatible men for the base reason that I'm a woman with certain physical features (I've often experienced "mini throw up" when these instances occur). To feel sexy based on that kind of attention is not only tacky, but degrading.

Feeling empowered by having a man melt under your touch? Getting paid to have that kind of control cancels out the empowerment part, and again, it's tacky.

I presume that being a waitress at Hooters rakes in more tips than at your neighborhood Chili's, and being a hairstylist at Knockouts also rakes in more tips than at Fantastic Sam's.

The only thing I see as a somewhat valid and sane reason is the almighty dollar. Again, money is rearing its ugly head, blurring lines, and clouding judgements.

At the end of the day, other than large tips, the girls at Hooters and Knockouts go home, in my opinion, with very little else.

It is all so very tacky.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari


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alex b
6.1.07 @ 5:29a

Ok. As a chick who wears Daisy Dukes or hot pants while pouring shots in record time in a "tacky" atmosphere, I would like to point a few things out:

1. Money. Most "sexy" themed places places offer minimum wage (or base pay) + tips, so there's usually a system in place designed for a girl to make a fair bit of money. How much she makes is entirely up to her. If she's pretty but has the social instincts of a gnat, she won't make any money. But if she can work prettiness with a charismatic and entertaining personality and uses her mind on the job, then she'll make a killing.

2. Pride & dignity-wise, that's a subjective call. Most chicks I know (myself included) don't go home with damaged pride from making some great money on a shift for looking cute. Quite frankly, it's just surprising that attraction is validated that much. What would damage my pride is if I ever had sex for money and committed prostitution- my sex life is exclusively for me. But since it's a question of sexuality (not sex) and good old-fashioned labor (bartending, waiting tables) for money, I'm not the least bit ashamed.

3. Getting ogled doesn't interfere with my sense of gender equality. I don't think I'm victimized, suddenly sub-human, or any less of the woman I am because some guy was checking out my rear end. And heck- guys ogle chicks all the time. It's not a job thing. It's that whole "genetic wiring" thing. Is a guy violating a woman's equality for looking? Nope. (He might be an idiot, but that doesn't mean he's a chauvinist).

4. My sense of sexy isn't wrecked from some unappealing guy checking out my rear, either. Feeling sexy comes from things I do in my personal time for enjoyment- dressing up to go out, having a fun date, or even just having a good workout. My sexuality is empowered from knowing I'm not catering to a guy just to please him- I'm catering to ME, and making sure I'm having fun on my terms.

Money is a means to an end, and lots of pretty girls- actors, artists, students, and even moms and professionals- make an extra buck to further a goal, just like any other job. Because that's what it is- a job to handle professionally, and not to personally criticize anyone (or oneself) with. Call it tacky, or even unacceptable by religious standards, but it isn't denigrating or a moral question- it's simply sexuality fueling a business.


russ carr
6.1.07 @ 9:30a

Well, let's be honest here. Some of the women in these places? They're using what they've got, because that's all they know how to do.

Now, never having heard of Knockouts before this column (we Midwestern men tend to go to small storefront barber shops offering cracked linoleum floors, a small TV with snowy reception squawking out a baseball game, and a short, waddle-armed guy named Joe wielding the scissors) I can't speak to the hotties that went to styling school (I really don't think they went to barber college), my mind comes back to Luann on "King of the Hill." Yeah, she knows hair, but she wouldn't know ennui if it was 2 for $1 at the Megalomart.

So really, I don't think dignity ever factors into the equation. I don't want to call it "the opposite" of dignity, because it's not, but if you have to equate "dressing modesty" with "dignity," then I suppose for the sake of this argument, it is the opposite. So these women, rather than feeling obligated to maintain their "dignity," instead have decided that they are secure enough with the sexuality and happy enough with the body that God (and, perhaps, Bally's) gave them that they have no shame (or, just maybe, some pride) with showing it off if it keeps that paycheck rolling in.

So yes, strip it down to the bare facts, and they do it because they get paid, and have no problem with that. Sexuality and marketing are inextricably linked. That's why you see Catherine Zeta-Jones selling cellular service, and not Abe Vigoda. It's why the Brawny Man is brawny, and not some Woody Allenesque nebbish.

Is it Prostitution Lite? Yeah, probably. But it's all titillation. It's applying a little racy fantasy to make the humdrum of life a little less humdrum. I agree that too much is tacky (and often, such as in the case of Hooters, is a distraction from the poor quality of the product) but without it, we might as well all be wearing shapeless grey coveralls and buying processed food in white cans that say FOOD in sterile black sans-serif type.

reem al-omari
6.1.07 @ 12:06p

A bar is a little different, in my opinion. A bar is just a completely different setting. I did not include bar settings in the column for that reason. Perhaps Hooters may fall into the "bar" category, but they're famous for their wings, so it kind of leans more toward dining than anything... hence, it's tacky to have such a blatant sexual thing added to the atmosphere.

As for haircuts, it's just way too tacky to me. It's like the proverbial sexy nurse fantasy or something, gone even tackier.

But I've gotten at least one job based on my looks, and didn't get a job, also based on my looks. It sucks either way, because I kicked ass doing my job when I got hired, and I would've kicked ass if I would've gotten hired.

alex b
6.1.07 @ 7:31p

Since you cited Hooters- a barstaff/food service job- I assumed the "tacky" issue on the table is the presence of Prostitution Lite in regular businesses that aren't strip clubs. In a sexy atmosphere, Hooters isn't that different from a bar- people don't exactly frequent both for the wings or the beer, but do it for the jiggle factor.

It may suck to know that looks are a determining factor in whether you get hired or not, but that's just life. The prettier and more appealing you are, the more likely it is you'll get hired anywhere you apply. Not fair, but it's also something you can pull to your advantage- if you're sharp enough to know how your style works and can work it accordingly, you have a fighting shot for that job.

I obviously can't answer for every woman working the jiggle job (as Russ says, it's true that there are some chicks for whom it is all they have), but I can answer for anyone in on the absurd nature of the Gratuitously Cute titillation joke- the dignity's intact, the goals are getting furthered along, and more often than not, the money's pretty good.

reem al-omari
6.1.07 @ 9:08p

Another thing that is part of life, but unfair and I would like to go off on... I interviewed for a job once with a guy known at his company to play favorites with certain types of girls. You see, I'm petite, curvy and brunette. This guy was married to and only wanted to hire tall, blond and waifish girls. I obviously didn't get the job, but being that I knew some people at the company, I found out that one of the top contenders was a girl who had no college education, some waitressing experience and used to be a Broncos cheerleader... you can imagine her body type. So, places like Hooters or knockouts want cookie-cuttered women to hire, and that, in my opinion borders on discrimination-- heck, it's beyond bordering... it IS discrimination.

I'm good-looking to some people, but I might not be good-looking enough to meet the standards of Knockouts for the hiring manager, regardless of experience or how well I can do the job.

robert melos
6.1.07 @ 10:44p

This conjures up images of Samson, and we know how he ended up. I personally go to a local barber shop billed as "The Trim Master". Granted there's an double entendre there, but he's a cute Portuguese guy who is fantastic at what he does.

At one point in my life I knew a lot of girls who worked as exotic dancers. They had one interest; money. They were using their looks and their bodies to manipulate men into parting with money. Men are easily manipulated into parting with big money when a beautiful woman smiles at them. Men are stupid that way.

It might not be fair, but it is the way of the world. I work as a Realtor. Several years ago I worked in a office with a girl about 22 years-old. She would bring several outfits to the office each day and change depending on who she had appointments with that day. Contractors got the Daisy Dukes and halter tops, married couples got the conservative business suit, and single guys got the Frederick's of Hollywood sundress. She was extremely successful.

I wore suits. I was not as successful. If I could use my sexuality to manipulate business I would in a heartbeat.

reem al-omari
6.2.07 @ 12:37a

Interesting characters out there. Kudos to people who can make bank with their "hotness".

I guess I'm just someone who'd rather live in squander doing something I feel comfortable doing, rather than make bank doing something I'm uncomfortable with. Albeit, some people are comfortable getting ahead at work and financially using their goods, and again, that's not a complete weakness as long as you have a good & healthy attitude about it. I'm just not one of those people. Bummer... I might've become filthy rich by now. Though I'm not sure I fall under the category of "hot" in the way these places perceive as hot.

robert melos
6.2.07 @ 3:28a

Reem, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. While I do consider myself good looking, from certain angles, I'm hardly what is classically considered to be handsome. And of course I wasn't always confident or comfortable with myself. I wonder about those women and men who do trade on their looks. Were they always comfortable with themselves? I've read interviews with some professional models/actors who claim they still don't consider themselves to be attractive and are surprised that others find them attractive. I don't know if they are just saying that to make the rest of us feel better or not, but if I believe them then that makes them a bit more human.

I also think some of the ability to trade on your looks comes from the environment in which you were raised. My parents were very open about everything in life, not wishing to shield me from anything in life, yet they were also very over-protective in other ways.

The comfort level can also come out of desire to rebel against society, or family, or out of need for money. People are a complicated lot.

alex b
6.2.07 @ 5:54a

Reem- as a petite Asian chick, if I were faced with the "I hire blondes" situation you saw, I would have thought "Uh-oh, low hiring probability here". But I would have gone for an interview anyway knowing that I will make a pretty good impression, both as an attractive chick and an intelligent one. Even with the bias present, it's worth going for it to shatter it and it's still an opportunity to make a great impression. (And if you didn't get it, you'd still walk away remembered well, or have a pretty decent contact).

Though blonde Playboy centerfolds probably would be the usual brand of sexy hired by places like Hooters or Knockouts, there are quite a few black, Latin, Asian, and Caribbean girls in jiggle jobs- and they're working the "exotic" card. I don't think Hooters would be racially discriminatory right off the bat, but would see if a girl could pull off the playful kind of sexy that appeals to their clientele. More importantly, they'd look to see if a girl seems comfortable in her skin. If she isn't, then she isn't hired.

On the comfort level Robert mentions- obviously, I'm totally at ease using my looks to benefit myself. I never thought I could use my looks to the point that I do, didn't know I could, but once I figured out how to pull it off, it's been smooth sailing. Anyone with wits and a nice smile can acquire that ease. Comfort- both with myself and using my looks- doesn't come from thinking I'm hot- that's arrogance- but knowing that I'm a reasonably striking girl with a distinct personality. That's where it starts.

lisa r
6.2.07 @ 11:55a

I think what concerns me here is that the two places Reem has focused on (Knockouts and Hooters) apparently are targeting families as potential customers. A Father's Day special that pointedly refers to "DAD" isn't targeting single guys--for the most part they're targeting family men. So what kind of message does that send to the children of these men--that women are to be viewed as sexual objects and that a woman must be sexy and have cantaloupe-sized breasts to be successful? These aren't establishments where you must be 18 or 21 to enter.

Because let's face it--it doesn't matter how much of the stylist's or waitress's brain is being used to further her tips, what the children are seeing is that you have to be sexy to get a job or, in boys' minds, that viewing woman as sex objects is okay. You know these women aren't just doing their jobs, they're being provocative in order to increase their income.

Robert, if that woman had worked for me and pulled the wardrobe stunts, she'd have been out of a job in my office, posthaste. I don't care who your client is in a real estate office, Daisy Dukes and sundresses are never appropriate. Regardless of how successful she was personally, it would degrade the reputation of the office as a whole.


alex b
6.2.07 @ 2:22p

Lisa, you've brought up a great point. I don't think the Knockouts' ad sends out an inherently harmful message about women with its playful use of sexuality. Nor do I think young boys would look at its ad and automatically think something sexist like, "These girls are there for me to do anything I want with" or "Chicks have to look like Barbie to get a job." I think the ad is designed to make any male react with, "She's hot. Duh."

I also don't think women in the Knockouts ad should be "blamed" for denigrating feminine sexuality in representing a product or business. Sex in advertising is inevitable- a few years ago, Cindy Crawford shot some commercials for Pepsi where she pulled into a gas station, and in full view of a pair of ogling young men, she bought a Pepsi out of a vending machine in a pair of Daisy Dukes and drank it as if nothing else could satisfy her. Was Pepsi's campaign successful? Sure. Did Crawford get a whole slew of fans from the advertising and succeed more? Sure. Was Crawford denigrating herself? Nope. (Was Crawford ingesting something so sugar-laden that will make her gain weight from everyday use? Uh, yes.)

Now, if a boy finds content where a woman is being sexually compromised- hardcore porn in his dad's stash or sexually violent S&M on the Internet- then that's harmful, for that shows him it's okay to denigrate a woman for the sake of desire. It never is. I think there are worse things out there for a young man to be exposed to, and while the Knockouts ad may be in questionable taste, it's fluff compared to other material out there.

As far as the wardrobe stunts go, I think that kid was shrewd. Was she pulling anything offensive in dressing provocatively? I don't think so. If she had worked for me, I probably would have thought she was innovative. Now, if I definitively found out she was using sex as a weapon instead of her looks, then I would draw a line and she would be out of a job.


robert melos
6.2.07 @ 6:04p

Real estate is an unusual business. I've seen female agents show houses is frumpy sweats and old sweaters, and others in business suits ala Fredericks, the kind with the miniskirt and jacket to accentuate the breasts. I've seen them wearing pantsuits in the Katherine Hepburn style. The integrity of real estate is a joke. What everything boils down to money. Now it may not be so in every work environment, but in real estate and mortgage it is all about the money.

Male mortgage reps flirt with the secretaries in order to get past them to the agents. And then they flirt with the agents in order to get a potential loan. Ethics is also a joke. We don't live in a perfect world, we live in a real one. People use whatever assets they have at their disposal to get ahead.

However, once someone lands a job, even based on their looks, if they can't do the job they were hired to do they won't keep it. A hair stylist is a licensed position, so one would assume these women are just using their looks to get better tips, but if they do a lousy job I'm sure the clients would still complain (possibly more so and be more insulting about it because the girl is then an incompetent blond in their eyes).

True the image being presented is one objectifying women, and that is one that has gone on throughout history. It isn't going to change. Women are still going to be oolged or treated as possessions. It's wrong, and enlightened people don't treat them as such, but a vast majority of the world population still does treat women as objects and possessions.

The girl I mentioned worked for her uncle in real estate. Prior to her career as a realtor she worked for her father, as a dancer in one of his go go bars. Her upbringing was one of learning to use her assets.

reem al-omari
6.2.07 @ 6:12p

The more we discuss this, the more it becomes clear to me that there are a lot of angles to look at this topic from, and from each angle, there is a different response.

To explain why I feel the way I feel: Most of it is due to me being brought up in an Arab/Muslim household. I lived in the Middle East until I was 10, and then I came to the States. I have formed my opinions about the time and place for sexuality based on the somewhat conservative views of my religion and culture, which my parents kept alive for me at home, but I've also formed my opinions about the time and place for sexuality based on observations I've made of people around me right here in America. I'm not saying all people feel the same way about Hooters, or Knockouts, obviously. But for people in my "group" I feel the way I feel about Hooters and knockouts. I don't think women shouldn't celebrate their beauty and femininity, and attract men with those goods. I'm all for that. I mean, sure, I work out and do my hair and dress a certain way for ME to feel good about myself, but I also find that it's attractive to the opposite sex... there's nothing wrong with using your goods in that way. I AM a sexual person, afterall. I wouldn't wanna use it to get ahead at work deliberately, though, no matter how harmless it is. I just think there are sometimes over the top ways, and places like Knockouts and Hooters are over the top for places you find in the suburbs of America, where there's no age restrictions for the clientele.

Like I said, there are so many ways to look at this and so many opinions and views that are perfectly logical and contain an abundance of common sense, but I still feel the same way about it.

russ carr
6.2.07 @ 6:39p

It's a weird continuum, Reem, and you shouldn't feel that your perspective is any less valid. There's a huge culture shift between Arab countries and the United States. It's even moreso, I think, in Europe, where sexual mores are even more liberal. Just think -- you could have moved to Amsterdam.

I'm not at all prudish. Sex and nudity and all that comes with it doesn't embarrass me. Most of the time, in fact, I find it hilarious, because if you can look past the T&A that they're trying to distract you with, you'll see the silly, shallow merchandise behind it all. I don't go to Hooters because I'm not excited by hot women in skimpy clothing -- I don't go there because the food is lousy! I wouldn't go to Knockouts if there was one in the area, because I really doubt they could cut my hair for the $9 (tip not included) I pay my regular barber.

If I want sex, I know where I can get it, and I don't have to pay for it. So please, service industry, don't pander to me with suggestions of fantasy fulfillment, because you're just not gonna deliver the goods.

alex b
6.2.07 @ 8:13p

Reem, at the end, we are all simply products of our upbringing and experience. Though I've brought up a contrary point of view from my own realm of experience, I haven't cited my life to make you think yours is any less, but simply to share what I know (and even pop a couple tips your way with what works for me).

In general, I believe your opinion is yours to exercise as you see fit. With regard to sexuality, I would really hope that it is something for you to exercise as you see fit because it's so deeply personal and powerful. It doesn't matter if you're conservative, and it doesn't matter if I've swung off chandeliers (FYI- I haven't tried that yet.) As long as you live life on your terms, then that works just fine. Rock on, Reem.


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