Sandra Lupo, a 27-year-old Hooters waitress putting herself through nursing school, took a leave during the summer of 2012 to have a mass removed from her brain. When she returned to Hooters a few weeks later, she looked different—her head had been shaved and she had a prominent cranial scar. Lupo's direct manager, whom Lupo describes as "supportive," suggested that she wear a wig or a chemo cap or "distracting jewelry" (0____0) or a length of diarrhea-colored pantyhose over her head while on shift. You know, so that that customers wouldn't have to deal with the uncomfortable fact that their chicken-delivery-object is actually a human being with a complicated life and a vulnerable brain. Or something.
Though Lupo couldn't afford a wig, she gamely borrowed one from a friend, but that soon proved a problem because of her still-healing wound:
After her manager approached her again regarding a wig, Lupo said she borrowed one and tried to wear it at work. But it "caused extreme stress to her body because of the surgery and the healing wound," according to court records.
Lupo said her manager then reduced her hours to the point where she was making so little income that she was forced to quit, which made her ineligible for unemployment benefits.
"[Lupo's] physical injury was an actual disability from her surgery which limited the major life activity of working when such work required a wig to be worn," court documents said.
According to Lupo, her customers weren't, in fact, uncomfortable with her scar—they were curious and supportive (you know, like human beings). The discomfort with Lupo's scar, it seems, came mainly from the Hooters regional management—who were more concerned with the potential loss of profits from customers who were not actually uncomfortable than they were with the actual well being of a perfectly competent employee who had just undergone brain surgery. Like...you guys couldn't just wait for her hair to go back?
I don't think that everyone who goes to Hooters or works at Hooters is a woman-hating monster (I'm sure most of them are lovely!), but I think it's fair to say that there are negative consequences to a culture that places attractiveness as the primary measure of female value. Screw your skill level and enthusiasm and the fact that HAIR GROWS BACK—lose your hotness, lose your job.
Marcia McCormick, an associate professor of law at St. Louis University, said Lupo's surgery to remove a brain mass qualifies as a disability, but that Hooters could argue that her appearance was a bona fide qualification for her job.
"In the disability context, if Hooters is to say she's not as attractive now without this wig, if they're selling her attractiveness that might be a real function of her job and mean she isn't qualified by the Americans With Disabilities Act," McCormick said.
"Most companies can't say something like this, but Hooters sells this experience," she said.
"Hot chicks without brain surgery scars"—if that's the Hooters brand, fine. I wish it wasn't, but I understand the need to make money. (Except that the customers DIDN'T MIND THE SCAR. But okay.) However, we should be thinking critically, as a society, about a restaurant that essentially functions as a misogyny theme park (sample Hooters decor: "Caution! Blondes thinking!"). Especially since we live in a culture that actively limits women's upward mobility in careers that don't adhere to traditional femininity. We should examine the ways in which our permissiveness and desire for consequence-free objectification hurts women, and we should seek out constructive ways in which sexual attraction and mutual respect can coexist.
You really can have it all, you know. You can appreciate women's bodies without devaluing women. You can think critically about the world, treat women like human beings, be nice to people who just had brain surgery, all while still enjoying boobs and chicken wings. No one's trying to take away your hot chicks—but if hot chicks become temporarily less hot, do you have to take away their jobs? I'm not sure you do. I think we can do better.