I know I’m a few days late on this news item and probably the millionth person to write about it (you can blame a few late nights in a row at the office), but I can’t contain my excitement. I literally scoped my office for colleagues to share my amazement with. Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mother, and former employee of Citigroup, filed suit against the company claiming that she was fired for “looking too sexy.” She claims men regarded her body as distracting despite wearing the typical uniform of bank executives: conservative suits.
I read about this case in Maureen Dowd’s NY Times op-ed. Interestingly she positions the story as counterintuitive given how lucky beautiful people are — get more positive attention, are paid more, get higher marks, etc. But I don’t see this story as surprising at all. Attractive women may have it easy on the beach or in the bar but not at work. And I can attest to that. I’m certainly not model material by any means, but I have a certain kind of figure that looks better in form-fitting clothes. Even as a teenager in school, I felt like I should downplay my looks so as not to be perceived as dumb. Skip ahead a few years to post-college interview season, I was told by a former classmate who worked for the company I was interviewing with that my conservative suit and high-cut blouse made me appear too “flirty.” Huh? I can’t count all the comments in this vein I’ve gotten from many well-meaning people throughout the years.
Thankfully I ended up choosing a profession that allows for greater variety in styles. And thanks to changing times and other cultural influences, we don’t have to look like men or dowdy asexual old ladies in the workplace anymore. But sometimes I still find myself longing for the days when I was pregnant because I never felt I was being judged by my appearance.
I truly believe such negative reactions to people like Lorenzana stem from our culture’s discomfort with beauty and the power it has over us. Men especially feel like they can’t admire a woman’s beauty. So instead they have to distance themselves from it or even criticize those who have it.
I’m happy that people who are discriminated against for being unattractive are getting their fair share of legal backing. But I’m also happy that those discriminated against for their overly sexy, feminine — whatever you want to call it — appearance are fighting for the acceptance that they too deserve.