By Vivian Lee

“If there is a sudden change in cabin pressure, the oxygen masks will drop down automatically. Pull either the mask or the yellow tag down, and place the mask over you nose and mouth and breathe normally. Attend to yourself first before helping children or others…"

These are words both flight attendants and passengers are familiar with.

Because of different flight regulations, sometimes flight attendants need to personally demonstrate the safety procedures. Whenever we are doing the demo, we always question if the passengers are really paying attention to how to escape or if they are thinking about whether or not the flight attendants are good-looking and if the uniforms are tight enough.

I often force this question on male friends and the answers are naturally very consistent.

“Of course I care whether or not the flight attendants are hot. They’re standing right in front of me!"

What they don’t know is, each step in the demo may be the life-saving key when escaping.

I’ve talked to a retired flight attendant about the problem of the height of crew members.

She asked me, “Do you know why airlines had height requirements 30 years ago?"

I said, “Because they needed to be able to reach the overhead bin and they might look better in Chinese-style dresses."

She shook her head and said, “You’re only half right. It was definitely not for beauty, but so that they can reach the escape equipment on the cabinet in the shortest time."

Sometimes I wonder who and what made everyone focus on whether or not flight attendants satisfy the imagination of passengers.

Aren’t high-slit sexy uniforms objectifying female flight attendants?

Designer William Chang was interviewed after the launch of the new China Airlines uniforms and said if the uniforms aren’t provocative, then the designer has failed.

Reporters said, “Passengers will be arrested if they have improper thoughts concerning the flight attendants."

Chang replied, “They’re just thoughts and aren’t breaking the law."

These provocative uniforms were officially implemented on August 10.

Regardless of the crew or passengers, everyone has their own standards of beauty and ugliness, but people have said crew members have had to cover up themselves constantly because of the overly exposed uniform. It has also caused a lot of inconvenience when working. There have even been flight attendants that have had severe allergies and pain when wearing the new stockings.

Four years ago, Cathay Pacific hired designer Eddie Lau to design flight attendant uniforms.

Employees rejected the design many times because it hung too tightly to bodies and the skirts were too short. Lau’s response at that time was, “Women need to have figure."

The basic needs of flight attendant uniforms are convenience, comfort and functional. Due to restrictions of cabin pressure and working environment, whether it is the material or length of the skirt, the design should meet the needs of working conveniently. But from the words of these designers, we can tell they all design from the perspective of men’s imaginations.

Were they really thinking about the flight crew when designing these provocative uniforms? Did they stand in the shoes of the companies and put the considerations of creating a friendly image first? Or did they merely wish to objectify females with their creations?

Dearest designers, have you ever thought of how hurt crew members are when they put on their uniforms and are reminded of your words every day?

What surprised me most is that the airlines allowed these statements to be published on media platforms. Is the objectifying of female flight attendants shaped by these airlines? Maybe we can tell from the uniforms and marketing strategies of businesses that the charm, beauty and even sexiness of women bring a lot of advertising effectiveness.

Flight attendants holding up safety information cards and demonstrating safety procedures in the aisle. |Photo Credit: REUTERS

Flight attendants holding up safety information cards and demonstrating safety procedures in the aisle. |Photo Credit: REUTERS

But the expertise of flight attendants shouldn’t be portrayed as “sexy kittens".

As a former female flight attendant, I want to say that our existence is to ensure the safety of the flight. Your so-called daydream shouldn’t be satisfied through our uniforms.

I often hear people complaining, “The flight attendants today look so old." and “How can a flight attendant’s legs be that thick?" But here’s the most extreme comment I have heard, “How unprofessional of the flight attendant to be that heavy!"

I really want to ask them, what can the age and body of crew members exactly give you on the trip? Will they help passengers reach their destination safely? Flight attendants are also human beings; can’t we also become heavier and older like normal people?

I remember when I first started training in the company our teacher told us that a certain Chinese airline would set a standard BMI value for each flight attendant during training and do regular check-ups.

If flight attendants went over the arranged BMI, they would be suspended until they returned to their original body shape.

When traveling by Asian airlines, you only see young flight attendants with good body figures, but middle-aged flight attendants are often seen on foreign airlines. For these companies, as long as crew members have professional knowledge, they can have a life-long career as a flight attendant. But turning back to Asian flight attendants, they are always young and beautiful in front of the public.

We eventually grow old and the body shape of employees change due to giving birth, but do we lose our working rights when these circumstances occur?

Do companies wish to maintain these concepts and force older crew members to quit in order to maintain the body standards of their employees?

European and American countries emphasize more on the transportability of aircrafts and whether or not they can safely carry passengers from A to B. Turning to Asian airlines that place value on servicing customers, body figures and ages of flight attendants have become the criteria people judge airlines by. Exactly who is responsible for this confusing standard and work culture?

Each member must go through rigorous training before becoming an official flight attendant, including emergency evacuation measures, usage of emergency slides and rafts, fire-extinguishing procedures, first aid knowledge and even outdoor survival skills. Companies carry out strict assessment in order to ensure that we know how to react when accidents occur.

This is where our expertise lies.

The safety position passengers should retain if the aircraft lands roughly or is hit with strong force.|Photo Credit: Corbis

The safety position passengers should retain if the aircraft lands roughly or is hit with strong force.|Photo Credit: Corbis

Try asking, “If unfortunately you come across a flight accident, would you rather trust an experienced middle-aged flight attendant or would you put your life in the hands of a sexy girl in a super tight outfit?"

Next time flight attendants are doing safety demonstrations, please shift your eyes from the bodies of the crew members to the hands that are pointing out the evacuation routes or to the safety instructions cards in the back of seats.

Job descriptions are listed clearly in the recruiting announcements, but not one talks about playing the part of a sexy kitten. They all have to do with whether or not the crew members can safely transport the passengers to their destinations or assist in safe landing. With these in mind, are our ages, body figures or appearances that important?

Translated by Olivia Yang