Why We Can't Resist a 'Too Hot for Work' Story

There's a made-for-the-tabs story on the covers of the New York Post  and New York Daily News today, and ostensibly, it's about breasts. But really, it's about much more than that. 

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There's a made-for-the-tabs story on the covers of the New York Post and New York Daily News today, and ostensibly, it's about breasts. But really, it's about much more than that. This is a story about a woman who seems to purport to be so attractive, hot, sexy, and inherently—naturally or unnaturally—"better" than others that it has brought her no limit of trials and tribulations, and ultimately lost her, in this case, her job. So, she's suing.

This particular story is about a 29-year-old woman named Lauren Odes who says she was fired from Native Intimates, a lingerie company run by Orthodox Jews where she'd been placed as a data-entry clerk and office assistant in late April by a temp agency. Fired because she was "just too hot." She was there all of two days before the looks-criticisms began, reports the Daily News. Now, backed by lawyer Gloria Allred, who is very busy indeed, she's filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the company.
Among Odes' claims: The company sells lingerie (plenty of hot things, there, why can't she be hot, too?, is the subtext), but also, she's been humiliated and embarrassed (and asked to tape down her breasts, dubbed "too large," allegedly). She was, apparently, warned about what she was wearing. According to Rebecca Rosenberg and Dan Mangan, writing in the Post, "Odes said her boss’ hectoring about her hefty chest reached a fever pitch when she went to work wearing a tight black dress with a plunging V-shaped back that exposed her bra strap and stockings." She was made to wear a large red bathrobe.

Never mind that this is retail, where bosses can ask you to wear whatever they want, essentially. Never mind that she only worked there a handful of days, or that she was placed there by a temp agency, or that, it sounds like, employee and employer did not see eye to eye for any number of reasons. Because this is America, this is a lawsuit, but because it has to do with breasts, it takes on the cast of British tabloid farce and is splashed all over the place. This is not because this story is an important one that will effect social change or bring rights to those without. This is a story that's on the tabloids' covers because it is outrageous. Part of its inherent appeal, or the appeal it's expected to have for readers, is the opportunity to say that Odes is actually "not that hot," to say that her breasts are indeed "too large," to generally laugh at the story and her, too. Any imagined or real injustice is less important than the fact that this woman has the audacity to claim she's so hot she lost her job. In that way, it ends up being a story that lets people hate women. (For proof, look at the comments on either of those tabloids' stories.)

Yet she put herself out there by doing this, a reader might think. Why not laugh at her? Laugh if you want to, but be aware that this story plays into the basest levels of human outrage on both sides: One, the outrage that one might be rejected or denied anything—a job, in this case—because of how they look. Because they're too pretty; see, it's counterintuitive! We saw this with the incredibly viral story of "Too Hot Banker," Debrahlee Lorenzana, who sued Citigroup, saying they'd let her go because she was too attractive. "Too hot to bank" was a Lorenzana catchphrase, and with her we went through emotional phases ranging from compassion (in some) to laughing surprise to "clicking through slideshows" to doubt to dragging her through the mud as an attention-seeker to outrage. This is likely to happen here, too, though there may be less compassion to start with given Odes' bleached blonde hair, seemingly abnormally large breasts, and apparent lack of professional dress (Lorenzana wore business suits)—not to mention her particular employment situation, or the way she's handled this lawsuit. The tabloids are just asking people to rail on and mock her.

Remember the other allegedly "too beautiful" woman we've seen in the press recently? People came out in droves to tell her she wasn't that hot, she was actually just a narcissistic you-know-what, and so on and on. Her plea indeed seemed ridiculous, at least to this writer. But we talked about her for a week and she ended up on the morning TV circuit, so maybe it's a win-win. We've all been fulfilled—our outrage has been had; the attention-seekers get the attention they want; we can rest easy at night because there's nothing beyond these stories that really needs to worry us. They're not about war or human rights violations or even the price of milk going up. They're cotton candy. Lawsuit cotton candy at the media circus.

There's kind of a lesson here, though, and it's not a pretty one. It is dangerous to stand up in front of the world and claim that you're so attractive you didn't get what you wanted. On one hand, all these people crying wolf prevent a legitimate cry from being heard and listened to. How do we tell the difference at this point? Further, it's a psychological challenge to those reading, it's someone saying they're better, but it also plays as an excuse. So while calling someone who says they're too hot "not all that" might be misogynistic or simply nasty in some cases, in others, maybe it's just a reaction against what appears a self-important whiny brag. There's another lesson as well, which is, if you want to be featured on the cover of your local tabloid, simply say you're so hot you got fired and are now suing the company. Oh, have photos, too, and lots of 'em. A "Too Hot" story is nothing without photos. Finally, make sure your lawyer is Gloria Allred. (Or not: Now Lorenzana is back in the spotlight railing against her former legal counsel, whom she wishes she hadn't used after all, she says). Hindsight is 20/10?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.