June 14th, 2004

last unicorn

Jealous of your Cigarette (girls)

So C and I went to the Matthew Good concert last night, and it was pretty good, although I was a little tired ... but that's not the point of this post.

This post is about the cigarette girls.

You may have seen them: Scantily-clad in gold sequins, mostly blonde (I thought they must all have been required to use the same colour hair dye until, shock of shocks, a brunette actually walked by), strutting around the bar in pointy high heels, carrying cigarette displays. I guess they must have been selling the cigarettes, but I couldn't tell you for sure, since I never saw one of them make a sale. I did see them get chatted up, flirted with, have drinks bought for them (which they refused, as they were surely required to do), and, most often, get ogled. And not subtly ogled, either. Although it's hard to be subtle around a girl whose breasts look like they are going to fall out of her top at any moment. Yes, I know, that was catty.

I have a number of reactions to the cigarette girls, none of them good. They're hawking a toxic product, one which the city has decided is so dangerous it may not be consumed inside the bar. The cigarette girl tactic is a blatant use of sex to sell those products. It's exploitative. It treats women as objects. It treats men as mindless creatures who can be induced to use a toxic product just to have an excuse to talk to a girl in a skimpy outfit. And, most disturbing of all to me, it probably works.

And, fair disclosure, the cigarette girls have the same effect on me they probably have on many women -- profound, unreasoning jealousy. A certain level of "she's after my man!" hostility. I don't want to be a cigarette girl -- heaven forbid! -- but, on some level that I hate to acknowledge, part of me wishes I had the option of looking like one. So part of my anger at the cigarette girls and the company that uses them is anger at the way they make me feel. I don't like feeling so petty and jealous. I don't like being so concerned about appearances, mine in particular. I'd like to be a bigger person than that. But apparently I'm not.

After a while, the hostility became less overwhelming. I started to watch how people interacted with these girls. These women. Other women mostly ignored them, or shot hostile glances behind their boyfriends' backs. The men... well, I've said it already. The men ogled shamelessly. Few were the men who didn't give the cigarette girls a once over when they walked by. Few were the men who did it subtly.

I kind of feel sorry for the cigarette girls. True, they took the job, and probably consciously made the choice to exploit their own bodies for a paycheque. I'm sure many of them enjoy the power they get from their bodies. But it can't be a fun job. Well, maybe it's fun at first, but all that staring has got to wear on you after a while.

I want to write an angry letter about the cigarette girls. I want to condemn the company (Benson & Hedges... I checked) for exploiting women like that. But I'm not entirely sure what to say, and what I expect them to do. If it's working, why would they stop? The complaints of a non-smoker are pretty meaningless to them. And if it isn't working, they'll stop on their own, so why bother to complain?

But I still feel that I have to say something. To someone. I'm just not sure what, or who.