A new study examining the well-being and mental health of women who work in so-called "breastaurants" — like Hooters, Twin Peaks, or Titled Kilt — uncovered something unsettling, but unsurprising. The study found that women who work in these environments, in which their bodies are on display and subjected to comment and approval from the male gaze, can lead to increased anxiety and disordered eating behaviors.
The study, which was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, looked at 252 waitresses in the United States whose average age was 30. Approximately half of the study participants were enrolled in college. "Essentially, we found that working in sexually objectifying restaurant environments are not good for waitresses’ psychological health,” Dawn M. Szymanski of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said to PsyPost. More specifically, she said, they found that "working in higher levels of sexually objectifying restaurant environments were related to more anxiety and disordered eating among waitresses."
The researchers attribute these findings to the lack of personal power and status in their work environment. "This lack of both organizational and personal power was then related to more rumination," Szymanski explained to PsyPost. "Our findings reveal the important role that contextual factors may have on waitresses’ coping responses and mental health symptoms."
These results back up previous research about how sexual objectification affects the mental health of people who experience it. Objectification has been linked to poor body image, insecurity, and substance abuse. Sexual objectification has also been linked to increased victim blaming mentality among victims of sexual assault.
While the restaurant industry itself has struggled in recent years, these "breastaurants" (yes, that's actually what the industry calls them, which is so telling) have seen double-digit growth. They provide much needed well-paying jobs for women, and that's something that should be applauded. However, part of providing employment should be doing what they can to ensure the safety and well-being of their staff is prioritized.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
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