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Promoting Exploitation? Student Promo Girls

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It seems that photos from that bloke from freshers' week foam party surrounded by a horde of busty blondes at your favourite late-night mid-week haunt donning hot pants emblazoned with the club night's name, knee high socks and little else is an inescapable feature of our Facebook news feed the morning following a raucous alcohol-fuelled night out. But what would initially appear to be a harmless lucrative part-time job opportunity for cash-strapped female students is not as such the case.

With debt for students starting university this academic year estimated to total an astounding £53,400, substantially greater than the £26,100 debt that students who commenced undergraduate study in 2011 will inherit, it's unsurprising that a plethora of renowned club nights have reported an unprecedented surge in female students combining their passion for socialising and earning an income by acting as promoters for club nights. And with The National Association of Student Employment Services (NASES) advising students not to work for more than 15 hours a week, the flexibility of evening shifts late into the night which can complement a demanding schedule of lectures and essay-writing is unsurprisingly an increasingly attractive option for undergraduates. At present, female students constitute one in three of all promo girls in Sheffield on the premise that income from promo work will fund their tuition fees.

On the surface, promo girl recruitment bears a resemblance to traditional part-time jobs such as pulling pints or waiting tables which offer students a valuable source of income to support their studies. However, in stark contrast to its arguably more respectable counterparts which require tangible academic qualifications or relevant work experience, to even qualify as promo girl entails a more superficial criteria. Aspiring promo girls are expected to be oozing with confidence, outgoing and bubbly, but most importantly, to meet the requirement of physical attractiveness. The criteria of physical attributes required including hair colour, height, skin colour and bust size are abundant in online job applications. Take one advertisement: 'we are looking for two beautiful blonde girls to work as promo girls at a VIP party'. 'Tall attractive girls needed to sell shots.' And some are even more forthright: 'You must be smoking hot providing plenty of eye candy to make male consumers to fall in love with you because...then they will automatically like the club night you are promoting'. In all applications, the prospective promo girl is required to attach a full-length photo accompanied with the threat that the candidates will not hear back if the opt out of doing so. Even more worryingly, club promoters have increasingly scoured social networking sites such as Facebook in an effort to lure cash-strapped students to promote their club nights.

But club promoters are not exempt from recruiting female club promoters outside of the virtual world. Just ask second year University of Sheffield student Georgia Steventon 19 who works as a promo girl in one of Sheffield's most notorious mid-week student nights out: 'I was on a night out with friends in one of my favourite clubs in Sheffield. A club promoter of a popular nightclub in the centre of Sheffield approached me and offered me a job. I was initially hesitant but later accepted as it sounded fun. Although my parents aren't keen on my job, even labelling it as seedy, I need the extra income.' Even Steventon acknowledges that being hired was not owing to her academic credentials or past work experience but solely on account of her long blonde hair, tanned skin and statuesque physique so required by the club promoting industry: 'My physical appearance has undoubtedly played a factor in why I work as a promo girl. I very much doubt that if I didn't look the way that I do now I would have been recruited.'

More depressingly than reducing female students to sexual commodities to be 'bought', promo girls are required to dress in a provocative 'uniform', donning little more than tight crop tops bearing the club night's name, tiny hotpants and towering platform heels to flaunt their breasts, bums and thighs. In some extreme circumstances, female students are expected to don bikinis and bunny ears. And in promotional ads and videos which feature female employees for the club night scantily clad, pouting provocatively at the camera, the predominantly male audience are invited to ogle over the shots of their heaving cleavage in the same manner reserved for bare breasted Page Three regulars, or more worryingly, reduced merely to an image of hotpants barely concealing the nameless and faceless female model's bumcheeks emblazoned with the club night's logo. While unsettling, it is arguably merely symptomatic of the contemporary hyper-sexual culture we so voraciously consume which dictates that men keep their clothes whilst women are seen in their underwear or not seen at all. In stark contrast, male club night organizers are not required to adhere to company policy to arrive to work in little else but boxers displaying their naked male flesh in an effort to drive up sales of club nights in an identical fashion.

University of Sheffield's Women's Councillor Lucy Pedrick concurs: "Often the clothing that staff are obligated to wear could be deemed exploitative as it is specifically designed to be sexually provocative. What this essentially means is that many women working as club promoters are employed... more as mannequins. This is potentially harmful as it further promulgates the objectification of women which is already so engrained in our culture - especially in student culture."

It's perhaps unsurprising that promo girls have acquired controversy, most notably that it is tantamount to little more than glorified stripping. But it is arguable that promo girls are not as such sexually exploited but that it can be a fun and enjoyable part-time career for students whilst supporting their studies. English Literature graduate and former promo girl at one of Sheffield's biggest mid-week student nights out Emma Davis, 23, concurs, maintaining that cash-strapped students are in reality exploiting the club night organizers by reaping the opportunities to enjoy wild parties and excessive drinking whilst making some much-needed money: 'I think a lot of people feel that promo girls have no other option, that they're being exploited. But that couldn't be further from the reality. Working as promo girl is just like partying a couple of nights a week in one of your favourite clubs with your girlfriends, which is what I would have done even if I hadn't been recruited - it's just a bonus I'm earning money to do it. If I wanted a secure wage, I'd go back to my old job waiting tables but why not make money and have fun whilst I'm young?!'. And Davis maintains that promo girl recruitment is not too dissimilar from high street retailers who allegedly recruit staff solely on the basis of their physical appearance: 'promo girls are not the only exception where women are paid to look a certain way.'

Whilst I celebrate that women should not be ashamed of their bodies and to possess the freedom to do what they want with it, I object to the objectification and commodification of female bodies as a tool to sell and acquire profit. While part-time promotion work can provide an invaluable source of income for students (not forgetting the added perks of free club entry, unlimited free drinks, having your photos taken and undivided male attention to name but a few), what could be more satisfying (and empowering) than being hired on the basis of your academic qualifications or past work experience rather than your physical appearance? Any job which expects women to flaunt their bodies for monetary gain and solely for men's titillation adds to an existing culture in which women are reduced to sex objects, commodities to be bought and seen and ultimately discarded.

My advice? Ditch those hotpants, send off those CVs and get a respectable job.