I have been asked many times ‘What is it like to be a Hooters Girl?’ More specifically, ‘What is it like to be an African-American Hooters Girl?’ I worked for Hooters of America, Inc. for five years. During that time I completed both my undergraduate and graduate degrees and conducted my master’s thesis on being a Hooters Girl of color. The restaurant I was employed with was staffed primarily by African-American women, a rarity for the corporation. This store earned the nickname the “Black Hooters” from customers and employees alike. Situated in a metropolitan area frequented by tourists, the “Black Hooters” was frequented by both visitors and locals. As a result, there were many reactions to the racial dynamic; some customers were thrilled by the plethora of Black beauties; others made comments such as “I’ve never seen so many beautiful Black women before”; and some simply walked out once realizing this was no typical Hooters location.

What is a Hooters Girl?

The terms “all American,” “cheerleader,” “surfer girl” and “girl next door” are used to define the Hooters Girl in employee training materials. The corporation gives meaning to these terms through all aspects of the Hooters Girl experience such as in Jumpstart – daily meetings with waitresses at the beginning of each shift where uniform inspections occur and during employee trainings such as Beauty Boot Camp, where Hooters-appropriate cosmetic application is taught. Employees are trained to provide “Hands-Off Service,” requiring Hooters Girl to open all condiments for customers and at times, to assist customers with menu items such as shellfish. Meaning is also given through the media outlets of the corporation such as the Hooters Magazine, Hooters Calendar, and the Miss Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant. The ideal Hooters Girl is one present in the media outlets and facilitating employee trainings. The “Black Hooters” was one of the highest grossing locations in the corporation and was filled with beautiful waitresses, however, the above played out differently compared to mainstream Hooters locations staffed mainly by Caucasian women.

Brown Beauties in Orange Shorts

How then, does one fit into the ideal Hooters Girl image working at the “Black Hooters” and furthermore, being African American? Black women are present in both the media outlets and serve as employee trainers. And like their Caucasian, Latina, and Asian counterparts, they often have acrylic nails, voluminous hair via extensions, and are of the same physical shape – thin, small buttocks and hips, and large breasts. The ideal Hooters Girl image, contrary to popular belief, does not only emphasize a large bosom, but instead celebrates augmented breasts. Many of my coworkers that obtained this were immediately given opportunities to be present in the Hooters Calendar or Magazine and began competing (and winning) local Hooters swimsuit contests. Augmenting one’s breasts, and maintaining the Hooters standards of beauty (cosmetics, body type, nails, etc) and acceptance into the media outlets qualified African-American women as the ”ideal” Hooters Girl. Caucasians, Asians, and Latinas were closer to this ideal due to another quality that African American women often do not have: naturally straight or “good” hair.

Is Your Hair Good Enough?

African-American women must go a step further when it comes to Hooters-appropriate hair. Hair became a major issue during employee meetings and trainings at the “Black Hooters.” Hooters policy states that hair cannot be worn in braids and must be worn down at all times. What was not explicitly stated, but was at the managers’ discretion during my tenure, was hair texture. My employment with the corporation took place during the initial resurgence of Black women growing out their relaxers, myself included. Many of my coworkers wanted to wear their natural tresses, but were told by management that it is not “glamorous” or appropriate for work at Hooters. We were encouraged to follow the hair guidelines that we would use for attending a wedding or prom. Because no one would wear their hair natural to either of these events, right? What does an African-American Hooters Girl do then if she is on a beach vacation and gets her hair wet? My co-workers and I made numerous hair appointments to tame our tresses.

LeAngela Davis was the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss Hooters International in 2010. The competition takes place each year and showcases the winners of each state’s local Hooters swimsuit contests. Does the crowning of Davis mean that African-American women are capable of being the “ideal” Hooters Girl? Through my experiences, a Black woman’s skin tone does not inhibit her ability to move up the ranks at Hooters.

YOU’RE Wearing the Orange Shorts?

My research found that, unsurprisingly, African-American woman must go to greater lengths to conform to the brand’s image than her Caucasian, Asian or Latina counterparts. Yet few, if any women, embody this ideal “naturally.” I’d argue that this ideal is inherently unnatural, and to obtain it, one must alter her appearance to some degree. Myself and most of my coworkers altered the curl patterns of our hair through dyes and straightening tools and/or products; kept our buttocks and hips in check as to not get “too” wide or round; many of us augmented our breasts – a crucial component of becoming an ideal Hooters Girl and wore the required “fleshtone” panty hose that often times did not flatter our skin to ne. Becoming the ideal Hooters Girl is obtainable for some – but not without costs. African American women, I argue, are furthest from this ideal, and thus may bear the greatest costs in the pursuit of this ideal. Yet, Hooters provided solid employment for those who could meet its requirements – perhaps a worthwhile tradeoff for many women in times of personal or national economic hardship.

My overall experience as a Hooters Girl was positive. It included a flexible schedule, wonderful co-workers, memorable customers, and academic encouragement. There is also an initiative recognizing the achievements of current and past Hooters Girls. My favorite part of the experience was the relationships formed with my co-workers. As many of us exclaimed, being a Hooters Girl was like being in a sorority; once a Hooters Girl, always a Hooters Girl.

The views expressed here are the author’s own and have not been reviewed or approved by Hooters.