It is communicated from the very start of the application process. One’s appearance should in no way detract from the “show.” One’s clothing, styling, and even demeanor should get in the way of the experience. This is the foundation of what is known as the “Disney Look.”
No gum chewing. No cell phones. Sunglasses discouraged, but permitted outside as long as the lens are clear and not mirrored. Hair colour must be natural-looking (which explains how I got away with red hair as a Cast Member) and jewelry is permitted…but with very specific limitations. No visible tattoos. The only permitted jewelry for a woman is one ring on each hand, one classic business-style watch, and one gold, silver, or colour-matching earring in each ear. Only certain shoes may be worn. Fingernails may extend no more than one-fourth of inch past the tip of the finger and, women, may wear a neutral nail colour if so desired. It’s all about maintaining consistency as well as encouraging interpersonal communication.
Things have loosened up at the Magic Kingdom since I worked there. Men can now have facial hair. Again, of course, there are strict rules about the length, shape, and so forth. Ladies are now permitted to have bare legs and even sleeeveless blouses. Clearly, Frume Sarah was not consulted before these radical changes were put into place.
From the beginning of the application process through one’s employment, each and every expectation is clearly articulated and communicated. Also clearly communicated is the company’s policy to consider the request to alter the Disney Look or to seek an accommodation to the Disney Look based on religious reasons. Not only do they consider such requests, but the company has a history of honouring such requests. Allowing skirts, for example, to be worn longer than the standard length in order to maintain the modesty for those women whose religion demands it of them.
Imane Boudlal, a hostess at the Storytellers’ Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel in Downtown Disney, put in such a request two months ago. After considering her request to wear a hijab at work, according to Disneyland spokesperson, Suzi Brown, Ms. Boudlal was given permission to wear one as long as it was designed by Disneyland’s costume department. Ms. Boudlal was fitted for a Disney-supplied head scarf, and is awaiting its completion. In the meantime, however, she was informed that her personal hijab could not be worn on-stage (DisneySpeak meaning “in the presence of guests”) as it was not in compliance with the Disney Look policies.
Was she forced to go on leave? Was she forbidden to wear her hijab at work? No and no. While the Disneyfied-hijab is being fashioned, supervision relocated Ms. Boudlal to a position that was behind-the-scenes at the restaurant. The compromise was meant to allow Ms. Boudlal to continue working with no financial or senority penalty while respecting her religious desire.
This compromise, however, was met with intense reaction; Ms. Boudlal is now accusing Disneyland of religious discrimination and, it has been reported, will be filing a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Just prior to the start of a press conference last week, Ms. Boudlel defended her position in a prepared statement:
The Constitution tells me I can be Muslim, and I can wear the head scarf. Who is Disney to tell me I cannot?
Except here’s the problem. Disney has said that she can wear a head scarf. What they haven’t said, and what the Constitution certainly doesn’t say, is that Ms. Boudlel can wear her head scarf wherever she wants to wear it.
Living as a member of a minority group means accepting that the host majority culture is often at odds with our customs, beliefs, and practices. We know the score when we enjoy all of the freedoms that this country protects. The question is — at what point does our expectation for religious expression become unreasonable?