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The Mental-Health Hazards of Waitressing at Hooters

New research finds heightened levels of anxiety and eating disorders among women who waited tables at restaurants that require skimpier uniforms.

For many American women, waitressing is something of a rite of passage. Countless college students and struggling artists have paid the bills, at least for a time, by donning a uniform and taking orders for drinks and dinner.

Newly published research suggests that income could come at a psychological cost—if the aforementioned uniforms reveal considerable cleavage.

A study of 252 waitresses finds those working at restaurants where they are sexually objectified were more likely to suffer from anxiety or eating disorders.

"Our findings provide empirical evidence for previous descriptive and anecdotal accounts related to (the hazards of working in such an environment)," write University of Tennessee psychologists Dawn Szymanski and Renee Mikorski.

The research, published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, featured women who were waiting tables at restaurants in the United States. Forty-nine percent were college students.

Participants filled out a series of surveys, including a 15-item questionnaire aimed at determining the degree to which their workplace encouraged sexual objectification. They responded to statements such as "Female waitresses are encouraged to wear sexually revealing clothing" and "Male customers stare at female servers" on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree).

They also reported their perception of sexism in the way the restaurant was run (such as men being more likely to be promoted to management positions); the amount of "personal power" they felt while on the job; and how often they ruminated about work-related issues.

Their level of anxiety was measured by how often they felt "nervous, anxious, or on edge" and found themselves unable "to stop or control worrying." Disordered eating was gauged by their responses to 26 statements, including "I am terrified about being overweight" and "I vomit after I have eaten."

The results revealed that waitresses working in "sexually objectifying environments" (the researchers reference the Hooters and Twin Peaks chains, among others) had a significantly greater risk of suffering from both anxiety and eating disorders.

This was precipitated, in part, by their perception of "less organizational power," and "less personal power" on the job, as well as a greater amount of rumination.

These results are consistent with the notion that "disempowering contexts can influence women's problematic coping responses, which in turn may increase risk for mental health problems that disproportionately affect women," the researchers write.

A 2012 Associated Press report found these "breastraunts" are thriving even at a time when many eateries are struggling. Given that reality, a large number of young women will be tempted to apply for work at such an establishment.

The results of this study suggest they should proceed with caution. And that could be the best tip they receive all year.