It's Monday night and at 8:00 p.m., and I am sitting at a table at the Tilted Kilt in Mission Valley. With the exception of a few guys on barstools, a group of British tourists, and an inebriated man nursing a gin and tonic, it’s dead.
The drunk guy is beginning to nod off when Molly, a server, addresses him.
“You okay, hon?” she asks. “Want another one?”
He bobs his tipsy head, indicating that he’s fine. Molly shrugs and smiles. He grins, revealing a row of coffee-stained teeth.
Molly O’Dell is 19. She is tan and thin. She wears the Tilted Skirt uniform — knee-high socks, a micro-mini plaid skirt, and a white blouse unbuttoned to reveal a black push-up bra. Like the other servers, she ties her shirt above her waist to show off her midriff, which is pierced. She wears glasses. She resembles Britney Spears in the music video “...Baby One More Time.”
Molly has been paid to wear next to nothing since she was 16.
“I started as a hostess at Hooters when I was 16. I had an older friend that worked there. She told me I could be a hostess and make $50 a night and have a bunch of boys pay attention to me. What 16-year-old doesn’t want guys telling her constantly how pretty she is?”
In high school, Molly’s job was unique. Most of the kids had normal waitressing gigs, mall jobs, or worked at grocery stores.
“On the first day of school, when the teachers would ask the kids in the class where they worked, I always had to say, ‘I’m 16 and work at Hooters.’” Molly laughs at the memory. “Some of my classmates thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
Molly admits that her choice to become a Hooters employee was awkward at first. Her dad and grandmother weren’t really onboard with the idea.
“My grandmother was very, very offended. She said I was a cute girl that should be working somewhere else. She came into Hooters one day and saw that I was acting my age. I was being cute and giggly. I wasn’t sitting behind a desk acting like a stuffy woman. My dad cared at first, too, but then he came in. He saw me at work and was cool with it. He saw that I was using what I have to make a buck. He understood. He comes into the Tilted Kilt sometimes.”
In order for Molly to maintain her job at the Tilted Kilt, she spends $200 a month on a personal trainer, $10 on a gym membership, $25 at the tanning bed, $50–$100 on make-up, $50 to get her nails done, and another $40 to get her hair trimmed every six weeks.
“When I was working at Hooters,” she says, “I spent way more money on maintenance. They wanted me to be perfect. My hair was bleach-blond back then. This is a lifestyle choice. I don’t get to sit on the couch and eat chips all day. I work hard for this body. I am only young once. I’ll only have this body for so long, might as well live it up.”
Amy and Kirjah interview at Miller's Field in Pacific Beach
Molly says that customers can get a little handsy sometimes, but it’s part of her job. She sticks up for herself and knows how to politely remove herself from an uncomfortable situation.
“I have to deal with inappropriate behavior 24/7. Guys are gross. I had some drunk guy stick his face in my boobs. He dove face-first into my boobs. I wanted to hit him. A lot of the girls are passive-aggressive. They say, ‘Please don’t do that, please don’t touch me.’ I stand up for myself. Guys will say whatever is on their mind. Like, ‘Can I get your number? Can I take you out tonight? How much do you weigh? What size bra do you wear?’ I doubt they would ask a normal girl that. Customers think we are strippers or playmates.” Molly sighs. “It’s sad, but you kind of get used to it after a while.”
Molly says that, with a job like hers, it can be difficult dating. Her boyfriends don’t always understand her career choice, and neither do their parents.
“I’ve had guys ask me to quit my job for them. I tell them no, never. Sometimes their parents find out where I work and are, like, ‘You work where? Why?’ They don’t understand. People are judgmental. It’s not like this is my lifetime career. My day job is at a financial advisor’s office. I’m a personal assistant. I’m also in school to become an elementary-school teacher.” Molly laughs. “I don’t know how my students’ parents are going to feel when they see internet photos of me dressed like this.”
Molly has dated customers on occasion.
“It doesn’t work out. They want you to be in costume 24/7. They want your hair done and full make-up all the time. There are a lot of girls that work here that get offended by customers. There are other girls that love the attention and hearing guys tell them that they are pretty and have a nice body. There is a fine line. There are some girls that go to guys’ houses and pool parties. They are doing God only knows what. There is a line you can’t pass.”
The British tourists at the table behind us are getting boisterous. Molly gets up to check on them.
“Hey,” one shouts. “How about a photo?”
Molly wedges in between the four men. They drape their arms around her. She smiles sweetly for the camera.
Image by Howie Rosen
“I never pay for my drinks,” says Amy (far left). “Guys pay for all that.” But Kirjah (far right) warns, “Guys become stalkers.”
It’s a Friday night and Katie, Kirjah, and Amy are getting ready to go to Miller’s Field In Pacific Beach.
They are in Clairemont, at Kirjah Trailer’s parents’ house, where Kirjah still lives.
“I guess you could say that we are bar girls, that’s what we do,” 23-year-old Kirjah says. She motions for me to sit on the bed beside her overweight chocolate Labrador retriever. Clouds are painted on her walls. On her dresser, a row of nail polishes and perfumes are neatly arranged.