The Walt Disney Company is famous for its notoriously strict dress codes for both employees of and visitors to its theme parks. It took until this January for park employees to win the right to grow beards and goatees. The guidelines for Disney World note that “Guests wearing wedding attire are discouraged from entering the Theme Parks.” And now, the Company is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Imane Boudlal in a suit that alleges that Boudlal was fired for wearing a hijab at work. The company has countered that they gave her opportunities for different positions where she would have been permitted to wear her hijab, presumably those that didn’t involve interacting with customers in public. This seems likely to play out in court.
According to the standards set out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Opportunity Commission, Disney will have to prove that it would be an “undue hardship on the employer’s operation of its business” to let Boudlal wear a hijab in a position where park visitors would be in a position to see her. But more to the point, these allegations highlight what counts as normal and what counts as distracting in the homogenized vision of the world of Disney. The overall ethos of the “Disney Look,” the basic covenant governing dress code for Disney employees is “a classic look that is clean, natural, polished and professional, and avoids ‘cutting edge’ trends or extreme styles.” If conservative religious dress isn’t considered “classic,” “polished,” or “professional,” that says a great deal more about the people making the judgements about what those terms constitute than about anyone who wants to wear a hijab or a yarmulke. We are, after all, talking about a place where people go to pose with people in giant chipmunk suits.