Several women employes of a nightclub were fired because they were in their late 20s and their employer said their "figures drooped."
A man in Detroit was turned down for a job as a bus driver because he had too many freckles.
An Eastern husband and wife were told they weighed too much to adopt a child and would have to go on a diet.
These cases of prejudice because of physical appearance are the ones you hear about, the extreme ones, claim Dan McCoy and Michael Lurie, two men who have set up organizations to defend what some people might call the unattractive.
But the truth is, they say, short people, too-tall people, fat and skinny people, people with bad complexions, big noses or ears that stick out, are being discriminated against in many ways. It always has been so, but McCoy and Lurie think it's getting worse. They would like to change that.
"A lot of people read about the couple who weren't allowed to adopt because they were obese and they say, 'Isn't that ridiculous,'" said McCoy, a Texan who founded Uglies Unlimited six years ago. "But they think that's only an isolated thing. They don't realize it exists. It happens all the time. They probably know people who have been discriminated against because of the way they look, but they don't think about it until somebody points it out."
McCoy, 34, from Garland, Tex., has been working for "ugly rights" since 1973, pushing awareness campaigns and education. He also lectures in colleges and high schools, talks with employers and is involved in researching the problem.
Lurie, also 34, is from Cleveland, and started his organization, Committee Against Physical Prejudice (CAPP), eight months ago. Lurie, unlike McCoy, is almost militant in defending the rights of the unattractive, and hopes to enact federal laws to cure discrimination against them.
"If a person really loves food and wants to eat," Lurie said, "it is his constitutional right to do so -- to weigh 300 pounds and not be discriminated against. I think people in this country have been brainwashed to think sad-looking people should be killed." Defending the rights of the unattractive is not a well-known business, both men say. In fact, they did not know about each other or their organizations until they met in Los Angeles recently to be interviewed for a TV talk show.
Appearing on television was old-hat for McCoy, who has been on before. But it was Lurie's first time, and he was nervous. He admitted later he came on a little strong, talking about Hitler ("Hitler put prejudice into decent people to become powerful") and saying that discrimination against different-looking people is a "threat to democracy."
Both McCoy and Lurie agree, though, that discimination against the unattractive has been mostly ignored in the United States, but that it is on the rise. They put heavy blame on the media, primarily television.
"Look at TV news," said McCoy. "We get pretty talk, pretty people. We get anchorpersons, not real journalists. Walter Cronkite is an exception."
"Cronkite," Lurie added, "is not a particularly good-looking person, but he is an established journalist. If he went for a job now in TV he would have trouble getting one with his looks."
McCoy and Lurie also blame TV commercials for their approach to selling products. "The attractive people sell autos, perfume and mattresses," McCoy said. "The others, the not-so-attractive, sell soap and bleach."
Although there have been more average-looking people doing TV commercials in recent years, Lurie said, none would be offered a job to advertise glamor products.
Lurie also takes a dim view of Hollywood portraying "good guys as good-looking and bad guys as ugly." While he was in Los Angeles, he and some friends picketed Universal Studios and Paramount to protest stereotyping of unattractive people as bad guys.
Lurie, who used to promote rock shows, now devotes his full time to CAPP, distributing leaflets, writing legislators and organizing demonstrations. Recently he picketed the White House for unattractive rights. President Carter, he said, "has made a big thing of human rights. He should include the unattractive.
"I have always been for people's rights," said Lurie, explaining that he had been a civil-rights protester in the 1960s. "In a democratic society people should be treated equally. But in our society, being ugly or bad-looking is a handicap."
McCoy, who is in the food business in Garland, near Dallas, is no stranger to picket lines, either. He and Uglies Unlimited members (also about 150) began picketing various businesses that they thought discriminated against people because of physical appearance a few years ago. The organization influenced several airlines to revise their requirements based on physical descriptions.
American Airlines, McCoy said, changed its ads and its application blanks. "They used to say on the application that they wanted people wtih a "well-proportioned figure-physique" "Hair well-groomed and smartly styled," "hands that are smooth and perfectly manicured," "a clear, well-cared-for complexion." The blank also said "distracting scars, moles, large pores, noticeable blemishes and excessive facial hair are not acceptable."
Another airline, according to McCoy, would let pilots wear eyeglasses, but required stewardesses to wear contact lenses. McCoy's slogan against airlines' physical discrimination is "Ugly Ducklings Can Fly, Too."
McCoy says he founded UGLIES Unlimited after he began to notice "just how much discrimination there was in jobs, in education. People who aren't good-looking are immediately stereotyped by their peers, by teachers, by personnel directors."
He cited the case of his brother, Ron, who has a college degree and wanted to work as a steward for an airline after he got out of the Air Force. "At the close of his interview, the guy said, 'Would you move your hair back so I can see your hairline?' My brother had a receding hairline just like I do and combs it forward a little. Later, the guy also made a remark about his capped teeth. He was turned down for the job. Now, I can't prove that those were the reasons, but what gall to ask. What does a hairline have to do with doing a good job or being qualified? What does it matter?
"People can't help the way they look," Lurie said. "Why do we condemn them for it? Because people are taught in the schools to conform rather than to think for themselves. Conformity is an unhealthy thing."
Both McCoy and Lurie say they have trouble with people taking their organization seriously. "People act like it is a big joke," said Lurie. "We get a lot of crackpots."
"But another problem," McCoy explained, "is that people don't want to admit there is anything wrong with them. But they have to realize who they are, what they are. It has to come from within. They have to realize that being ugly is not the end of the world. Oh, you can disguise it, if you have money. But you can develop skills or professional ability to overcome it. But really in life, most unattractive people develop an inferiority complex that stays with them. They don't have much of a feeling of self-worth because people have laughed at them or put them down in some way because of their looks."
People like Woody Allen and Phyllis Diller have overcome their unattractiveness, says McCoy. "But not all of us can be as talented as Woody Allen. Some of us just have big noses and wear glasses." Diller, says McCoy, has been a hero to Uglies Unlimited because she has captialized on her unattractiveness. "We were going to make her our poster person," he said, "but then she had a face lift. That set us back two years."