We’re job-shaming the wrong people

Actress Katie Jarvis, in 2009.
Actress Katie Jarvis, in 2009.
Image: Getty Images/UK Press/Antony Jones
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Here we go again.

Another tabloid has attempted to job-shame an actor, this time for working as a store security guard.

On Sunday, the British tabloid the Daily Star published a front-page story and photo featuring the former EastEnders actress Katie Jarvis on duty at B&M, a large discount retail chain in the UK.

Jarvis had played Hayley Slater on the long-running soap opera until her character was written out of the show last winter. “Fans were left scratching their heads, as the popular character had been at the heart of the soap’s big Christmas storyline,” the media outlet reported. “But the Daily Star Sunday can exclusively reveal that she’s got herself a new job—as a security guard at B&M Bargains in East London.”

The reporter added that Jarvis wears a uniform of all black with a matching black baseball cap when she is “working the doors”

Fortunately, the backlash was swift. “How dare they…” was the typical cry on social media.

Fans wondered why it was deemed newsworthy that a mother of two had taken a job in a different sector when her best-known role as an actor had wound down. (Soap stars, even on massive hits like EastEnders, do not earn early-retirement-level salaries.)

The fiasco echoed a similar attempt at job-shaming by another British tabloid last year, when the Daily Mail published photos of American actor Geoffrey Owens bagging groceries as a cashier at a Trader Joe’s, a retail chain known for its excellent job benefits. Fox News picked up the story in the US and both media outlets were ridiculed for it.

At that time, big-name actors tweeted support for Owens, who had a role as the goofy but lovable Elvin on the ’80s hit sitcom The Cosby Show. But they also, if unintentionally, reinforced ideas about job hierarchies. As Quartz at Work reported at the time, the theme of several well-meaning messages then was “I also did X manual or hourly labor job before making it big.”

Owens, however, avoided that trap when he addressed the public attention in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America. “There is no job that’s better than another job. It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper. But actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable,” he said.

Jarvis has also responded to the attempts to humiliate her, confessing that the tabloid’s coverage demoralized her, if briefly.

“I feel the way they portrayed the story wasn’t very nice. It was really quite nasty—to be made to feel degraded.”” she said in a television talk show appearance.

It took her a day to process the events and let it sink in that she had no reason to feel ashamed, she said.

Like a lot of other actors, she has worked in a range of jobs. Before she was cast as the lead in Fish Tank, a critically acclaimed film released in 2010, she spent time as a teenager “doing the doughnuts” at fairs with her uncle, she said. She also has been a waitress, and she held a temporary job at a credit-card company.

“I like to be busy and I like to learn new things. It doesn’t matter what it is,” she said.

And Jarvis stuck up for her co-workers at B&M, just in case they felt reduced by the tabloid’s insinuations, too. “The people I work with there are amazing. They get up every single day and work hard for a living,” said Jarvis. “No one should be made to feel job-shamed. As long as you’re working, that’s all that matters…”

Though perhaps there’s one type of worker we should be shaming—the type that would shame other people for making an honest living.