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There is nothing beautiful about BeautifulPeople.com
Is this the most shallow dating site in the world? Or is it actually no different from Tinder and OkCupid?
BeautifulPeople.com has one sole criterion for admission: whether other users find you attractive. So when the dating site made headlines last week after kicking out 3,000 members for reportedly “letting themselves go,” I felt both intrigued and skeptical. I immediately signed up.
After you create your profile, Beautiful People users vote on whether you should be allowed on the site for 48 hours, determining if you’re “beautiful,” “hmm, OK,” “no,” or “absolutely not.” Of course, I wanted to get an accurate judgment on my own beauty. But I also wanted to make sure I used a good photo. I settled on a selfie of me in the kitchen, holding a glass of wine. I had been cooking and feeling glamorous in a vintage black slip, and my hair happened to look effortlessly bouncy. I cropped my wedding ring out of the shot and sent myself to the judges.
I cropped my wedding ring out of the shot and sent myself to the judges.
According to Greg Hodge, the site’s managing director, just one in 10 applicants is accepted. The process of admission is “clever, because it gives you an accurate representation of beauty,” he told the Daily Dot. “Beauty is subjective, so by democratizing it, you get an honest perception.”
For an hour, I watched my ratings fly in. I had votes as soon as my profile went live, which led me to believe the system was somehow rigged. According to Hodge, my profile was voted on by 22,000 men, or about eight men per minute.
For a while, “hmm, OK” was in a strong lead, with “absolutely not” turning into a strong contender after a few hours. (I attributed the drop in my ratings to my newly dyed pink hair.) After 48 hours of excitedly checking my stats, I was in. So were my colleagues at the Daily Dot who also signed up for the site.
Although all of us got into Beautiful People, no one actually enjoyed the experience of being on the site.
“Watching yourself being physically judged by horrible strangers in real time is shitty,” said writer Marisa Kabas. “Thoughts like ‘Who the hell is saying “Absolutely not” to me?’ and ‘Unless it’s Ryan Gosling on the other end of that IP address, back the hell off’ actually entered my lizard brain, and it made me sad. We judge ourselves enough without inviting others to do it for us. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to seek human connections.”
Some were skeptical of the site’s voting methods. To test out Beautiful People’s claim that only 10 percent of applicants were selected, editor EJ Dickson purposefully submitted her most unflattering photo: a selfie of her eating a turkey leg at Disney World.
“Literally 30 seconds after I completed my profile information,” said EJ, “I had a fair number of ‘beautiful’ votes, mixed with a smattering of ‘eh’ and ‘no’ votes.” This led her to suspect that Beautiful People’s allegedly selective voting system was a sham.
Kevin Nguyen also found the rejection process disingenuous. He submitted himself in 2011 along with profiles for Ryan Reynolds and Harper Lee. The fake celebrity pages made it, but he did not. Beautiful People advised that he submit a “more interesting profile description”—odd, since the description is not visible to those rating you.
“We judge ourselves enough without inviting others to do it for us. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to seek human connections.”
As for me, I spent most of my time on the site clicking around, pleasantly surprised by the average looks of many of its members. If BeautifulPeople.com was an ultra-exclusive site patronized by only the most genetically blessed among us, why were so many of its users, for lack of a better term, just OK-looking?
Hodge says the prevalence of average-looking users on the site can be attributed to the site’s democratic voting system. He also says that votes are weighted in your favor is someone is in the same country as you, or if they’re the same age. After all, most 20-somethings are not going to be attracted to members in their 60s. And for a while, that explanation seemed fair to me.
Still, it’s hard to forget about the lingering threat that you could get kicked off for uploading a slightly unattractive photo, which was allegedly the impetus for 3,000 members getting kicked off the site last week. (It’s also not the first time the site has booted members for this reason.) There’s also the possibility that you could attend one of Beautiful People’s many dating events and have another member deem you not up to par, which is also grounds for expulsion from the site.
But Hodge says the site’s methods are far more complicated than just booting paying members. For instance, if someone gets the sense that a user was being dishonest about his looks, either via a complaint from a date or from an unattractive new photo, he’s simply moved back into the rating system, where the Beautiful People once again vote on whether he should remain on the site. Last week, Hodge says, Beautiful People actually sent 5,000 people to be rated again, but only 2,000 of these users stayed.
Once I got access to the voting system, I was doing that exact thing. Some people just want to watch the world burn.
The remaining 3,000 users who permanently left the website, however, are now apparently taking their revenge. “In an attack coordinated via social media [rejected users] have been using fake profile pictures to become members of the exclusive dating community,” BeautifulPeople said in a release last Wednesday. These users allegedly “then have attempted to subvert the system by voting in ugly people and voting out good-looking potential members.”
I can’t lie: Once I got access to the voting system, I was doing that exact thing. Some people just want to watch the world burn.
To avoid such attacks on the integrity of the voting system, and to ensure that the beautiful people are exactly who they say they are, the site is now implementing a mandatory authentication process, where you must upload a photo of yourself holding a piece of paper with the date and your username on it. Hodge says these precautions are intended to protect the Beautiful People user experience. “People go through this rating process, and get this feeling of being part of the club,” he says. “People get quite protective of that, and they police it on their own.”
Listening to Hodge talk about Beautiful People’s mission, I’m tempted to think of the website as one big experiment in social Darwinism. We can’t help who we’re attracted to, the site says, even though those preferences are often influenced by other societal factors. Dating sites where you must be a “certain color or a certain religion, those seem more offensive to me,” says Hodge. “You don’t go to a bar and say ‘that person looks like they have a beautiful soul.’ That always comes later.”
But the thing is, we don’t need an entire site based on the premise that everyone’s judging each other based on their looks, if that’s how everyone is already operating. You’re not attracted to someone’s “beautiful soul” on OkCupid or Tinder either. Beautiful People sells itself as being upfront about what we “really” want, but when it comes to dating, the lie that we’re seeing beyond someone’s profile photo is what keeps us going.
You’re not attracted to someone’s “beautiful soul” on OkCupid or Tinder either.
We use online dating sites because we secretly believe that maybe, if we’re lucky, someone flipping through thousands of profiles will land on our photo and see into the depths of our soul. Tinder and OkCupid sell us on the lie that our awkwardly cropped photos and list of favorite movies are enough to make people fall in love with us. But Beautiful People sells us on the idea that as long as we’re hot enough, we don’t need to believe this lie at all.
Photo by Jaya Saxena
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'