‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, apparently. And no website better defines this statement than the controversial beautifulpeople.com, the dating website that hit the headlines several years ago for its divisive screening process based on appearance. Current members are able to view the photographs of new applicants, and over a 48 hour period, those members will rate the photos of the budding beauties to deem whether or not they are ‘beautiful’ enough to be allowed access to the site. I spoke to BeautifulPeople’s managing director, Greg Hodge, about the dating site with a difference.
“It’s human nature, it’s Darwinism, it’s millions of years of evolution. It may not be politically correct to say that looks are important but it is certainly very honest – it’s a fact of human nature.” Greg Hodge certainly doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to defending the way his site is run. BeautifulPeople was founded in 2002, and it hit the US and the UK in 2005, before receiving global recognition in 2009, amidst a flurry of media attention, and scores of debates as to whether the somewhat shallow nature of the site was acceptable or not. Hodge said: “BeautifulPeople was founded on a basic principle of human nature; that being, we all at least romantically want to be with someone we find attractive.” Thus; BeautifulPeople was born. Hodge likens BeautifulPeople to Mensa and national football teams, insofar as a theme of exclusion runs through all three, and that his own website simply ‘removes the first hurdle in dating’, in the same way that a football team might audition prospective players, and Mensa sets out intelligence and aptitude tests for its applicants.
Hodge describes the voting system employed in the screening stage as ‘fair and democratic’. It is based on a traffic light system, ranging from ‘Beautiful’ to ‘Absolutely not’. “If applicants to BeautifulPeople get a majority of positive votes they are accepted, otherwise they are shown the door, it’s that simple.” Straightforward enough, sure. Initially, the site allowed all existing members to vote on applicants’ beauty, regardless of gender, until Hodge noticed some tactical voting, especially from the women on the site, whereby jealously prompted women who were already members to vote out attractive new applicants to avoid competition. “Obviously this did not work for us which is why you can only vote on members of the opposite sex.”
Globally, one in eight applicants will be accepted as a member to the site. However, this leaves the other seven out of eight deemed ‘not beautiful enough’ to be part of the beautiful elite, and surely that prompts some pretty strong reactions from some of the spurned beautiful wannabes? Well, yes, it does. Hodge said that the site has received thousands of angry emails from rejected members, and that every single message receives a reply, often encouraging the applicant to reapply with a different photo. “However sometimes the emails and calls we receive can quite aggressive we have had death threats in the past so some people out there take it a little too seriously.”
You may be wondering what some of the ‘beauties’ on the site look like. “There is no one ‘look’, however the trends in beauty we see on BeautifulPeople do tend to mirror the trends in beauty you see represented by fashion magazines, the media, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue.” This, I feel, is perhaps a little generous – in conducting my own research into the site, I found many claims from both members and those rejected from the site that it is primarily comprised of skinny, blonde Scandinavian girls in bikinis – in fact, I saw several comments stating that pretty much any girl in a bikini can make her way through this beauty filter. The Scandinavian aspect perhaps is not so surprising, given that the website originated in Copenhagen. Hodge himself said: “If my business partner Nicolai Kofod was deciding what is beautiful for the community, all the women in there would be blonde with big breasts!”
Something that strikes me as interesting is Hodge’s fascination with the website’s function as a real life sociological experiment. He said: “BeautifulPeople reflects society’s ideal of beauty and this can be very different between countries and cultures. It’s quite fascinating seeing the trends in beauty mirrored through the website.” There certainly are obvious trends – Norwegians and Swedes top the acceptance rate charts, with the Brits and Germans trailing behind miserably at the bottom of the pile. Hodge describes this as ‘a fascinating sociological experiment’. And, like any good experiment, in the name of accuracy, stringent checks are put in place to ensure that everyone is who they say they are, including various verification exercises, such as taking a picture of oneself with a piece of paper stating one’s username and date, to show that one’s profile is authentic.
Well, in the name of journalistic curiosity, I had to try to break into this club myself. I applied a couple of days ago, answered all the screening questions (including those about eye colour, weight and, bizarrely, whether I can drive) honestly, uploaded a photo and waited. And waited. And waited. I dread to think how many times I logged in to find out how I was faring in this beautiful world. It’s insane, quite how much the rating system can affect your self esteem. Every time I logged in to find I’d slipped a little further down the slideometer, a little part of my soul died. “Why am I taking this so seriously?” I thought to myself, “I know this is just a silly internet thing, but why do I care so much what strangers from halfway round the world think of what I look like?” My rating swung violently from the ‘Yes’ half of the scale to the ‘No’ half as different timezones entered into the rating process, and presumably different sets of tastes kicked in. I seemed to do particularly badly when Eastern Europeans were voting, but much better when South America scrutinised my looks.
To my surprise, about an hour ago I was granted access. I do believe there could be a random element as to who gets in and who doesn’t, but obviously more than anything, this is good news for this piece, as I now get to explore all of the (free) parts of the site. I can see who rated me positively, who has ‘winked’ at me (quite what this means, I’m not sure) and who has looked at my profile more than five times (a bit terrifying, considering I only applied two days ago, but OK). People who ‘like’ me range from 18 year olds from France, to 60 year olds from Canada. It’s a bit intimidating, but I have to say… not everyone on this site is beautiful. Not by a long way. I think I probably only slipped in because I’m at the younger end of the site’s demographic, and I’m female. There’s not a great deal of ‘beauty’ involved, looking at some of the profiles on display to me. And, I must be honest… the site itself is pretty shoddy. Lots of dead links, lots of freezing, poor functionality… it all feels like a bit of a PR stunt to me. Lots of hype around a pretty poorly put-together operation.
Another fundamental flaw is the fact that it seems like a straight-only site, given you can only rate the profiles of opposite-sex members. Surely not right in 2012? We really should be past this point now. Perhaps a nice touch would be to ask for your sexuality before the screening process, to allow same-sex ratings? After all, why would a girl who likes girls want to be voted in by loads of guys, only to then have to awkwardly sidestep all the male interest? I also asked Hodge what he thought a personality-based version of BeautifulPeople would be like; no photographs, only descriptions and results from personality assessments. His response? “Boring. No seriously.” OK. Right.
Anyway. I’d love to know what people think of BeautifulPeople and the way it approaches dating, and I’d especially love to hear from any members or anyone who has attempted to apply to this site before. What do you think of a dating website so focused on looks and looks alone? Is this really a sociological experiment, or are there nastier, darker forces at hand here?