It's a question we've all posed at some point: Am I beautiful? And like most questions in our techno-driven/uber-commercial/capriciously-validating culture, it's an answer you can find online. Repulsed and fascinated by the dating site BeautifulPeople, an "exclusively beautiful community, founded for the purpose of creating personal and professional relationships," I attempted to join, write about my experience, and check out the potential perks of the elite membership. Though I wasn't really looking for an answer to the question, "Am I beautiful?" (okay, I was a little curious to see if I'd make it in,) as a quasi-anthropologist, I'm compelled to consider things like how the price of beauty can be so ugly.
Like the extramarital affair hook-up site, Ashley Madison, BeautifulPeople seems to take pride in hosting a politically incorrect sexy party where every member works the door. There's something edgy about these sites, if hedonism, vanity, and the balls to put all that out there can be considered edgy (maybe it is).
Here are the details. BeautifulPeople works like this:
To become a member, applicants are required to be voted in by existing members of the opposite sex. Members rate all new applicants over a 48-hour period based on whether or not they find the applicant 'beautiful'. Should applicants secure enough positive votes from members, they will be granted a full membership to the BeautifulPeople Network.*
On the plus side, there's something to be said for a self-selecting dating pool. In reality, we create self-selecting cliques all the time, not just in dating but also in everyday life. On a larger scale, there's something fiercely democratic about self-selection. BeautifulPeople agrees, offering democracy as one of its founding principals:
The vote is fair and democratic. BeautifulPeople does not define beauty; it simply gives an accurate representation of what society's ideal of beauty is.
Society, according to the global brand BeautifulPeople, which includes the "largest network of attractive people in the world," only wants bodies (read: profiles) that are prime, plucked, and pampered. Not surprising - this is Beauty Standards 101. But BP goes one step further, requesting that the beauty of members stay fixed in time, like Dorian Gray. Back in January 2010, sharp-eyed members complained about users posting pictures of themselves that suggested they'd "let themselves go" by giving in to holiday indulgences. As a result, BeautifulPeople management expelled 5,000 members who appeared heavier in newly uploaded profile photos. According to the UK Telegraph, Robert Hintze, founder of BeautifulPeople explained the expulsion as such: "We mourn the loss of any member, but the fact remains that our members demand the high standard of beauty be upheld ... Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.''
It's widely accepted these days that looks are achieved (at the gym, hair salon, Barneys New York, dermatologist's or plastic surgeon's office) and, as the saying goes, you can't be too rich or too thin. Still, it's true that old-fashioned genetics play a role in fostering beauty. BeautifulPeople has capitalized on this as well. The company's most recent venture is a "virtual sperm and egg bank for people who want to have beautiful babies." Members can use BP's "fertility introduction service" to search for potential donors.
In my experiment, I stuck to being rated to see if I'd be voted on (no designer baby-daddy sperm for me, thanks, very much). While I did make it on to the site, once a BP member, I wasn't impressed with my so-called peers (true indeed, I didn't exactly have an open mind towards the endeavor). Sure, there were a lot of very model-y men and women, but they seemed preoccupied with weeding out the "uglies." Here's an example of a random member post:
Why is this place called BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE? It used to be full of BP now its just Ugly People and the rest of u.
Hmm. Perhaps I'd feel better about the site if I took advantage of some of its "extras" like frequenting events and parties hosted by fellow members and the "BeautifulPeople Network." The interface is reminiscent of Facebook or Twitter where users broadcast messages, post friend connections, video chat, and join groups where the "world's leading beauty scouts recruit talent." But by now whatever initial enthrallment I'd had with the idea of the BeautifulPeople brand had turned to boredom, and the repulsion set in. My stomach turned at the idea of socializing with the "BP Network," as Hintze's Telegraph quote left the taste of vomit in my mouth. In the end, BeautifulPeople didn't warrant my fascination; the whole experience was rather shallow and mundane. And, I'm not particularly fond of getting IM's that read: "I'd like to *@! Your #$$." (Not sure which is worse, the above come on, or: "I like to read Kierkegaard over a cup of slow roast espresso. How bout you?")
Remember the 1980s Pantene commercial where Kelly LeBrock coos, Don't hate me because I'm beautiful? It seems that brands like BeautifulPeople derive power not so much from their "BP Network," but from the sometimes real, sometimes perceived envy that follows any cult of exclusivity. But the great thing about exclusive clubs is that they're incredibly easy to ignore if you so choose.
*From BeautifulPeople mission as explained on the site: where beautiful relationships begin