What is Beauty? And Other Questions Answered by BeautifulPeople.com

Kevin Nguyen creates fake accounts on BeautifulPeople.com, a dating site that only allows “beautiful” members to join.

At some point in history, a Greek philosopher I’ve never heard of probably posited the question, “What is beauty?” Maybe he concluded that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not knowing that centuries later, somebody would launch BeautifulPeople.com, a dating site for people who have a very clear idea of what beauty is.

The service boasts exclusivity by only allowing attractive members to join, as voted by current members. The site made headlines last week when it booted 30,000 members after a so-called “Shrek virus” allowed ugly people onto the site. That story stinks like a PR stunt, but I suppose it worked, because I had never heard of BeautifulPeople before then.

I arrived at the splash page, which features a poorly photoshopped collage of models on a couch (one with a snake), a guy performing showtunes, and a girl rubbing up against a lion.

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You can’t access the site without signing up, a process requires that you submit your photo as an applicant. So I went for it and I thought I’d be honest. I used my real name and uploaded a picture, the only one I could find without opening iPhoto. The next step was a questionnaire that asked about physical attributes, including height, weight, body type, hair color, eye color, as well as if I owned a car or house and what my job title is, all of which I answered truthfully.

Once all my information was submitted, I was told that my profile would be subjected to a 48-hour voting period (misspelled “periode” on the site). Usually, applicants can browse the site, but I got a message explaining that due to latency issues, access was limited to members only.

I had a good feeling that my profile wouldn’t be accepted (my photo did not feature a jungle cat after all), so I created another account that I figured would be a shoe-in. I googled photos of Ryan Reynolds and picked the first one I found that wasn’t from a movie or a red carpet photo.

I realized that Ryan Reynolds’s profile might not be accepted on grounds that it was clearly fake (I didn’t even bother to come up with a name more creative than “Ryan R.”). So I made a third account. I dug up another email address, changed genders, and went about browsing Last Night’s Party for scandalous photos of attractive women. My plan was to choose the first photo of a girl posing suggestively (of which there are many on Last Night’s Party), but I ended up browsing the site for about half an hour, looking for the perfect picture. (That’s all I was doing. Honest.) I’d chosen the photos for my own and Ryan Reynolds’s profiles quickly, but I was strangely picky about this one. I probably should’ve spent a little bit more time thinking of a name, but I just stared at my bookshelf and went with Harper Lee.

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Two days later, I received a rejection email for the profile with my photo.

Unfortunately, your application to BeautifulPeople.com was not successful.
Please note, only one in five applicants are currently accepted into BeautifulPeople.com
BeautifulPeople invites you to apply again, perhaps with a better picture and a more interesting profile description.

I was surprised that the rejection messaging was so tactful, though later, I would realize that voters can’t even see your profile — only your photo — so the suggestion of a “more interesting profile description” is completely disingenuous.

Ryan Reynolds and Harper Lee were accepted.

The members of BeautifulPeople.com have cast their votes
BeautifulPeople is pleased to inform you that the majority of members on BeautifulPeople.com found your application beautiful and have granted you coveted membership.

You can see the results of your application process if you log in just before the voting process ends. The profile with my photo didn’t make the cut with only 8 positive votes. Ryan Reynolds got 22 positive votes. I took that to mean that I am just under 3 times less attractive than someone who could marry Scarlett Johansson, which is actually kind of flattering.

Harper Lee received 120 positive votes, leading me to believe that there’s a much larger male population on BeautifulPeople than female.

I wasn’t impressed when I finally logged on. As an actual social networking site, BeautifulPeople looks like any other dating service, but perhaps a little bit uglier (I’m talking about the interface — not the users, who are, by definition, beautiful). The features are also pretty standard. You can add photos and edit your profile, which consists of listing your favorite music, TV shows, movies, and books — the four media types that completely define one’s modern personality, apparently.

You can vote on applicants though, which turns out to be a Hot or Not-type system where you rate applicants in varying degrees of beauty: “Beautiful,” “Hmmm OK,” “No,” or “Absolutely not.” As you’re rating, you can add other members as favorites, the same way you would bookmark a website.

Besides their photo, the only other information you see from applicants is their name and location — nothing from their profile. (It might explain why Ryan Reynolds was accepted, despite the fact that his favorite music, TV show, movie, and book are all listed as “The Green Lantern.”) Also, you can only rate members of the opposite sex, so Ryan Reynolds couldn’t vote off all his competition.

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Searching for members on BeautifulPeople is also limiting. There are some obvious filters, like gender and location, but the rest define physical attributes, including an age, weight, and height range. Even the advanced search only brings up three more fields: name, smoker, and car owner. There’s no way to search interests or keywords. I could hypothetically search for a 21-year-old, 112 lbs., 5’7” girl who owns a house in Omaha, but not search for someone who was interested in rock climbing.

I clicked around member profiles for a while. I’m not a particularly good judge of beauty — I mean, the real me is not even allowed to — but the profiles on the site didn’t strike me as any more attractive than those on other dating sites. The site seems to have a strong international presence, at least among the men who showed interest in Harper’s profile. She received messages from men in England, Mexico, and Brazil (all of which I responded to with “how big r u?”). But otherwise, the members are predominately white guys with a lot of hair gel.

There’s a little bit more ethnic diversity among the females, but the vast majority of photos feature suggestive poses and a lot of cleavage. The more promiscuous the photo, the better received it seems to do in voting, and after thumbing through a dozen profiles, I started to feel saddened by the entire site. BeautifulPeople takes itself completely seriously.

When Hot or Not launched in 2000, in the formative days of internet culture, voting was an admittedly shallow, tongue-in-cheek interaction. Eleven years later, BeautifulPeople.com presents the same idea without a hint of self-awareness.

It’s not surprising that BeautifulPeople.com’s self-selecting nature has yielded a largely homogenous community, but the degree to which members are desperate to conform to those conventions is alarming. Even though I joined with less-than-serious intentions, I realized I had done a similar thing in the process of picking a photo from Last Night’s Party. I didn’t choose a picture because I thought she was beautiful; I chose it because I thought other people would think so.

I’m not beautiful, but apparently I’m shallow enough to be.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.