Monday, 18 January 2010

[Web] :: The Ugly Face of Online Dating

‘You find a lot of the other websites, you know, there’s a lot of - to put it nicely - riff-raff. With Beautiful People, I mean, there’s - they’re just, you know, sort of, more people like us.’

- Ashley Peaulac, Beautiful Person

There is something distinctly unsavoury about, and I swear this is not just sour grapes.

I first heard about ‘The sexiest website in the world today’ a week or so ago after they'd apparently kicked out 5,000 fatties after they'd beefed up over Christmas. I wondered if it could possibly be true. So I went along to the site.

Sure enough, it really is a club where only the beautiful may gain admission. Now, like Groucho Marx, and pretty much anyone else with a healthy streak of self-loathing, I find myself automatically suspicious of any club that will have me as a member. At least to a certain extent. However, there is also the flipside to consider, for like many practised self-loathers, I am also, in part, enormously conceited, and the idea of being excluded from a club, from any club – especially on the grounds of something so superficial and arbitrary as my outward appearance – really grates my Johnson. So what I did, I stole the face of a hunky Turkish footballer and set up a fake account. Boom! Eat that, my pretties!

And once I was in, I have to say, I was disappointed. To be fair, there are an awful lot of loltards everywhere on the internet these days, and if you go to any live chat forum on pretty much any dating site, there will be a scarily high number of these excitable fools communicating primarily in punctuation marks. Beautiful People, however, is crawling with the fuckers. In retrospect, I should really have left immediately, but I was determined to give it a fair crack of the whip, so I hung around, an ugly man in a sexy mask, and I made notes.

The first thing I discovered is that is, ironically, a really ugly website. It has a pseudo-slick veneer, for sure, but it handles like a drunken bison. Exotic similes aside, it just doesn’t work very well. It’s like it was built by ham-fisted toddlers who’d never actually used the internet before, but had heard that there might be money in it. Every click opens a new window. New windows sit on top of the old windows like damp firewood on dying embers until - after five minutes, or maybe twenty or so clicks - the site crashes and you’re automatically logged out. The whole thing is buggier than a mattress in a crack-den, and somehow less comfortable.

After a short while, you come to the conclusion that every feature of the site seems deliberately constructed to aid non-communication. None of the admin works consistently. None of the glitches are promptly, if ever, addressed. And to cap it all, the damn thing’s full of fakes! I’m sure I saw a Catherine Zeta Jones on there, and at least two Jonas Brothers. Consequently, trying to get to know people is like trying to make a paper swan out of a baked potato. Whilst blindfolded. And wearing an oven glove.

Of course, the crappiness of the site doesn’t necessarily make it worthless. Some of the greatest clubs in history have convened in the most insalubrious of venues - probably - and a large part of what makes any club great is the collective character of its members. Sadly, after just a couple of hours meandering around the grounds of, my initial impression that the site seemed overwhelmingly populated by dullards was confirmed.

The live chat forum is a dire, hollow experience. Aside from feeling exactly like the internet ten years ago, and aside from recent rumours that the feature is a breeding ground for spam and malicious site redirection, it offers nothing more than a cacophony of inanity. Really. Like monkeys in a tumble drier.

Then there's the personal profiles, which are flimsy flimsy like a chocolate mimsy. There are only half a dozen questions you’re invited to answer – these include ‘do you smoke?’, ‘do you drive?’ and ‘what star sign are you?’ Pointless. If you actually want to get to know someone, you're better off checking out which groups they’ve joined. Groups which make Bebo look like a Chomsky fansite. Groups such as this:

It’s like being in a room full of people who send angry texts into newspapers.

There is one group, however, for those beautiful people who maybe feel they’re being misrepresented by the less cerebrally advanced members who roll backwards and forwards through the site, mainly backwards, like confused but well-groomed tumbleweeds. This group is called Beautiful But Smart. Sadly, it hasn’t really taken off.

To be honest, the whole site is moribund. Reading a few of the threads in a few of the groups, however, it seems that a few years ago, it used to be quite good. Oh, well. Not anymore.

The nastiest part of the site, however, is the rating system. This is how the site works, or rather, doesn't. Basically, once you’re a member yourself, you get to decide who else can join you in your ivory tower.

In the About section of the site, the rating process is succinctly described:

‘Beauty is subjective and BeautifulPeople Network believes that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. The rating module was born from this very principle. By giving the power back to the members to define their ideal of beauty in a democratic way. Essentially, by applying to BeautifulPeople Network applicants are being beholden by thousands.’

The worst part of this process is that the ‘beholden’ can then see just exactly how they’ve been beheld.

It’s not nice. No matter how little you really care, rejection is never a pleasant feeling. Apparently they've had death threats. It’s surely only a matter of time before claims its first rejection-related suicide. I imagine when it happens, the site founders will whoop with joy at the free publicity.

More disconcerting than being rated and rejected by a bunch of strangers, however, is rating people yourself.

Lots of things go through your mind when you start out. The first of which is that you're involved in something not only odious, and somehow iniquitous. I hate to fall foul of Godwin with such alacrity, but is it really that giant a step from deciding whether or not someone can join you in your clique of beautiful people, to sliding shut the iron bolt in the shower door at Dachau? Is it?

Well, OK, maybe it is a bit of a leap, but it’s a slippery slope, this assumption of superiority. One moment you’re laughing at some deluded tone-deaf sap on The X Factor, the next you’re insisting that people with cleft palates be excluded from society.

Or do I exaggerate wildly? There is after all, a dating site for intelligent people. As it happens I couldn’t get into that one either, but somehow that doesn’t rankle quite so much. Am I just jealous? Or is there really something slightly despicable and Brave New World about the whole thing?

The people behind Beautiful People decided, presumably at the off-set, to make the ambiguous morality of the site its selling point. Although he never actually mentions the word eugenics in interviews, managing director Greg Hodge always makes every effort to make his site sound excitingly controversial and morally edgy.

‘The concept and site was founded on one very simple principle of human nature – the fact that people want to be with someone they are attracted to. It may not be politically correct to say so… but it is honest.’

It may be honest, vaguely, but it's not really the point. You can find someone you’re attracted to on any other non-exclusive dating site. And probably, to be honest, a lot more easily.

My initial impression of Mr Hodge, if I'm being honest, was that he was a slick and manipulative charlatan, callously exploiting the infinite vanity, pride and stupidity of a large section of the human race. Also, mostly because of the quality of the site, I figured he probably wasn’t that smart. Because it’s really not a bad idea, from a business perspective, but it would have to be done well, and with intelligence, and with humour, to succeed. Then I read the following words, again on the About page:

‘The site introduces revolutionary web technologies featuring a draggable-windows based navigation. The intuitive, application-like interface allows you to interact with an unlimited number of features and sections of the site simultaneously.’

And then I knew for sure, the man is merely an incorrigible liar.

When launched in Canada, Hodge appeared on Canada AM (where frankly, they’ll talk to any old rubbish). There, as well as once again amusingly misusing the word beholden, he explains a little something about the cleverness of Beautiful People:

‘I think it’s so clever because it plays on a clever combination of four things - that’s Beauty, Love, Sex and Money - and advertisers use those four… you know, desires to sell us pretty much everything, and Beautiful People plays on a clever combination of all that.’

Clunk clunk clunk. Slick certainly, and groomed like a gorilla with OCD, but there's something not quite working there. In fact, it’s almost like Hodge is a fleshly embodiment of his own site.

I decided to speak to him myself to see if there was anything more to this whole nonsense venture than greed and incompetence. Turns out, in my not massively humble, yet fiercely long-winded opinion, there isn’t.

Most of Hodge’s responses to my queries felt like they’d been copied and pasted from press releases and publicity material, then blithely trotted out to create a false impression. Rather like tiny plastic three-legged antelopes swearing blind they’re unicorns, eight foot tall.

Some of his claims, for example, struck me as extremely unlikely. Everyone exaggerates numbers, of course - everyone - so that didn’t bother me so much. (Still, 550,000 members? A likely story. Mind you, Wikipedia has it at 5 million.) What was less easy to swallow were his claims for the vibrancy of the community, which were and remain demonstrably false.

Anyway, give the man a chance.

Greg Hodge :: The Interview

Why should the many beautiful readers of this blog join What’s in it for them?

‘So they have the most beautiful little back book in the world at the tips of their fingers. A community of beautiful individuals, of which many are extremely personable, friendly, ambitious and desirable.’

Speaking as a self-confessed ugly chap, I take solace in the fact that most of the people who have joined your site seem to be vacuous vain idiots. Do I have a point? Or am I just jealous?

‘Assuming that most attractive people are vain and stupid is like saying that most ugly people are incredibly intelligent and interesting. Personally, I don’t think that people truly fall in to either category.’

Nor do I! I never said they did, you slippery bugger! I was talking about your members....

‘Many of our members started out as normal looking people who have become “beautiful” through great grooming and keeping fit, whilst living a healthy lifestyle. It takes intelligence and drive to want to improve yourself on this level. It is lazy and unattractive, or a sign of defeatism, to take no interest in looking your best.’

Speaking of intelligence, do you think the overall IQ level of the members of your site would be any different to the overall IQ level on, say,

‘Statistics have shown that attractive people do better professionally and make more money then their less attractive counterparts. I think the IQ would be the same or higher. We have members from every profession and many are multilingual. Most of the members we have spoken with are upwardly mobile, ambitious professionals and they all tell us that they love the site because from the outset, it appealed to their competitive spirit. When you apply, you have to accept that you may be rejected – so you are going to be fairly thick skinned and determined to put yourself out there. People who are willing to take these risks and who want to be the best tend to succeed in all walks of life.’

If I was thinking about setting up a website for ugly people, what advice would you give me?

‘I like the way you are thinking. Let’s do a revenue share I will link our failed applicants to your site. Sounds like a match made in heaven.’

I feel dirty.

Still, business is business. Apart from the advertising on your site, much of which smells purely reciprocal, what are your other revenue streams?

‘We will soon be offering premium membership services that will give members access to a greater level of communication.’

Well, good luck with that.

Christ, I'm snide. Sorry about that. I probably am just jealous though.

‘I don’t know. You might be jealous, or scared of rejection, or completely disinterested in trying to be part of a beautiful people community. Life is full of groups and cliques and we don’t have to want to be part of everything. If you are happy with yourself already and don’t want to join, then that is totally up to you.’

Fair enough.

‘Remember however, communities need to be exclusive to serve the very purpose of the community.’

Right. Either that or, of course, inclusive.

Thank you, Greg Hodge.

And so, at the end of my little adventure in the land of the Beautiful People, I have to say I feel a little sad. Mostly sad because I just don’t believe any of it. I certainly don’t believe that 5,000 people were kicked out after Christmas. That would take far too much organisation. Rather, I fear it’s all nought but a hopelessly contrived publicity drive. Just like this story that British people are the ugliest in the world. After all, controversy equals press coverage and an influx of new members and before you know it, some silly bugger’s invested a couple of mill.

Bloody internet.

Disappointed, I logged on for one last time and imagined for a moment living in a world where the lovely Maria fancied me even when I wasn’t wearing my Turkish footballer mask.

Then I deleted my account.

I know my place.

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Katja said...

Do you know about I'll probably be blackballed for even mentioning it, but a more vacuous set of cnuts I've rarely seen. It's Eurotrashers with too much money; the kind of people that I went to school with and was very glad to leave behind. If you can get yourself an invitation I'd love to hear what you think of it ...

Anonymous said...

a) Damn... I should watch Canada AM more often.

2) Damn... you have a very sexy voice.

C) Oh yes... topic of post. Right. When I find out that someone I've been corresponding with online is conventionally attractive, it throws me right off. I just don't know what to do with someone who isn't, at the least, quirky looking.

Anonymous said...

As a self-confessed ugly guy have you never met someone who is not beautiful in the traditional sense but the more you know her the more beautiful she becomes?

Anyone who signs up to an online dating sight is subjecting themselves to the vetting process - and stage 1 is always about aesthetics. And you need more than just thick skin to survive that unscathed.

Beautifulpeople sounds vacuous and base, but probably reflects what the vast majority of people want.

I hope you find your Maria. And may she be beautiful to you.

Anonymous said...

I love your exotic similes! They always make me laugh.

Maria in Oregon

grahampuk said...

Love your blogs. For years I have been using IMO rather than the obsequious IMHO. I'm now really tempted to start using IMNMH,YFL-WO but fear it may be misunderstood.

Helen said...

"trying to get to know people is like trying to make a paper swan out of a baked potato. Whilst blindfolded. And wearing an oven glove."

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Now I'm annoyed because I failed the intelligentpeople IQ testm twice. And I want to know what the answers were! And now I need to resist wasting the rest of the day doing it over and over with a different email address each time until I get the correct damn answers.

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows beautiful people shag more! Like rabbits, apparently.

CindyCB said...

I love the fact that on the front page, at the bottom is says "Too ugly to sign up? Click here to browse BeautifulPeople as guest".

As guest?

Beautiful maybe,
stupid definitely.

True Lateral said...

And now I'm annoyed because I failed the Intelligent People test once and am too scared to try again. Ach, I probably don't want to join a community of pattern matching champions anyway. They probably wear ugly jumpers.

Also, Katja, thank you for mentioning asmallworld. If you hadn't, I'd never have seen the picture of Patrick Liotard-Vogt. The stalkery starts now.

Anonymous said...

LOL, couldn't agree more!!!

I joined that site yonks ago, because it sounded very exclusive and I wanted to see if I could get in. And upon getting accepted with a genuine recent photo, I was as ridiculously happy as if I'd actually achieved something.

Which goes to prove that, cynical or not, their Nazi-tastic door policy certainly works.

I swear to God, you could make a cow's arse a desirable venue if you barred 95% of applicants from going in on the grounds that they weren't pretty enough.

Once inside the inner sanctum, I immediately realised pretty much what you did. It's a horrible site that's a bugger to use, and it seems to be full of bright orange people with Tippex-coloured teeth who make Jordan and Alex Reid look like particularly erudite members of the Bloomsbury set.

And there are far, far, far too many photos of smirking bare-chested men who appear to be coated in Ronseal.

Far from being an exclusive party that lesser mortals weren't invited to, I quickly came to think of it as a convenient corral for the vain, the dim and the scarily orange - handily preventing normal people from ever having to go out with them.

When I was a member (a year or so back) they had occasional parties for their members, where you could all meet up in real life. But for some strange reason, I never really wanted to go - wonder why

Abi said...

I will be damn sure to steer clear of Lol =]

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love the site.

Granted, the concept of is somewhat shallow, but as a dating service it works brilliantly.

And yes, it has some technical bugs, but the site is continuously updated and improved.

On the mainstream dating sites I feel like contacting 1-2% of the profiles I come across. On BeautifulPeople I feel like contacting about half the profiles!

There are so many ordinary sites out there - I think that it is liberating that the Internet has room for this type of niche community that caters to a narrow group of people who are not afraid to admit that looks is an important factor when they search for a potential partner.

BeautifulPeople member
(since Oct 2009)

Joanna Cake said...

Sounds quite horrible. I cant imagine that a date with anyone who considers themself a 'beautiful person' would be more than an opportunity to listen to some egotistical git talking about themselves and looking down their nose at everyone around them. Just nasty!

La Bête said...

Hello, Katja. Yeah, I had heard about that before. It sounds ghastly.

Thanks, Marianne. It’s a thin line though, between quirky and freakish.

Hello, Anon. Yes, I believe I have. And thanks.

Thanks, Maria.

Use it, Gpuk. I insist.

Helen, you are too kind.

BS, a friend of mine saw your comment and went and tried himself. Passed first time. Annoying eh?

Maybe, Anon, but they don’t have the imagination to really enjoy it.

Oh, Cindy. Isn’t that just a typo though? Beautiful people have sausage fingers too you know. Be fair.

TL, yeah, it’s bollocks. I went in with my clever friend’s password and it’s even more dead than the beautiful one. By the way, you’re not really saying you fancy that leotard guy, are you?

Juliette! But… you’re beautiful! I’m thinking of starting a Bloomsbury Set. Do you want in?

Right you are, Abi.

Hello, BeautifulPeople member. Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you like the site. You really feel like contacting half the people on there? That’s amazing to me. But I’m very happy for you.

Hello, Ms Cake. Well, quite.

Anonymous said...

well i have to tell you i have tried both bueatifulpeople and asmallworld... although i must add none of them claim to be "datingsites" but more of a facebook for the rich and glam.

I found a dating site called and although there is still some work needed on the platform the members are wicked!

La Bête said...

Anon, BeautifulPeople certainly does claim to be a website. Greg Hodge said this to me: 'The primary focus of is for people who want to date.' See? looks pretty horrible too. Let's face it. All dating sites are absolutely ghastly. Bloody internet.

janetyjanet said...

yikes - it all sounds incredibly scary and a tad depressing, and I will now cringe ever so slightly as I realise I sound just like my mum and ask whether people still go out and join clubs or get hobbies to meet people?!

Still, my chums C&C met via a dating site and are one of those blissfully happy married with 2 children success stories you hear about so nil carborundum...!

Catherine Rowan Jones said...

It's not just BeautifulPeople, I think it's dating websites full stop. I joined the Grauniad site in Nov 2008. Had a few nice messages & chats based on my profile ... it all stopped when I posted a couple of photos. Not a peep in over a year. It's a visual medium and my face don't fit *shrug*

PS: I've commented before but am now brave enough to use my name.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bête. :D
I've been reading you a bit now and then, but this is the first time I comment.

I was surprised to see you didn't get into the the "clever-people's site", as it was sufficient to have an IQ in the top 15% of the population, and as I would have assumed that you did. I'm in the highest[1]% myself - I'm just an anonymous voice here, so I can tell - and you have always come across to me as clearly intelligent.

There are different sorts of intelligence you know, and even if you don't have what it takes to get top scores on IQ-tests, it's still clear as daylight from your blog that you're intelligent and gifted in other ways.

(For example, you could probably correct some minor language errors I've just committed, or at least suggest better formulations. :D
I take that with a smiley though, as English is not my first language :) And a bit more serious, wit may not register on IQ-tests, but it still clearly depends on intelligence.

"IQ" said...

Or maybe you say "connected with" intelligence? In any case, as far as I'm concerned you may delete both this and the previous comment.

"IQ" said...

Hi again!
Sorry about that thing I just sent!
The one that begun with "(continuation)".
Please just delete it, together with this one.
Thanks! :D

Dating said...

I love your exotic similes! They always make me laugh!!! :)))