Skip to content

Darwin Dating: Only the beautiful need apply

memnwu5o.jpg

Charles Darwin, proponent of the theory of natural selection, would be 'too ugly' to be a Darwin Dater, according to the Web site. (Courtesy of Marxists.org)

It was evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin who identified the theory of natural selection. But thanks to a new, controversial dating service, there’s now a theory of unnatural selection bearing his name—Darwin Dating.

Darwin Dating appears to operate like any other dating website, playing matchmaker in cyberspace. What is different about this particular site is that only beautiful people are permitted to register. Users and members, who themselves must be beautiful, vote on who they think should be given membership and the votes are tallied to determine who is accepted and rejected from the site.

Every day, a new face is featured with the captions “Dog or Delicious?” or “Terrible of Terrific?” and an option to rate the person’s looks on a five point scale, one being “the monkey”. While “ugly” non-members are allowed to vote, the site stipulates that their votes count much less than their “highly evolved, attractive” counterparts. Using a proprietary formula, each candidate receives a final score and the highest rated 10 percent to 20 percent of applicants are allowed to become a Darwin Dater.

Once admitted, the lucky few find a real site with only “hot members,” according to Michael Fox, one of the people running the site, which had its start in Australia. Or at least they’re supposed to find fellow “hot” members. Despite Fox offering the names of two participants who had agreed to be interviewed, neither responded to repeated emails.

Fox stated that he couldn’t give out names of any other registered members, unless they had agreed to waive the website’s privacy policy.

Fox claims the site, launched in June 2006, has attracted 1,000 applications from would-be beautiful daters the world over, 60 percent of them male, with the majority of those applying this year. (In the U.S., however, there are twice as many females registered than males.)

“We've accepted 400 of those as members, which is a higher proportion than we thought we would,” Fox said. “It's certainly not the case that 40 percent of the population are attractive, so it seems some ugly people are put off by the site, which is probably a good thing.”

The site got its genesis from one of Fox’s colleagues who’d browsed through other dating sites. “There were lots of ugly people on the sites and lots of really poor quality photos,” Fox said. “He thought it would be great to create a site that solved this problem.”

The solution meant banning any prospective daters with fat rolls, acne, “ski-slope noses,” and non-symmetrical facial features, according to the web site. Sweat patches, baldness, “saggy anything” and fishnet stockings “unless you’re hot,” are similarly outlawed.

The site has provoked a backlash from those who were rejected, as well many others who disagree with the notion of discriminating on the basis of looks. “If you had to be over six feet tall and blonde with an IQ of over 140, a body fat percentage of under 10 percent, and an annual income of at least six figures to apply, one could see the point.” Peter Lynn, a 32-year-old from Toronto, said. “But this is based purely on physical beauty, and that is, as the site itself shows, in the eye of the beholder.”

Even some scientists, who wouldn’t necessarily know about dating sites, are troubled that such discrimination is occurring using Darwin’s name. “It's not Darwinism, for one thing, nor is it using any scientific principle of any kind,” Professor Paul Myers, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota, said. “It's simply commercialized superficiality, the kind of popularity contest based on looks I would hope more of us could outgrow.”

Fox, however, isn’t troubled that the site is so provocative. “We have certainly had some very mixed feedback on the site,” he said. “Some people write in to tell us that they got a good laugh out of it, others have compared us to Hitler and wish we were dead!”

Darwin Dating certainly isn’t the only phenomenon that celebrates looks above all else. The ABC TV show “Extreme Makeover,” provides exercise and diet plans, plastic surgery and a new wardrobe to ugly ducklings and tries to turn them into swans, with the promise that such superficial changes will also improve their lives. Just last month sorority headquarters for Delta Zeta house kicked out 23 sorority sisters at DePauw University in Indiana, who claim they were ousted because they didn’t fit the pretty, blond sorority sister archetype.

And then there is Hollywood, of course, which has been famous for its superficiality for more than a century.

So would someone barred from Darwin Dating have a legal claim for discrimination? Surprisingly, no. “Everyone discriminates on looks,” Kenneth Yoon, a discrimination lawyer from Los Angeles, said. “People decide who they date or marry based on looks. Just like people discriminate on price for what they buy.”

In California, being beautiful, ugly, plain or normal is not a “protected category” as are gender and race, Yoon said. Weight, skin and complexion can be controlled, he said, whereas race, gender and age cannot. Trying to make such discrimination illegal would be nearly impossible. “First off, can you imagine writing a law exactly stating who is ugly or beautiful?” Yoon said. “Second, why shouldn't you be able to discriminate on looks?”

E-mail: ser2129@columbia.edu