So what are you; a babe or a swamp donkey?  A fox or fugly?

Over the years, we’ve devoted a fair share of our personal lexicons to a series of adjectives that describe the beautiful, the bad and the ugly of ourselves and others.  

So what are you?  Take a few seconds to really consider that. If you have the opportunity, take a long good look in the mirror or, if it’s more convenient, switch off your mobile phone and look at your reflection. Now, realistically, if you were to mark your looks out of 10, with 10 being drop dead gorgeous and 1 being, well a swamp donkey (whatever that may be),  how would you rate yourself?

Chances are, if you’re going to fall into the majority of people and consider yourself of average looks. That’s somewhere around 6 -8.  Most actually feel, for one reason or another, 4 to 6.  That’s right, low self-esteem has never been so prevalent, and that includes whether or not you outwardly acknowledge or are keeping it restricted to the privacy of your own bedroom. Surveys continuously suggest that there aren’t many women out there who wouldn’t change one thing or another about themselves, now followed closely by the new generation of insipid and somewhat androgynous men who, in the aftermath of women’s lib, appear to be somewhat confused about their evolutionary roles, with droves of them abandoning their alpha male machismo in favour of a good moisturiser and a pair of slippers.

Meanwhile, there does appear to be some truth in the claims that beauty/celebrity magazines make most feel ugly, be it because they crave the projected lifestyle, beauty or body of those that grace its pages or because the very products pedalled in these magazines promise the illusion of perhaps not eternal but temporary youth. This is all complimented nicely with features about the prolific and successful use of lunchtime Botox or, if you fancy your chances, ‘full on’ surgery with interest free payment plans starting from just £99 per month.

The UK cosmetic industry is worth £15 billion a year, with that of cosmetic surgery rising exponentially, its currently estimated annual worth is £2.3 billion. Now what does that tell you? Beauty may be skin deep but it’s that very skin that just happens to be the most valuable real estate you’ll ever own and, most likely, the biggest investment of your life.

So what’s it all about? What’s it for?

Well, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ “innit”?  Yep, that’s precisely why many work hard to make the beholder like what they see.

Much research has been conducted into what exactly we find beautiful in another person and the answers tends to be the same; symmetry. This appears to be the case both in the human and animal kingdoms. Faces with a high ratio of symmetry are typically considered much more agreeable to us than that a lesser ratios that inevitably feature overt deviations from the visually appealing, such as a crooked mouth, a hooked nose, eyes too far apart, or one eye too small, all of these low ratios disrupt the perception of beauty and are often perceived as defective or of ill health. It’s part of the nature’s ‘natural selection’. Our response is down to that good old human compulsion to propagate, our evolutionary programming to ensure the survival of the best, the fittest, we believe (consciously or subconsciously) that it is to our advantage to seek a mate with the best possible genes to give our offspring the best possible chance of good health, survival and the ultimately perpetuation of our race.

Studies in humans conducted by researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have shown that men in particular go for women with symmetrical faces and ‘hyperfeminine’ facial characteristics, such as a small pointed chin… Men also are drawn to things that signal youth such as full lips, clear and smooth skin, clear eyes, lustrous hair, and good muscle tone (which makes sense when viewing a woman for her reproductive potential). This doesn’t work when taken to extremes though. Unfortunately for our perpetually youthful-looking friends of both sexes, babyfaceness isn’t associated with attractiveness, less wrinkles as you age, perhaps, but not attractiveness.

The preference in women for symmetry is not quite so pronounced. However, for the judgment that is passed by women, men are apparently judged on the angle between their eyes and mouth and are considered more attractive based on cheekbone prominence and facial length. Those who have higher levels of testosterone are typically ranked as having more masculine faces, associated with the above characteristics. It is thought that women may use facial attractiveness as a proxy measure for a male’s physical strength.

So what do you look for in a mate? (how many times have you heard that question) but have a think about it, what do you really like? Is it the eyes, the mouth, the pectoral region, the rear or some other fetishly delectable attribute? And please don’t give me that vomit inducing line that you’re more interested in somebody’s personality, their heart. Most of us are interested in that but not when we first see somebody across the room since we’re unable to read their thoughts so unless we have the opportunity to hear them talk on all the subjects that are relevant to us,  aesthetics are the very thing to come before our attraction barometer.

Today, we’re even taking our intolerance for imperfection one step further by weeding out the fuglies before they even get a chance to offend our eyes. This is evidenced in a new breed of dating clubs reserved exclusively for ‘beautiful’ people. That’s right, websites like beautifulpeople.com have developed a whole new and somewhat radical business model which, you’d be forgiven for thinking, defeats the purpose of a dating website because,  if you’re ‘facially challenged’, don’t bother subscribing.  Although, hang on, before you condemn the website owner or owners as arrogant megalomaniacs, allow me to explain exactly how your application is processed. Oh hell, I may as well just paste an excerpt from their website for you (just in case you’re thinking of joining)…

“BeautifulPeople is the first dating community of its kind. To become a member, applicants are required to be voted in by existing members of the opposite sex. Members rate 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 membership to the BeautifulPeople dating community. 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 as decided by the members.”

Bottom line is, the owners do not process your application, existing ‘beautiful’ members do, and if “yo ass is fugly”, your ass doesn’t get in. It’s as simple as that.  Scary side (if you didn’t find that scary enough) thousands of people are clamouring to join the site. Yep, there’s that compulsion again, like dolphins on their hunt for schools of fish, many are clamour to the one place that promises an abundance of beauty. Ironically, it’s beauty (or at least the public perception of it) that will define whether or not they’ll actually be in with a chance.

And before you start wondering how I happened across this website, I shall explain; beautifulpeople hit the headlines last year when a technical error (otherwise known as a computer virus, aptly named, SHREK) allowed thousands of proverbial ‘swamp donkeys’ to join the site. You can imagine how the owners reacted to this disaster, well, it wasn’t with humility.  They promptly moved to evict the unsightly marauders, all 30,000 of them, at an estimated cost of £60,000.  “We have to stick to our founding principles of only accepting beautiful people – that’s what our members have paid for,” said Greg Hodge, the company’s Managing Director. “We can’t just sweep 30,000 ugly people under the carpet.”   I dare say you can’t, Greg. It’d have to be one awfully big carpet to cover up such hideousness.  Apparently, Greg and his sidekicks wised up to the virus, allegedly planted by a former employee when, “thousands of new members were accepted over a six-week period, many of whom were no oil painting.” And if you’re thinking Greg’s company policies as well as his opinions somewhat non PC then you may be interested to know that 5000 members were evicted the previous year because they had allegedly ‘put on weight’.

One of the site subscribers, Rachel Godfrey, a 31-year-old Australian nanny living in LA, said she received an email telling her she was rejected two weeks after being accepted. “I was getting on really well with this American guy and we were going to go on a date and then they said I’d been chucked off and they locked me out of the site,” she said. “Now I can’t get in touch with him.”

Godfrey said she is planning to have a makeover and professional photo shoot before reapplying to the website. “What if he’s the one? This is the only way I’ll be able to get in touch with him,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, I’ll see what I can do with Photoshop.”

Really?  Rachel, love, are you for real?

It’s sad to say that she is. There are multiple drives here that she’s competing with, firstly that whole inconvenient human compulsion thing we explored above but then there’s the rejection, they say it’s the greatest aphrodisiac. Then it’s the hope, she may have met somebody who could have been the man of her dreams, she’d be foolish to let the opportunity pass her by, wouldn’t she? Nobody wants to be lonely (as the old song goes).  Well, that’s a whole new blog post.

Now I know what you’re thinking… well, most of you will be, what kind of shallow, arrogant so and so would set up such a site and say those nasty, spiteful things about people? Well, if you think about it, none of this is really Greg’s fault.  Like those heart bleeders who condemn tabloids for stalking their favourite celebrities, you know, the same ones who then love to look at and read about them in tat mags, the real villains here are the thousands who, like lemmings (or Rachel Godfrey) subscribed to the site in the first place. It’s these vanity fuelled egomaniacs who have given Greg both the resources and the arrogance to discriminate at will. But for the fact that these people are paying his wages, good ole Greg would have no foundation upon which to preach what, quite frankly, the majority of us think.

Yes, you read me correctly, as much as you may act all incensed, you, like the rest of the animal world, are programmed to seek and conquer the best genes to secure the survival of your species which means that, unless you’re dead in some areas, you aren’t so dissimilar to Greg and his site’s ethos.  Like it or not, there’s a bit of that man in all of us (and I mean that in a non-sexual way of course).  We’re all guilty of judging that proverbial book by its cover. Be it personally or professionally, each time we meet a new person, the first thing we do, before we’ve even exchanged a word is evaluate them; their looks, their demeanour, the way they’re dressed, the way they look at us, the way they hold themselves, the way they greet us, shake our hand and then, last but not least (and I mean last), the way they talk, the intonation in their voice, the words they speak. We hang on these cues, on these signals because most of us are incapable of mind reading and we rely on our instincts and our ability to decipher human behaviour to secure our very existence on this earth, it’s how we establish friend from foe, empathiser from antagonist.

Also true is that our initial perception of someone is often shifted as our interaction with them continues. A not so attractive person may become more attractive if they have a good sense of humour, they’re thoughtful, and they show a keen interest in us and our wellbeing, and so on.  Conversely, somebody who may have initially stunned us with their beauty may rapidly become unattractive to us if they show more interest in themselves than they do in the conversation they’re actually having with us or if they lack to social graces necessary to engage our interest.

So, if we’re all only interested in beautiful people then how the hell to the uglies or the averages out there get a look in? Well, they say there’s somebody out there for everybody and this is absolutely true. Remember, as a species we’re all about evolution, it’s the civilian’s response to the military’s ‘adapt an overcome’. There’s much to be said about the theory that the harder it is for us to ‘attract’ somebody of the opposite sex, the more we’ll develop alternate skills to attract them.  Here’s an example. How many comedians do you know that possess stunning good looks?  Chances are you don’t know many, yet how many average looking and not so attractive comedians do you know?  Now, how many ‘good looking’ people do you know with cracking personalities?  Our natural evolution dictates that if we’re unable to attract people by only our looks then we need to develop other skills to attract them. Similarly, if we’re well endowed with beauty and people are naturally attracted to us, why bother developing a personality? It doesn’t matter if we repel a few, there’ll be many more out there more than willing to take their place. I learned this many years ago when I worked as a freelance photographer, I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) of working with some beautiful people but, sadly, what they made up for in aesthetics they sadly lacked in personality, charisma or charm. The best fun I had wasn’t with the models but with those who worked behind the scenes.

And of course, there’s always the exception to the rule. There are plenty of people out there who are, for want of a better expression, gorgeous but they simply don’t see it. And, conversely, there are some swamp donkeys who think they are god’s gift when, quite clearly, at least to us, they aren’t.

That favourite ‘there’s somebody out there for everybody’ remains true but only as far as our expectations permit. In my manuscript, Coming Up for Air, I talk about the pains of seeking and finding a new partner. Many of us, especially if we’re still reeling from a breakup, believe we’ll never find somebody as good as our ex, it doesn’t matter how bad things used to be sometimes, when our ex isn’t there anymore (if the breakup wasn’t mutual or our choice), we’ll start to romanticise how nobody will ever look at us that way again, know us that well, make us feel the same way, and so on. We then develop some warped sense of loyalty to our ex (who walked out on us) by generating unrealistic benchmarks by which all future prospective partners should be measured. This is the emotional equivalent of a hair vest; our ex left us so it must have been something we did so now we should be punished and be alone by building walls to keep out others by setting unrealistic goals and tests for them to fail so we can go on reinforcing the fact that our ex was the best thing since sliced bread. The reality is, they probably weren’t but our rose tinted glasses were and remain unable to see.

Thankfully, there’s one good black and white (or binary) way of dealing with affairs of the heart and that’s the cold hearted columns of the pros and the cons. One piece of paper, one pen and two sides on how to approach a particular conundrum, yes, there’s something really sobering in seeing the truth in black and white, in seeing a list of reasons for and against. That same principle applies when the more discerning use that old excuse that they’re unable to find a new compatible mate as they fail to find anything in common.  The reality is, they’ve set expectations that are way unrealistic and then cling onto the somewhat misguided oath that they’d rather be alone that somebody with whom they’re totally incompatible.

Roughly translated as, I’ve been alone too long now and I can’t be bothered to change my ways for somebody who may disappoint me anyway. Yes, very cynical indeed. It’s time to get real people. The general rule of thumb is if you’re serious about a new partner, get real about your expectations, you may not be able to find somebody exactly like your ex but then isn’t the point to find somebody who’s better in different ways.

Get real. Make a list of your top 10 ‘must haves’, be that looks, personality, wealth, physical attributes, and so on. You’ll find, interestingly, that you’d actually be prepared to forfeit that list’s favourite of ‘looks’ in favour of a ‘good personality’ and or ‘somebody who treats you right’. Yes people, this is about the only time when looks don’t necessarily play a defining role. Now, narrow down your prerequisites to 3 absolute essentials. If you’re lucky you’ll find all 3 of these in a new partner, if you’re luckier still, you may find more of your top 10 but, ultimately, nobody is going to be perfect. You just have to make a pact with yourself on just how many from your hit parade you’re willing to sacrifice before you ‘settle’. Yep, because that’s what life is all about, an endless considering of the things worth fighting for and those we should simply agree to settle. This is another human trait developed specifically to ensure our survival on this earth because some battles simply can’t be won all the time and some aren’t even worth the energy.

Just remember, love is universal, be that the love of a relative, a friend or a partner. And that having any other human being in your life that loves you, no matter how you look, is the ultimate blessing. This is unconditional love based on the mere fact that you live and breathe on this earth and it is this love that is the greatest of them all.


  1. francesca@casabella.me says:

    As ever an excellent Article a real understanding of the human psyche and all it’s frailties and weaknesses .a really well thought out article .well researched Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  2. Tammy says:

    Aaw – I really enjoyed reading that! Every time you write a blog in reference to relationships, I get excited again about ‘Coming Up For Air’. I have experienced some of the above, including writing a list of ‘pros & cons’ :O) Garth Brooks wrote a song called ‘Unanswered Prayers’, which is worth listening to, as it was probably written from his own expriences, and expresses some of the thoughts you have listed above. Thank you Tony – Another thought provoking blog…x

  3. selina says:

    Once again a well thought out blog with so much thought provoking questions… now all I can think of is ‘would I make the site’ 😉

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