‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It
‘Every street’s a catwalk when you’re looking like that.’
- Rogue Traders, Fashion…aka that song off the start of Gok Wan’s show.
As the above quotes, of varying literary credibility, illustrate, man’s occupation with appearance is neither new nor fleeting. People spend hours (or in my girlfriend’s case, sometimes days) getting ready for tasks as trivial as going food shopping. This might seem pretty ridiculous – have you ever heard of a couple telling their grandchildren they met reaching for the same avocado? – but it’s something that frightening number of people seem to do…So, apps and websites allowing people to rate people and discuss their attractiveness could only be successful, right? Well, not exactly.
The first site of its kind was probably Hot Or Not, which allowed users to upload photos which other users would then rate as hot or, umm, not. Hence the name. The rating system was later switched to a scale of 1-10, though this did nothing to stop people giving members of their sex the lowest possible rating to make their own rating seem higher. Some people have too much time on their hands.
Last year came FitFinder, a website that allowed people on University campuses to post about attractive individuals wherever they happened to be hanging around. Interestingly, the reason UCL gave for putting pressure on the site’s creator to shut it down was not allegations of poor taste or subversive posters using the site as ‘MunterHunter’, but because it was too distracting. The site has since relaunched as Floxx, and I suppose in the interest of full disclosure, I better point out that I now work for them…
Recently, however, posting hotties has taken a turn that some find unsettling – taking covert pictures and putting them on websites like UniCrush, TubeCrush and Hottie in the Library. Now, most websites of this kind have a disclaimer proclaiming that because these photos are taken in a public space, yadda yadda, it’s all above board. I vowed to stay away from the legal implications, because my legal expertise pretty much begins and ends with having seen Legally Blonde a few times. Instead, I wanted to think a bit about the social implications.
In scientific terms (hah), the real issue is when something stops being banter and starts being creepy; when is the creepy line being crossed? A case study – at University, a group captures one of their friends making out with a less than desirable female in a club. They snap a pic on their iPhone, put it on Facebook and before long a smattering of tags like ‘fail whale’ and comments such as ‘did she Free your Willy steve-o?’ appear. Though this may be in poor taste, surely no-one would argue that it’s creepy; it’s just boys being boys, right? Ok, let’s think about girls being girls. ‘Does my butt look big in this?’ If you’ve ever watched a ‘90s sitcom, chances are you’ve heard girls asking their boyfriend or friends this question. Apps like Fashism and Go Try It On now enable girls (and fashion conscious boys) to open up this question to thousands of users all over the world. So…what’s the problem with apps that do very similar things but with content submitted by other users?
Of course, one of the key issues is consent, but things aren’t quite that easy – if an individual was comfortable enough to say ‘excuse me, can I post a picture of you on a website that shares really hot people?’ they’re probably outgoing enough to just strike up a flirty conversation with the other party. Surely these apps are more targeted at shy people who aren’t used to starting up a conversation with a stranger they find attractive, something Floxx allows people to do. However, as the old saying goes, a picture says a thousand words – one post on the site reads ‘Female, blonde hair. Petite, cute, wearing a floral dress. But given I’m in Topshop that doesn’t really narrow it down.’ There’s no mistaking a picture.
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference – as long as pictures are moderated to prevent gormless, unflattering poses appearing, I wouldn’t have a problem with my picture appearing on one of these sites. Maybe it’s just my natural optimism, but I perceive sites like this as trying to open the world to strangers in a way that utopian science fiction envisaged, rather than closing interaction off to inner circles of friends.
So what do you think; would you be happy with someone snapping a pic of you and posting it on a ‘hottie database’ for all the world to see?