As a body acceptance advocate, I get a lot of tips from readers about beauty standard-related outrages. The one filling up my inbox today: A dating site has banned 5,000 people, supposedly for gaining weight over the holidays. BeautifulPeople.com restricts membership to those voted sufficiently hot by other members, and that hotness must be maintained even after you’ve been allowed past the gates, lest you find yourself booted back into the “application” cycle. Founder Robert Hintze has this to say about the recent purge: “As a business, we mourn the loss of any member, but the fact remains that our members demand the high standard of beauty be upheld. Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.”
It’s a nasty statement, no doubt designed to make people like me blog furiously about the cruelty and injustice of it. Problem is, I don’t really care. The word “fatties” doesn’t scandalize me, and I can’t say I’m surprised to learn that a dating site that forces potential members through the “Hot or Not” gauntlet encourages sizeism. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I bet it also privileges young, able-bodied people with shiny hair, clear skin and sparkly white teeth; that is, as Hintze says, “the business model and the very concept.” So why am I bothering to give this non-story any attention at all? Because it’s a good opportunity to talk about the difference between real problems and easily ignored jackassery.
Here, for instance, are some real problems: Over 50 percent of physicians surveyed regarding fat people “as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant,” just under half of nine to 12-year-old girls wishing they were thinner, and 10 to 15 percent of women exhibiting “maladaptive eating behaviors.” Then there’s the way perceived physical attractiveness affects hiring and salary decisions, with fat people being paid less than thin ones, and “women encounter[ing] weight discrimination for being just 30 pounds overweight.” And weight stigma being correlated with depression. And the beauty standards of the past being replaced by, as Amanda Marcotte recently pointed out, “newer, more oppressive ones that require you to take all the artifice of old and make it your actual body” — corsets gave way to lipo, push-up bras to breast implants, cover-up to dermabrasion, wrinkle cream to Botox, mascara to Latisse, etc. By contrast, here’s something that is not a real problem: A dating site whose raison d’etre is recreating the junior high cafeteria experience shunning customers who’ve gained a few pounds, and its founder making a deliberately provocative statement about it.
Fatties and non-beauties have much better things to get angry about, actually — like the fact that such easily ignored jackassery often gets more attention than real discrimination. According to a 2008 review of research on weight stigma by scientists at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, negative stereotypes about fat people “are prevalent and are rarely challenged in Western society, leaving overweight and obese persons vulnerable to social injustice, unfair treatment, and impaired quality of life as a result of substantial disadvantages and stigma.” So instead of taking Robert Hintze’s bait, how about we save our furious blogging energy for challenging those stereotypes — and our online dating dollars for some other site?