Am I hot or not?

Appalling, horrible and addictive -- a new Web site lets the world rate your attractiveness.

Published October 11, 2000 7:30PM (EDT)

My editor made me do it. I swear, I did not want to put up my picture in the Am I Hot or Not database, but he was cruelly unyielding. "Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices for the team, Janelle," he said.

So there I am, in all my youthful glory (hey, the only decent picture I could find was five years old), subjecting myself to the harsh judgment of the Net population: Am I hot or not? You tell me. Do I really want to know? Actually, no -- I'd prefer to keep my self-image intact.

A friend in the venture capital world e-mailed the URL to me when the site launched on Monday: "I think this is quite viral," he wrote. But I almost choked after my first glance -- Am I Hot or Not is nothing more than a virtual meat market to which anyone can upload a picture and let viewers "vote" on his or her attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10.

It's indescribably horrible ... and yet utterly addictive. As picture after picture whips before you, you can mercilessly savage the egos of perfect strangers. Bad hair? Give 'em a 2. Needs a shave? A 4. Cute, but could use a trip to the gym? Maybe a 5. (And people do seem to score viciously low: Even No Doubt's sexpot lead singer, Gwen Stefani, who oddly enough is also in the database, scored only a 6.6. After a while, I found myself giving everyone a 10, if only to make the participants feel better about all those other low scores they'd received.)

Talk about your fashion police with a twist -- the poor victim sees just what others think, with the added joy of getting to peruse a distribution chart of the various scores he or she receives. Consider it a kind of personal market research, a study of your attractiveness quotient; as any Vogue editor will tell you, one should always seek encouragement to look your very best, and if the lessons learned along the way are painful, well, so be it. It sure beats visiting a singles bar, if just for the sheer size of the focus group.

Unfortunately, the site also manages to throw the whole idealistic notion of "beauty comes from within" right out the window in about three seconds flat. I wince to think of the lessons being learned by the teenagers who have already discovered the site. But Am I Hot or Not's creators, two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who prefer to remain anonymous ("We only did it for fun," one says), think in more benevolent terms. As one founder explains, every person seems to receive a high score from at least one or two voters: "It's a 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' type of thing," he says optimistically.

I'll nurse that notion as I collect those low scores. Go ahead, I can take it.

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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