[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Facing the World With Egos Exposed
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Tue Jun 8 16:04:12 PDT 2004
The article below from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by khare at alumni.caltech.edu.
For the archives... HotOrNot fans will have long-ago dissected this piece... RK
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
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Facing the World With Egos Exposed
June 3, 2004
By GARY RIVLIN
ANGELA MacRAE was feeling lonely and maybe even a little
unloved. So a couple of years back, Ms. MacRae, who then
weighed 330 pounds, made her foray into an Internet realm
increasingly popular among people under 35. She posted
provocative pictures of herself at various Web sites that
invite the world to rate physical appearance.
"I wanted to know that people were attracted to me and
would find me sexy," said Ms. MacRae, 31, who estimates
that over several months she posted her pictures at about a
dozen Internet rating sites, from the relatively wholesome
hotornot.com, which tallies roughly 10 million votes per
day, to bangable.com, a site as coarse as its name. There,
the rating scale dips from the perfect 10 down to negative
1, and visitors are invited to post comments that, not
surprisingly, tend toward the raw and crude, if not cruel.
Ms. MacRae's reception at Bangable was easy to foretell.
In one shot she wears a revealing black lace negligee. In
another, she sits on a couch, sad-faced, wearing no clothes
above her waist except a red satin bra.
The two pictures earned her ratings that fell between 1.0
and 1.5. Several hours after Ms. MacRae's debut, someone
writing as Solon wrote, "What a masochist."
Ms. MacRae, however, has no regrets. The rare positive
posting ("You are scrumptious," one person wrote) more than
compensated for the derogatory ones, she said from her home
in Victoria, British Columbia. She said she had received
dozens of private messages from men who contacted her
through an e-mail address she provided, and even credited
one persistent admirer for convincing her to lose weight.
(She says she is down to 150.)
"It really picked up my esteem to know that there are still
some people out there who find me beautiful," she said.
It is not surprising that a culture that embraces reality
TV shows, which find drama in rejection, would find
entertainment in rating others and seeing how they fare.
"We allow people to do online what they already do every
day, all the time," said James Hong, a founder of Hot or
Not, the pioneer of the rating sites. What remains striking
about the sites, though, is how many men and women are
willing to submit their looks and their egos to the
scrutiny of the anonymous masses.
At Hot or Not, more than four million people, most of them
18 to 24, have posted at least one photograph, according to
the company. The site was founded in late 2000 by Mr. Hong
and Jim Young when Mr. Hong was an unemployed hardware
engineer and Mr. Young was struggling with a dissertation
for a joint degree in electrical engineering and computer
"Basically, we were sitting around drinking beers in the
middle the afternoon when a comment Jim made about a woman
he had seen at a party made us think, wouldn't it be cool
if there was a Web site where you could tell if a girl was
a perfect 10?" said Mr. Hong, 31, who saved the Heineken
bottle he was sipping from at the time.
What began as a lark has in three years transmogrified into
something entirely different. For Mr. Hong and Mr. Young it
has turned into a serious business that earns several
million dollars a year as an online dating service.
The site's popularity has given rise to hundreds of copycat
sites that reveal a world very different from the PG-rated
realm that Mr. Hong and Mr. Young imagined back in 2000.
Sites like Bangable and howmanywouldittake.com - where
visitors rate snapshots based on the number of beers it
would require to render that person sexually attractive,
ranging from "sober" to 24 bottles - are clearly rated R,
if not X. (There are also sites focusing on body parts,
like ratemyimplants.com, which offers the helpful
disclaimer that its content is not to be construed as
"Some of these sites are much more cruel than others," said
Armond Aserinsky, a psychiatrist who studies the mass
media, including the Internet, after 30 years of private
practice in the suburbs of Philadelphia. "Hot or Not has
some rules that they seem to keep to. At least they're
trying to keep it civilized."
Hot or Not (where it is rare for anyone to rate below 3.0)
requires that people be fully clothed and not expose
themselves in their skivvies or lingerie; it also prohibits
sexually suggestive poses. But other sites are less
restrained, with participants posting nude photos and, in
some cases, soliciting business. At least a few of those
posting at Bangable invite browsers to chat online - at a
price - or buy videos in which you can see much more of
There is also the occasional prank. "People try to post
pictures of famous people and porn stars and sports stars
all the time, but I just delete them," said Nathan Hudson,
the creator of HowManyWouldItTake.com. More difficult to
monitor -and more troubling - are those who post pictures
of others, as a joke or for revenge.
"You've got people putting their bosses up, or old
girlfriends or whatever," Mr. Hudson said. Still, he
figures that he has received only 5 to 10 complaints a year
since creating the site in 2001.
Some no doubt find such sites offensive because they treat
people as objects and encourage quick verdicts based on
nothing but looks. But online the premise seems to be taken
largely in stride. "Like everything with the Internet," Dr.
Aserinsky said, "these rating sites carry something we see
other places to an extreme. Think of the 'Jerry Springer'
show. It's hard to get on 'Jerry Springer.' But now there's
an infinite space for people to indulge this narcissistic
hunger to be seen."
The Internet gives everyone "an opportunity to put
themselves out there," he added. "Now everyone is on the
Not quite everyone: Only 2 percent of those visiting Hot or
Not post a picture, Mr. Hong said. And while 45,000 people
have rated Lexi, the top-ranked woman at Bangable, fewer
than 1,000 people have posted their picture there. Maybe
that's because even Lexi has detractors: "You need a nose
job," wrote SlaveForYou. "You're lucky they invented
makeup," wrote another poster.
Given such a prospect, why someone would post a personal
photo to be judged on a Web site is a matter for
"It takes a certain kind of person to put their picture on
the Web," said Mr. Hudson, who created
HowManyWouldItTake.com while a freshman at the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst. "But I don't think it has very
much to do with their looks. I guess some people just want
an honest appraisal of their physical appearance."
That decision is not always made at one's best. "I was
bored one night and kind of ripped, and it seemed like a
good idea at the time," said a 25-year-old concrete-plant
worker in southern Illinois who posted his picture at
Bangable under the screen name Phreack, and asked that his
real name not be used here. But while he was disappointed
that the site's voters gave him a low score (.63), he
seemed to brush off any suggestion that it mattered. "What
do I care what people on the Internet think of me?" he
Some experts believe that the psychological concept of
self-handicapping might help explain why someone would put
an unflattering picture of himself online. For no reason he
could offer, the Illinois man chose to post a droopy-eyed
shot of himself.
"Some people set themselves up for failure by sending in
photos that aren't flattering," said Abraham Tesser, a
psychology professor at the University of Georgia who
studies human self-concept. "Then if they fail - if they
get rated down - it was because of the photo, not because
of who they really are."
Dr. Tesser said that people can also convince themselves
that "if they get rated up, it was because they are so
attractive that even the unflattering photo can't dampen
their true beauty."
On the other hand, a distorted sense of one's
attractiveness might also play a role. "I don't think you
can discount for the fact that some people who get very low
ratings indeed think that they are hot," Dr. Tesser said.
But the most straightforward explanation, he and others
said, is that the world is crowded with people so hungry
for attention that they will submit to any number of
indignities for even a small bit of it.
"I see this phenomenon as an extension of the narcissism
that has become much more pervasive in our culture," Dr.
Aserinsky said. "I see it especially in the under-30 crowd,
where there's this insatiable appetite for acknowledgment
based largely on patterns in child-rearing that came along
about the time of that generation." He calls it the
"overappreciated child," whose every accomplishment, no
matter how pedestrian, is praised as if extraordinary, if
not also bronzed and placed on a pedestal.
"I'm sure these people would rather get praise, but more
important is this primitive kind of need for attention,"
Dr. Aserinsky said.
Ms. MacRae was clearly craving something like attention
when she decided to post her pictures at many sites. She
had a boyfriend, but he was seldom around. She felt trapped
at home alone with three children, and in short order she
was spending up to 10 hours a day corresponding through
e-mail and an instant messaging service with people she met
through the rating sites.
"I just wanted to talk with someone," she said.
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