This week, Irish men have been ranked the ugliest people in the world by some dating site devoted to good looks. With more than five million users worldwide, Beautifulpeople.com operates like this: Users vote on the photos of other potential users to rank their attractiveness, which in turn determines their eligibility for the site. In 2015, fewer than one in ten male Irish applicants were accepted, the lowest fraction in all the land, along with similar rates from the UK and Poland.
For those of us thirsting for Jamie Dornan, that news is a tough pill to swallow, especially knowing that the homepage of beautifulpeople.com features a man doing jazz hands in acid-wash jeans with gelled curls, his knees bent as he stands on tippy toes. Are these supposedly "beautiful people" really qualified to rank sex appeal?
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The sad news about redheaded ruffians swept across the web this week, but no coverage was so touching or earnest as that of the Irish Mirror, which, in their effort to grapple with this truth for a second time, interviewed the creator of Beautiful People, Greg Hodge. "Irish men would fare better if they put more effort into their profile pictures," Hodge told the publication. "A topless selfie shot in a seedy room or an image of them at the pub, pint in hand, does not go down well with women. Men are not just selling themselves, they are selling a lifestyle."
Steven*, a Californian in his early 20s, disagrees with the site's results. "I love Irish men," he told me. "I've always had a deep infatuation with blond and redheaded men. When I was in middle school I remember pining—obsessing—over this boy with red spiked hair and freckles." At the time, Steven thought he wanted to be the Irish boy, but in hindsight he realizes that he simply wanted to make love to him. "I have this image of me and my husband in a large wool sweater downing our pints of beers and stepping out onto a grassy knoll.
"We're in Ireland, obviously," he added.
Steven's obsession with Irish men isn't founded on any relation to the country itself; he's never been to Ireland. But the magnitude of his attraction could be traced back to his hometown. "I am originally from a small city that is obscenely Irish," he said, adding that Irish culture merged with his own American upbringing. "There are shamrocks painted on the roads that stay year round to mark the route of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, which ranks as one of the largest in the country. The church I went to as a child was St. Patrick's." Steven always assumed he was of Irish descent, but the truth, that he isn't even remotely Irish, was revealed to him as a young boy. It shattered his world; he broke down in tears. "To console me, my mom said, 'Well then marry an Irish girl, and you'll have Irish babies.' I feel like it might have started then. The irony is I would grow up to hook up with the (openly gay) mayor of the city, who is, you guessed it, quintessentially Irish American."
I have this image of me and my husband in a large wool sweater downing our pints of beers and stepping out onto a grassy knoll.
Regarding Irish men's poor ranking on beautifulpeople.com, Steven is generally offended and says the rankings may be related to heteronormative ideals. He points to the quote by founder Greg Hodge, the one that describes the poor quality of shirtless, seedy pub pics. "I'm kind of wondering if the Irish 'lifestyle' that these men are 'selling'—from what I can take away from this quote—isn't somehow an exaggeration of hegemonic masculinity?" Steven suggests that the image of a gruff Irishman at the pub might be a turn off to women, but that it is a turn on to him as a gay man interested in men. "It's very much the presence of masculinity I personally find myself attracted to (as troublesome as that can sometimes be in the gay community where 'masc4masc' or 'masc only' culture can be really harmful)," he explained.
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According to Steven, he's never felt judged by other people for his obsession with Irish guys. When I asked him if he would describe his affinity as a fetish, he paused. "You know, I hadn't thought about it till now. But I would say I have a type so distinct that all of my friends know exactly who it is in the bar I'm going to go for." At a bare minimum, they're all blond or redheaded. "I feel like Irish men are great storytellers," Steven said, adding that they have a good sense of humor. "They love beer, and so do I. I think there's a love of family and tradition in that culture—I sort of picture Irish men bringing in wood for the fire, if you know what I mean."
*Name has been changed.