The XX Factor

Unnatural Selection

The methodology of Internet dating sites and the enterprise of made-to-order ” designer babies ” have always shared eerie echoes of eugenic science-it was only a matter of time before the two came together in creepy, Darwinist collaboration. Yes, reproductive technology has finally entered the darkest territory of online matchmaking by way of Beautiful People, the dating site that recently ousted 5,000 “fatties” from membership . The loathsome Web site has now spawned a “fertility introduction service” that matches its customers to an exclusive selection of sperm and egg donors. Unlike its nonvirtual predecessors , the Beautiful Baby service favors beauty over brains, offering hopeful parents only the prime genetic specimens of physical attractiveness.

Sound familiar? Our country’s history of looks-based eugenics reaches back far before the sperm bank craze . A recent New Yorker piece looked at the work of Paul Popenoe , a California pseudoscientist who introduced eugenics by way of popular American social science. (His work came decades before Josef Mengele’s gruesome attempts at creating the perfect Aryan breed.) Obsessed with selective reproduction, Popenoe saw ” assortative mating ” as means of creating a more perfect race. “No sane man would deny the desirability of beauty in a wife,” he wrote in Applied Eugenics , “Particularly when it is remembered that beauty, especially as determined by good complexion, good teeth and medium weight, is correlated with good health in some degree, and likewise with intelligence.”

Popenoe eventually became the “Father of American Marriage Counseling”, advocating compatibility tests as a way of determining the best match for long-term relationships. His method of pre-selection by testing undergirds the algorithmic process of today’s online matchmaking venues like eHarmony and It seems like these sites have also taken a cue from Popenoe’s earlier studies: Not long ago, the free matchmaking service OkCupid sent out messages to the “top half of [its] most attractive users ” informing them of their “elite status” on the dating site’s community. In this system of segregation by attractiveness, specific individuals were granted privileged status if deemed “in the top half” of all users.

Beautiful People has taken this kind of discriminating policy to the extreme, prioritizing users’ (arbitrarily measured) looks above all other criteria. As the site’s creators try their hand at the insemination donor market , we’re faced with an appalling new strain of genetic engineering. And though today’s sperm banks have long provided a venue for handpicking the most desirable DNA, I think there’s something especially repulsive about creating a child through a middleman who profits from ” a strict ban on ugly people .”

Illustration of petri dishes from The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser /Wikimedia Commons.