Once, in the ghostland period between university and proper adulthood (I am possibly still in that ghostland), I was an active member of a community full of beautiful people.
That was actually part of the remit for membership of the community; you needed to be physically attractive. How the bloody hellfire I managed to get in can only really be conjectural at this point, but they also judged verbal dexterity and wit (so I repeat my previous statement). I worked incredibly hard on my application, rewrote it several times, and asked for a new digital camera for Christmas specifically in order to take pictures.
Despite walls of text and several shots of me looking like a rejected model in a hideous light blue shirt, I got in. When I joined, halfway through my final year, the community was in a slump; a boom happened shortly afterwards, followed by a redesign. I weathered it through the storm of changes, and it soon became a kind of home for me - a group of people who didn't necessarily have to be likeminded, but (as it turned out) were. Having left behind another community (due to age; you wouldn't go to the events past 21), I needed another one to embrace, and this was it.
One of the questions I was asked a few times, and I asked it myself almost once a week, was "how exactly do you justify the existence of a community like this?" It seems like a terrible idea: élitism taken to its logical conclusion, all accepted members given permission to vote other members out or reject potential applicants with the click of a button. I was, for a period of time, a moderator and it was my job to have the final say of "accepted" or "rejected", going by what the majority vote was. I remember voting yes because somebody was attractive; unlike the other members, I never called anyone fat, or ugly, or stupid. I tried to use good judgement and be more humane than this system called for. I'd like to think a good job.
I was, however, aware that I was part of an élitist, judgemental group and that this did not gel with my inclusive ideals at all.
Why, then, did the community appeal? I think that, originally, it was the "challenge" aspect that got to me the most. I stumbled across it, by accident, while looking for sex blogs (would you believe...?) and was both fascinated and repulsed by their application process. I applied to see if I had any chance at all. As it turned out, of course, most of the other members had joined for this reason as well; some had even signed up as a joke to shed light on seemingly snobbish, exclusivist behaviour and got accepted anyway.
Over time, I became less nervous and began to participate more. I joined in discussions. I voted. I posted. I promoted. I even took more pictures of myself to share with the community, something I'd never usually do. And I got to know other members more, eventually counting them as friends. For a time, being in the community was my safe haven: my go-to. My secret world.
Being, as it was, full of incredibly attractive people, the slightly vacuous part of my brain was thrilled as my inclusion. I've never thought of myself as physically attractive, but here I was, posting pictures of myself and being called handsome, even when dressed up in my auntie's old bridesmaid costume or while cradling my cat in my arms. I even posted a picture of myself crying once when I was having one of my "moments", and was comforted. In a way - a very real way - writing my posts, doing my pictures and reading other people's made me feel more attractive - both physically and personality-wise - than I'd ever been.
So that's why I stayed. Confidence. I've rarely ever felt confident. Here, surrounded by gorgeous people with brains and flair, I felt that spark that I've never felt anywhere else... except, perhaps, within the sex blogger community.
Eventually, for whatever reason, the community fizzled out. Some people left, some vanished, and the general deprecation of the social networking site we used to administrate it didn't help. The final post, officially, was by me, announcing that we were closed for maintenance. As for the woman who started it in the first place... she had long since vanished.
Every now and again, I am hit by a wave of nostalgia, and visit; many of the old posts are still active, and all of mine certainly are. I no longer feel the pull that I used to, but I do realise, in my head, that it was there. I don't feel drawn to the community, but I do think it.
It's strange, perhaps, to feel so fond about a group of people who were so selective about membership for the simple reason that one of them told me that I had nice hair in my application post. And that, even though it's long since dead, I've never considered it since my final post as anything but dormant. Why I feel this way, I can't really explain... élitism aside, however, were there ever any sign of movement that I picked up on - and if I were offered the chance to participate once more - I'd gladly take hold of the baton... and run with it once more.