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Will Philadelphia Repeat as the Ugly City Champ in 2010?

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Benjamin Franklin may not have been attractive, but he was a ladies' man. Public Domain Image.

The headlines have been rehashed on local forums, message boards, networking sites and in the papers since the survey poll ‘evidence’ first arrived in 2007: Philadelphia is ugly. Apparently, Philadelphians keep earning this repeat title. More often than not, we are voted as having the ugliest people when compared to other cities.

Worse yet, this is a self-bestowed title based on the manner of the survey, states NBC Philadelphia’s Theresa Masterson.

Point taken, Ms. Masterson. Perhaps the problem isn’t with the actual looks of the people in the city, but with our own self-esteem—as you posture in your article. That said, the power of self-esteem itself is questionable (as mentioned in Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit!” episode on self-esteem).

The 2010 America’s Favorite Cities Poll is now open for voting on Travel+Leisure. Will Philadelphia make it four in a row?

What is it that would cause Philadelphians to rate themselves as ugly? Here are some theories.

  • Philadelphia has a major homeless problem. The homeless do not receive adequate health care and some choose not to stay in homeless shelters. This contributes to ugliness on multiple levels: the literal appearance of individuals who cannot care for themselves; the impact and irony of homelessness happening right in front of Independence Hall; and the fact that many of us feel ugly ourselves because the problem is so overwhelming and difficult to fix.
  • Our standard of beauty is affected by our proximity to New York City. Yeah, you know, Manhattan…where everyone looks like models and all women are somehow perky enough to walk around without bras. Everyone seems to act like a model there, even if they aren’t one. It could be that this more aloof standard affects our own self-image as a city and intimidates the hell out of us.
  • There are landscape issues. Philadelphia is full of beautiful vistas—but also impoverished areas. You could be the most attractive individual in the world, but standing in a house in Southwest Philly that lacks a door is going to negatively affect your image and self-image.
  • Philadelphians are sensitive to social issues. This isn’t a bad thing. We know when there’s a problem and often we’re very grassroots when we want to fix something. That said, we tend to notice things like obesity occurring in trends.
  • Some of us just don’t care. There’s a big pocket of anarcho-punks in the city. They are an example of a Philadelphian subculture that focuses more on inner beauty than outer beauty. I think that’s worthwhile and I happen to think some punks are attractive and talented, but it doesn’t help in the survey ratings.

Furthermore, Philadelphia isn’t populated simply by Philadelphians. There are suburbanites, tourists, students and businesspeople from all over the world here—and all of those different types of people are often factored into the equation.

As a suburbanite, I notice both positive and negative attributes of city-dwellers. Specifically, it seems to me that most people who live in the city tend to be thinner, likely because they walk more than most suburbanites. In fact, sometimes I miss my urban commute—instead of having to do cardio in my living room, I could catch up on my personal life on my phone while walking briskly from work to the train each night. That’s multitasking, Philadelphia—and multitasking is a beautiful thing.

The 2010 America’s Favorite Cities Poll is now open for voting on Travel+Leisure. Will Philadelphia make it four in a row?