OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletic Club isn't the last place on Earth you'd expect to find a meeting of the Good Looking People Society, but it's probably among the last 10. Nonetheless, the society is holding its fourth meeting here, and if this site isn't exactly Prego, well, neither are all the attendees drop-dead lookers.
The society was concocted by Jerry Lipkin, a self-professed "society saver," who has organized various East Bay men's and women's groups over the years. He introduced the society in 1983, inspired by "the notion that physically attractive people are treated differently and needed some place to talk with others who felt the same."
He got a burst of initial publicity, which soon waned. "It was a very sexy idea, but it didn't play out as hot as in theory." Most attendees were average in appearance, there primarily to see what good-looking meant.
Jerry terminated the society after a few months, but never lost his fascination for "talking about how we feel about our looks. When you discuss your appearance, you reveal some of your deepest secrets."
Accordingly, he and wife Cathy resurrected the group in June and opened it "to all people, since the old way was elitist," he declares. "And the people who came were ordinary looking anyway. But we kept the Good Looking because we knew we wouldn't get media coverage if we called it Inner Beauty ."
"Good looking is defined by the individual," says Cathy, a trim and attractive woman. "My definition is probably different than yours, and definitely different than Jerry's." He has curly black hair framing a pre-jowl face. They resemble Shirley Jones and Walter Matthau in their earlier movies.
We're officially here "for cocktails, conversation and charisma," but actual reasons vary from curiosity to peer pressure to habit; half of tonight's 25 souls are "Jerry's kids," veterans of his other groups. Harry, a Berkeley psychiatrist, calls himself "kind of a self-improvement groupie."
Patrick, a silver-haired and mustachioed MD, is a casting director's ideal British Colonel. He's here "to see how beautiful people relate to each other." Terry, well-coiffed, stylish, petite, is "curious about who'd come to something with a name like this. It's so up front--talking about appearances with total strangers."
Mary Anne recently broke up with her boyfriend and came mainly for the social opportunity; the group's name is irrelevant to her.
Aura of Divorce
"I'm not into looks," she says. "But I sell cosmetics in the evenings, so I guess I am."
Peter is here because "I might meet someone who could help me with hair styling and color coordination; there's a lot of networking going on."
Maybe so. There's certainly not much boy-meeting-girl activity. Of course, there aren't many boys and girls here. We're nearly all aged 35-45, and the aura of divorce is almost palpable.
Appearances range from striking to nondescript. Some could model, some are attractive only by maternal standards. Some men wear suits, others jeans and sweaters. Some women are dressed glamorously, others could wash the car in (or even with) their outfits. There are bald spots, love handles, big bottoms, wrinkles.
But if the group isn't beautiful, it's probably above average. More interestingly, its members prove to be articulate and evidently savvy about themselves and their looks. There's minimal self-delusion; a couple of women admit they "took extra care this morning to look especially good."
After a few drinks, they sit in a large circle to, Jerry says, "talk about the issues of appearance, because we make a lot of decisions based on how we look, or think we look, or feel others think we look. The object is to make peace with--and the most of--our outer appearance."
They have plenty of thoughts on this matter. The prevailing one seems to be an annoyance at people's inclination to make assumptions about others based on looks. In other words, beauty may be only skin deep, but that's generally sufficient.
Beth is tiny but assertive: "I'm satisfied with myself, but others' perceptions have caused me problems. They make decisions based on exterior images and then have trouble when reality doesn't square with their assumptions."
John is graying, distinguished, diminutive, and resembles Laugh-In's Henry Gibson. "My issue is being a short man, which I think I've dealt with. In fact, I'd like to get involved with a really tall woman!" There's applause; somebody begins singing "Short People."
Bert is stocky, dressed for yardwork, has a gray-flecked beard. "I also get upset the way some people relate to my height. It gives me gas--especially that song 'Short People.' "
Dean, a construction engineer in a plaid shirt, says he was going to wear a suit, "but that's not how I dress. I just came the way I am." We compliment his shirt. Jerry compliments his belt buckle. Dean's friend, Booker, adds: "Nice glasses, too." We laugh.