Dr. NerdLove is on vacation this week. Instead of running a “best of” column or a week of dead air, we have another guest post by frequent commentator, occasional gypsy princess, and friend of the blog – Squirrel. She also hosts her own blog, Crossed Wires as well as provides the occasional sounding board for articles here. Take it away, Squirrel.
One year at a fairly major convention, I passed by a booth for a company where you could hire “Real Geek Booth Girls.” The service promised to staff your booth with sexy women who were actual members of the geek community. What struck me most about this service wasn’t the casual sexism of hiring out “booth babes” or the elitism of advertising themselves as “real geeks.” No, what I found truly interesting was how alike all of the women were. They were all of similar size, wore similar make-up and hair styles, and were even dressed in nearly identical “sexy geek girl” outfits.
At lunch later that day, I was making jokes about this booth to some friends and made the bold claim that I could start up my own company and make “sexy” booth workers out of just about anyone I knew, including every single person at that table. From there it devolved into a conversation about sexy librarians and guys in pirate boots, but the basic claim holds true. Some of the most amazingly sexy people I know aren’t “conventionally” attractive. They’re too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too pale, too much of something to ever be called attractive. And yet they are sexy and amazing because they discovered something about themselves that they could hang their confidence on.
Societal Standards of Beauty Suck
Let’s get this out of the way first. Beauty is a social construct which is influenced by impossibly high standards pushed on us every single day in subtle and sometimes horrible ways. Magazines employ armies of people whose job starts with a layer of spackle and ends with a hundred layers of Photoshop. Television and movie studios aren’t much better. Many models are successful merely because their genetics grant them whatever look happens to be popular at the moment and even they wind up subject to a disastrous amount of photo editing. And there are far too many celebrities who breezily brag about how easy it is to keep in shape while paying one person to hand them all the right foods and another to yell at them to do sit-ups.
If you’re really lucky, you’ve got a supportive family who tells you that you’re beautiful. If you’re unlucky, you’ve got one family member talking about how fat you’ve gotten and another insisting that you need to eat a sandwich. Your friends may gather around you and tell you that you’re awesome, but there will always be some asshole out there who is perfectly willing to tell you that you aren’t up to their standards. Your skin in the wrong shade, your hair is the wrong style, your face is the wrong shape, your sense of humor is too dumb or too smart or you’re just plain too fucking sensitive. Women like Dita Von Teese are told they’re too skinny, women like Christina Hendricks are told they’re too fat, and the rest of us average looking people are pretty much just screwed.
It can be hard to listen to all of these conflicting messages and not be a little confused. The truth is that what is considered beautiful changes over time and can be influenced by everything from what kind of food is readily available to what sort of people are rich or famous at the time. You can either spend all of your time lamenting that there are people out there who are better looking than you, or you can embrace the fact that there isn’t a single damn person on this planet who everyone finds attractive and get to work figuring out what makes you amazing.
Smile and the World Smiles With You
Personally, I’m not a smiler by nature. Many years ago, I decided that one of my major problems in interpersonal relationships was that I tended to be very negative. As a part of my efforts to change this, I decided that I needed to smile more. I had previously rejected any advice on whether or not I should smile because I, like many women, didn’t like being told how to arrange my face. Usually because the message of “You should smile!” comes with the underlying message of “Because your facial expression should be pleasing to me at all times.” Unfortunately, a smile is one of the major facial expressions that humans use to indicate to other humans their happiness and attraction.
Making the choice on my own allowed me to do as the good doctor has previously advised: fake it till I made it. I found that smiling at people when I talked to them, even if it was only a little, caused them to react more positively to me. If I later had to move the conversation in a more serious direction, starting off with a smile made people more favorably inclined towards what I had to say.
So how does a naturally dour person go about learning to smile? You start by smiling into a mirror. Think of something amusing1 and watching how your face moves. Does your natural smile start at both corners, or does one follow the other? Do you smile with just your lips, or do you go all in? What do you look like with a small smile? A broad one? Do you smile slowly or does a broad smile come first, rapidly followed by a smaller one? Recognizing the way your face moves will let you be more aware of how you appear to other people. It’s up to you to decide where to go from there.
Love Your Look
Magazines make a ton of money telling you how to dress, how to do your hair, how to put on your make-up, and none of that is worth the price of the paper it’s printed on if you hate the way you look in those styles. Part of the problem is that most of the ads are designed to make you feel like crap so you’ll buy whatever product they’re pushing. If last month’s fancy new make-up or hot new skirt isn’t working for you, then clearly you need to buy this month’s new hair product or accessory! Another part of the problem is that those so-called “fashionable” styles are typically aimed at a very narrow range of body types and facial structures.
Not everyone looks good in a bubble skirt and smokey eye make-up. I would argue that there are very few people out there who do, but I’m in the class of body types that doesn’t need any more volume around the hips, thank you very much.
One of the major benefits of geek culture is that there are a lot of groups who aren’t afraid to pull from the past to influence their style today. For example, stereotypical 50s fashions tend to be considerably friendlier to a fuller figured woman. If the style you’ve been working isn’t doing it for you, try a different one. You don’t have to change from fashionista to total rockabilly2 , but you might try switching from straight cut skirts to a slightly fuller cut. For guys, try throwing some button front shirts into the rotation once in a while. You might discover that you look pretty snazzy in a good Hawaiian shirt3 . Most importantly, if the places you are shopping aren’t making clothes that work for your body, shop somewhere else. Women’s clothing manufacturers are particularly bad about cutting their clothing to a certain body shape, and not all of them cut to the same ideal.
Dr. Nerdlove has covered why it’s important to find the look that’s right for you. What he leaves out is just how important it is for you to love the way you look in those clothes. If you go out in public wearing ill-fitting clothes that you are uncomfortable in, then your unhappiness will show in how your carry yourself in those clothes. Contrast that to how you feel when you’re wearing that one sweater that turns heads, or those pants you found which make your ass look amazing. When youlove your look, people will love you in your look.
Foundations Aren’t Just For Houses
Remember when underwear was fun? You’d pick out your very favorite pair of Underoos for the day and go around school knowing that secretly, underneath your mild mannered exterior, you were actually… a superhero! Now it’s all tighty whities and granny panties and underwear is boring. Except for that one pair that you save for special occasions. Or really desperate laundry days. The thing is, underwear that makes you feel special doesn’t have to be saved for a special occasion. Finding underwear in the right cut for your body shape and clothing style can be just as important as finding a pair of pants that fit.
There are hundreds of websites out there that will explain how to go about buying the perfect bra and underwear. This is not going to be one of them. Just know that you can get underwear that covers everything from your bellybutton to your knees if you’re so inclined, or wear nothing more than a triangle of cloth on a string if that’s what makes you happy. If it fits well and is comfortable, it won’t matter. Much like your clothes, you may need to give a few different styles a try before you find the one that works best for your figure.
As for the plain white undies, don’t be afraid to rock some fun prints and colors. On any given day, you will probably be the only person who knows that it’s covered in neon animal prints, cartoon puppies, or a strategically placed superhero logo. However, you may find that wearing that little secret gives you the confidence to start up a conversation with someone you’re willing, someday, to show those awesome undies to.
All the make-up, clothing, and haircare tips in the world won’t help you if your attitude is negative. Yes, it can be damned hard to be the person carrying the burden of positivity all the time. Yes, it can suck to feel like every single interaction you have is going to end badly. Yes, it is particularly shitty to spend years of your life trying to be positive and getting absolutely jack all out of it. But you have to ask yourself who you would rather be: The person who starts off every conversation with a polite word and a smile? Or the one making someone else’s day worse because you’re forcing them to grin and bear it through your crappy attitude? Dating works much the same way. You can either be the person going into the date looking to have a great time regardless of what happens, or you can be the person whose date wishes they’d set up a cell phone escape clause.
Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you have to turn up to every interaction as Captain Chipper, or Debbie Doormat. Sometimes all you really need to do is give yourself permission to throw your arms out and shout to the world “Fuck you guys, I’m AMAZING.”
Which leads me to my last piece of advice.
Find Your Hook
I truly believe that there is something amazing in everyone. It may take you some time to figure out what’s amazing about you, but it’s in there. Maybe you make some damn fine cookies. Maybe you have a knack for complicated code. Maybe you’re one of the rare modern people who can rock a fedora and Buddy Holly glasses without looking like a hipster. Whatever it may be, find your talent and hook your confidence to it. Know that you are amazing at this one single thing. Then go out and find something else that you are amazing at and hook your confidence to that, too. Even if you fail at what you’ve tried, then at least you know that you are terrible at karaoke and you can be okay with that. Sometimes, being awful at something can be just as much fun as being good at it.
Finally, I know from personal experience how hard it can be to spend years trying and constantly failing to find that special someone that you can spend the rest of your life with. It is so much easier in love stories, where the main character is swept away by someone who sees something amazing in them and falls in love. Real life doesn’t work that way. You have to see yourself as amazing first, and truly believe in it. It may take you years to get to that point, and years more to find someone who is as amazing as you are to share your life with. In the end though, those years will be worth it.