Let’s take a moment to do a thought experiment.
Look in the mirror. Now back to me. Now back to the mirror. Now back to me.1
Tell me what the first thing that comes to mind that describes who you see. Don’t think about it, just one word off the top of your head that describes the type of person you see in the mirror.
Keep that word in mind. We’ll be coming back to it in a little while.
Now tell me: what image comes to mind as soon as you hear the word “nerd”?
Probably something like this:
What about “geek”? Something along the same lines, no? Not exactly something to set hearts to racing and loins on fire, now is it?
A little infuriating, isn’t it? In this day and age, when geek culture is in it’s ascendency, the general concept of “geek” or “nerd” is sold to the public as one of social awkwardness, a personality that seems to have been compiled from a checklist of Asperger’s Syndrome symptoms, slovenly habits, poorly-fitting clothes and a complete and utter lack of sex appeal. You say you’re a geek – or worse, look like one and people immediately flash to these negative impressions built up for years via popular culture.
That’s stereotyping for you; wrapping up a wide and various culture within a few stock ideas of how we look and act.
Clearly, if you want to have any success in dating, you’ll have to hide the fact that you’re a geek, right? The stereotype of the geek is just too much to overcome.
In fact, it’s time to make stereotypes work for you.
Let’s be honest: no matter how much we’re taught that stereotyping others is wrong, we all do it. We’re taught that we’re supposed to evaluate everybody on the content of their character and who they are as a person rather than proceed with preconceived notions based on outward appearances. And yet, that’s exactly what we do anyway. We make snap-judgments about people within a few seconds of seeing them and those initial judgements color how we respond at first. That guy in the stained hoodie and shredded jeans with the ratty beard and unkept hair may well be a Nobel-winning physicist, but if you saw him hanging around a street corner, your brain immediately snaps to “homeless man.”
The fact of the matter is, humans are built for pattern recognition. We associate certain trends or looks with particular behaviors. It’s part of how we survived long enough to develop civilization, and those instincts are still with us. Our initial attraction to people is often built on those outward looks; it’s part of how we filter out the world. You can’t tell from a glance whether that cute girl hanging out on the couch at your friend’s party is a Rhodes scholar or if she’s as dumb as a post, but we’ll backfill the justification for our attraction later as we get to know them.
We may want people to judge us based on who we are inside, but that can take time – time we don’t always have or, frankly, want to spend on people we may or may not want to get to know. And so we go with our gut, basing our initial impressions on outward characteristics.And thus: stereotypes.
We do it to ourselves, too. Let’s face it: we’re pack animals; we willingly segregate ourselves into certain “types” and adopt the uniform of that type as part of how we demonstrate our association with the group. By doing so, we adopt it as part of our identity and we take on the aspects of that association… including the gut-reactions that people have to that type, for good or for ill. To a certain extent, we choose the stereotypes we fit into.
Stereotyping doesn’t have to be bad, though; in fact, you can make stereotyping work in your favor if you know how.
Still, stereotype has become a loaded word with negative connotations. So don’t think of it as stereotyping yourself’.
Think of it as finding your archetype.
Who Are You?
Let’s get back to that thought experiment.
I want you to describe yourself in one or two words. I want to know who you are and who you want to be, distilled down to your very essence via a word or two off the top of your head. Think about those words. What are they? Writer? Parent? Player? Artist? Musician? Joker? Biker? Goth? Business man? Hold onto that thought for a moment. We’ll come back to it.2
For now, let’s talk about archetypes.
Archetypes are symbols, the prime model of concepts, personas or people. When we think of “rock star” we have a very distinct image that represents the concept. Similarly, when we think “movie star”, we have an instinctive idea of what one looks like and acts like. We associate particular looks and behaviors with archetypes; those archetypes in turn have emotional responses associated with them as well. By harnessing the power of the archetype, we can directly influence how people see us and react to us.The more you resemble the archetype, the more that people will associate you with that archetype. By modeling yourself towards that archetype you influence how others see you… and how they respond to you.
So let’s get back to the words you used to describe yourself. Think about it for a moment – is that who you are, or at least who you want to be? Even if you’re not there yet, is it something you’re striving towards? That model of who you want to be: that’s your archetype.
So now that we have an idea of who you are, let’s start the process of modeling your look on the outside to match that of your archetype – who you are on the inside.
Find Your Celebrity Patronus
Part of harnessing the power of an archetype is knowing how it presents in the real world in the most attractive way possible. After all, when you think “writer” – to pull a random example – you could go in many different ways. On the one hand, you have John Steinbeck:
On the other, you have Allen Ginsberg:
It can be a little daunting at first to try to build a style based around invoking a particular archetype; after all, you may have an idea of what an “artist” looks like, but how are you going to present that in a way that will invoke positive emotional associations rather than coming off as a pretentious asshole? How are you supposed to build a style when your own sense of style is, well… perhaps a bit limited?
Fortunately, we have Hollywood and the cult of celebrity to help us out when it comes to knowing how to present archetypes in the best possible light. It’s time to dip into the world of cinema and television and start examining the roles that best model what we hope to be. In short: you need your celebrity spirit animal.
You see, Hollywood deals in archetypes on a daily basis. When we think of lawyers, we think of Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. We think of the Mafia and we immediately flash to The Godfather. The power of the Hollywood archetype can’t be ignored; the Godfather literally changed how the Mob conducted itself. Life literally changed to imitate art. It’s thanks to those archetypes that we can choose from roles that express the way wish to be seen and incorporate that style into our lives.
When you’re thinking about how to model your style, you have built in examples of what works. You merely have to find the one that synchs best with your idea of who you are.
For example: just off the top of my head, we have The Businessman:
Hell, even the cool college professor you wish you had:
Yes, most of us don’t look like celebrities. That’s not the point. The point is that by looking at the attractive ways your archetype is portrayed, you have a base from which you can build your style. As you grow more comfortable with the style and how to portray it, you can start bringing your own touches into it and making it more unique to who you are.
Let’s get back to that thought experiment from the beginning: your immediate gut description of the person you see in the mirror. Now, how does that correspond with your archetype?
Odds are good that it doesn’t. In fact, there may well be a striking difference between your archetype and how you’re presenting yourself. Your look is incongruous to who you want to be.
I’ve talked before about incongruity: when there’s a significant clash between who you are and how you’re trying to come across. Incongruity makes people uncomfortable – it disrupts the expectations that our brain has tried to put together… and not in a good way. It makes you think “What’s wrong with this picture?” rather than “this person is attractive!”
Changing your style – especially when making a radical change to how you normally present yourself – is a difficult process and it’s fraught with a great deal of trial and error. Some looks simply won’t be a good fit.
Sometimes it’s a matter of body size or shape; when you’re built with broad shoulders and a heavy frame, you’re not going to be able to pull off the tight-tees-skinny-jeans-Chuck Taylors look of an indie rocker… but you could find other rockers to build from. Similarly, if you’re tall and skinny, you’re going to have a harder time pulling off “tough guy” looks; you can wear as much Tap Out gear as you want, but nobody will buy you as a fighter.
Sometimes though, it’s a matter of personality. If you’re the introverted type, flamboyant or flashy styles just aren’t going to synch well. If you’re of a more conservative bent, trying to mold yourself into David Bowie is only going to make you feel uncomfortable and awkward – and that, in turn, will be telegraphed to the people around you. This doesn’t mean that only certain personality types can build on certain archetypes; you just have to learn which archetype is the best fit for you. Remember: Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson are both archetypal Writers.
Be Your Best Self
Now I know a number of you are thinking that I’m telling you that you have to change who you are in order to be attractive – that you have to hide – or even give up – your geek or nerd identity. In fact, I’m saying nothing of the sort. I’m the guy who got Storm Shadow’s tattoo on his forearm; my geek cred is literally part of me.
But hey, let’s talk about geek identity.
I’m sure you can guess what these guys all have in common:
They’re all huge fuckin’ geeks. Samuel L. Jackson’s a giant comics nerd while Dolph Ludgren attended MIT on a Fullbright scholarship, speaks 5 languages, earned a 3rd dan black belt in karate and is the only man to impregnate Grace Jones and live. Meanwhile Vin Diesel founded his own video game company and is the man who got Dame Judy Dench to play Dungeons and Dragons while Tom Morello, former lead guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, is writing a new comic series from Dark Horse.
As I’ve said before: you have to know the stereotypes to defy the stereotypes. When you’re changing your style to reflect your archetype, you aren’t hiding your geekiness by pretending to be something you’re not: you’re subverting the idea of who a geek is. You’re using other people’s stereotypes to your advantage while broadening the definition of who you are.
And if it means it also helps you get laid… well, who’s gonna complain?
- Sorry, I couldn’t help myself [↩]
- I know a few of you have picked “loser” “dweeb” or “pathetic”; I refer you back to this post about labels and how they become self-reinforcing. You can be a loser or a dweeb… or you can take responsibility for your life, spend the time and effort and make yourself incredible. [↩]