Saturday, July 25, 2015

Not Happy About Your Body? Fat Batman Isn't Going to Help.

Sticking with the physical attractiveness theme from my last post, let's talk about body dissatisfaction and the "ideal" body presented in pop culture. An article form the (mostly) satirical site A.V. Club reposted some pictures from an anti-bulimia website that featured Photoshopped video game and comic characters. Their apparent goal is to represent "real life" body types in an attempt to curb our tendency to feel dissatisfaction with our bodies.

There are two serious problems with this exercise. First, the editors of the anti-bulimia website don't really seem to understand WHY we create fictional depictions of an idealized body type. Second, they don't seem to understand the root cause (or solution to) of body dissatisfaction. Let's tackle the first issue.

Why Does the Idealized Body Type Sell?

As much as we fancy ourselves (humans) as rational, logical, intellectual creatures, the survival of our species is contingent on our primal desires to reproduce and get our genes into the next generation. Furthermore, we have to have some assurance that our offspring are genetically fit, and the "fitter" the better. That's why, when given a choice, we'll always fuck the most attractive person we can land in a given situation. What we consider universally "attractive" (which differs for men and women as discussed in the last post) has evolved over countless generations as a mechanism to keep our species genetically healthy enough to survive. 

The idealized body type we see in works of fiction exaggerate those characteristics we find universally attractive, which helps them sell. That works because we like looking at that which we find universally attractive. Let's say the publishers of Tomb Raider decide to make a size 16 Lara Croft. Would people rather buy and play that version, or would they prefer the older version that featured the current version? As much as we'd love to believe we're "advanced" and would celebrate chubby Lara, we all know the game would be the next E.T.

Per the rules of capitalism, businesses don't produce products that don't sell. Some people like to suggest something along the lines of "If EVERY company dropped the use of the idealized body, THEN we'd solve this problem!" 

Nice sentiment, but that's not how capitalism works. The allure of being that lone company that would buck the rules by playing to our primal desires would be too great. Besides, most people like to frame this as "if only these big, evil corporations would do this... yadda, yadda, yadda" without seemingly understanding that, in almost every case, the profit motivation behind business directly or indirectly puts food on their table. Would you really want the person that signs YOUR paycheck to commit market suicide by producing products that would put them at a competitive disadvantage? 

Probably not.

I know some readers are thinking "Jesus, why are men such shallow pigs?!? If only they would stop objectifying women's bodies, we could finally solve this issue! Fucking patriarchy!!!!"

My response - which book do ya think would sell more copies:

The knife cuts both ways, ladies.

What's Really Behind Body Dissatisfaction?

The first issue is pretty simple to explain. This one? It gets a little tricky. There are all sorts of explanations that explain why we tend not to like our bodies, and the issue affects men just as much as women. 

Right now, I'm in pretty good shape due to jiu jitsu and mma training coupled with weight training and fairly strict dietary moderation. I'm pretty cut and I love it. HOWEVER, three months ago I was gravitating toward a dadbod. It sucked. I didn't like looking at myself in the mirror, felt insecure, and would get mildly depressed. I was experiencing body dissatisfaction.

So why does our self-perception of our bodies affect us so much? It's because we fear social rejection. Take a look at Maslow's hierarchy:

See that yellow middle "love and belonging" section? We need to feel a sense of connection with others, both socially and sexually. We get insecure about our perception of our body image because we know people will like us more if we're physically attractive. Here's a quick primer for the uninitiated. Want another source? Here ya go. This is a really, really hard pill to swallow and most people would prefer to pretend this isn't the case, but it's reality. It's the same primal, evolutionary mechanism described above. If this were NOT the case, any one of us would be perfectly happy having sex with a random member of the population. 

Don't think this is how us humans are hardwired? Let's hang out and we'll play that game where I get to pick someone for you to have sex with. Odds are good your resolve to deny this phenomenon is weaker than your willingness to bang someone on my municipality's equivalent of Skid Row. ;-)

Anyway, that fear and anxiety of social and sexual rejection is the underlying mechanism that fuels our body dissatisfaction. The key to that - this is a phenomenon that occurs in our own heads and is based on our own preferences for attractive people

What does that mean? I like looking at attractive people, therefore I transpose my own psychological mechanism on everyone else. I assume THEY also like looking at attractive people. If I'm not feeling attractive, I assume others aren't going to like looking at me and will experience the exact same bias I have against unattractive people. 

This is an incredibly important point; re-read it until you really understand and internalize it.

This concept gets lost in our own heads because we have a lot of other mechanisms at play. For example, we may love looking at attractive people, but if we think they're "out of our league", we tend to set up defense mechanisms to pre-disqualify them as potential mates ("he must be a douche" or "she must be a bitch".) This leads us to actually attempt to match up with people closer to our own "level" of attractiveness, but it doesn't change the primal preference for the physically attractive.

So What's the Solution?

I'd offer two pieces of advice to end body dissatisfaction, and neither involves the stupid "feel good" shit like photoshopping fictional characters. 

First, improve yourself. Nothing ends body dissatisfaction faster than making yourself more attractive to others. You can work on getting fit and all the other stuff related to physical attractiveness I discussed in my last post. You can also take a really, really easy short-cut: Learn to exude confidence. That's the single best way to improve how others see you, and it's one of the first things I recommend in my San Diego Man Camp. I'll be honest - I really like fit women with large breasts and round asses (find pics of my wife for a good example ;-) .) However, I find myself attracted to any body type if the woman is confident. 

Second, when you do experience body dissatisfaction, understand you're experiencing it because of a fear of rejection. Simply acknowledging that cognitive mechanism can do wonders, but I'd go a step further and actually boot the fear to the curb. When you're free of that fear of social and sexual rejection, you're no longer riddled with body image insecurity. 

So there you go. Now you know the problem and the solutions. Please stop posting stupid "everyone is beautiful" ego-boosting shit on Facebook. 


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Does Attractiveness Matter?

If you spend any time on social media, you probably encounter a lot of posts like this. It's a weird conflation of pro-body image and anti-fat shaming messages wrapped in overly flowery language (descriptor intentional.) While I enjoy dressing ideas in fancy wardrobes to make them more socially-palatable, it covers the the important critical concepts that actually matter. In this case, the author seems to be saying "all women, regardless of body type, are physically attractive." 

What's a better route? How about simple honestly? When it comes to physical attractiveness for men or women, all are "beautiful" if we measure beauty as "do other people find me physically attractive?" Why? Because everyone has their own special kink, and those people will seek out others that fulfill that special kink.

Rail-thin fashion model? There are dudes that find that look irresistible. 

Morbidly-obese couch potato? Some dudes can't get enough!

One-legged dude covered in a thick mane of curly body hair? There are women that salivate at the thought of riding him.

Here's the deal, though. There is an "ideal" that will appeal to the widest section of the population. Not necessarily EVERY member of the population, but most. This is primarily a function of evolution and is controlled by neurotransmitters and hormones in our nervous and endocrine system, but sociocultural factors play at least some role in interpersonal attraction. 

Getting closer to that "ideal" will make you more attractive to a wider segment of the population. In other words, it gives you more options. More importantly, it gives you better options where "better" is defined as "an option that is closer to the ideal of your preferred gender." When it comes to reaching that ideal, men and women have much different criteria, however.

How This Works for Women

Women really only have one important universal variable to consider: Fertility. While we don't usually think of fertility as being "attractive", the physical markers that indicate high fertility ARE attractive. Youth and health are the two primary components that indicate fertility, so all the female qualities guys find attractive center around those two constructs. Specifically, we (guys) look for a waist-to-hip ratio of about 0.7 (which is curiously independent of actual body size), full breasts, clear skin and shiny hair, facial symmetry, larger eyes, contrasting facial features, and, perhaps most importantly, youth. 

Think about all of the things women use to improve their appearance. Push-up bras, Spanx, breast and butt enlargement surgery, and well-fit clothing all accentuate that magical 0.7 ratio. Acne products, exfoliating products, moisturizers, spot-correcting products, concealers, highlighters, blotting papers, hydrating sprays, and powders all give the illusion of clear complexion. Hair restoration products, clarifying shampoos, and most conditioners are designed to enhance hair shininess. Products like lipstick, lip liner, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, etc. all create an effect that makes eyes appear bigger and/or increases facial feature contrast. And youth? That's the point of our obsession with "age eraser" tools like anti-wrinkle products (including the overuse of sunscreen), hair coloration, blush (which, like lipstick, also gives an illusion of sexual arousal), teeth whitening, primers, lash curlers, and, of course, plastic surgery.

So... the closer women get to the "female ideal", the more attractive they will appear to the largest number of people. In graph form, it looks like this:

Unfortunately for women, their "value" is pretty much dictated by their age. Their value increases until about the age of 24 or so, then drops as they continue to age. That's not really a politically-correct thing to say, but it's just the way our species works. Don't believe me? Ask any woman at 55 if she can attract as much male attention as she could at 25. 

How This Works for Men

For men, it gets a little more complex because, well, women's preferences are a little more complex. Again, remember we're talking about universals here. Individual preferences will skew this once we drop from the "all of humanity" level to "Joe, the dude that works at Starbucks" level. Men essentially have four components that determine their value to women: 

  • Physical attractiveness
  • Confidence
  • The man's ability to protect
  • A man's ability to provide
Why exactly is this so complex? Hypergamy. Women's sexual strategy requires her mate to possess this combination of characteristics to provide good genes and give both her and her offspring the best chance at survival. Again, it's evolution in action, which produces behaviors that are controlled by the nervous and endocrine systems. When looking for a mate, the typical male is looking for a fertile woman. A woman, on the other hand, is looking for a cornucopia of qualities that are nicely summed up in one of my all-time favorite college dorm posters:

Just like women, men use this information to make ourselves as attractive to potential mates as possible. Our physical attractiveness isn't based on youth so much as it's based on good genes (because dudes can produce viable sperm pretty much until death.) The indicators of male physical attractiveness are based on healthy genes and current physical health. Things like facial symmetry, high cheekbones, a strong jaw line, and a pronounced chin are most important for genetic health. Fitness (like washboard abs) and an absence of obvious indicators of sickness (like a rash and pale skin) are the best indicators of current health. 

Confidence is a weird characteristic, but relevant. Confidence can be displayed by possessing great social skills, dominance and power, and most importantly, confidence around women. That last one is the best indicator of relative value compared to the woman. A woman, per hypergamy, is always going to seek out the highest value male. Nothing screams "high value" like confidence. Here's an example to illustrate the point:

Jane is a female with a rated attractiveness (a tool researchers use to measure a person's measurable attractiveness) value of 5 out of 10. She's always going to look for a male of higher value than herself. Specifically, she's going to search for the highest value male she can attract. She meets Bob. Bob is a 7 out of 10 when combining all four of these characteristics. Because Bob is higher value than Jane, he's not especially nervous around her. He comes off as confident. Jane is really attracted to that because his confidence is an indicator that Bob is high value relative to her own value.

Now let's look at Matilda. Matilda is a Finnish bikini model. She's a 9 out of 10. SHE meets Bob. Bob is intimidated by her beauty because he believes she's out of his league. Matilda picks up on Bob's lack of confidence, thus indicating he's low value. As such, she doesn't find him attractive.

Make sense? Weird, but that's how our species interprets male confidence as part of this "male value" formula. Sidebar - Dudes, that's one of the secrets to succeeding with women. ;-)

Next is a man's ability to protect. Men are physically bigger than women, thus serve as natural protectors. Also, when pregnant and nursing, women are more vulnerable. As such, women place a value on a man's ability to protect. This is another reason women value fitness in general and displays of athleticism or "fighting skill" in particular. 

Finally, we have a man's ability to provide. Like protecting, this is about survival. A man that can provide for his woman and their children is valued higher than a lazy, unemployed bum. It should be noted this doesn't always manifest as "making more money." If a man shows he has the potential to make money and the drive to make money, that's almost as good. 

All of these things, in graph form, looks like this:

Guys, for better or worse, aren't affected by aging so much as what they accomplish in life. Women more or less get their value simply by being youthful, then have to fight that as they age. Guys, on the other hand, don't get much other than their indicators of genetic health (assuming they're not trust fund babies.) Everything else? Guys have to earn it. That's both good and bad. It means we have incredible control over our own value, but it also means hard work is heavily rewarded and laziness is ruthlessly punished. 

Sidebar - this is the precise reason why "just be yourself" advice, when given to men, is ludicrous. If a man isn't actively improving all of these realms (thus working to increase his value), his value is dropping. You've been warned, lazy fucks. Join our San Diego Man Camp to avoid that "value dropping like Wile E. Coyote's anvil off a cliff" trap. 

So... How Do We Use This Information?

I know what some of my readers are thinking - "Wow Jason, that's a pretty harsh take on humanity!" Maybe, but it's reality. And sometimes reality kinda hurts. We can either choose to ignore it and leave our head in the clouds and become victims to our ignorance, or we can accept it and use it to make our lives better. 

I do not care to wrap ideas like physical attractiveness in flowery language that gives us the nice feelz. I want to know how shit works, then I want to hack it to figure out how to make my life better, and by extension - the lives of my family. Understanding this helps. 

A lot.

Questions? Leave a comment!


Monday, July 6, 2015

Why I Don't Care About Converting Beta Males

I was sharing a correspondence with a male friend a few days ago. He's interested in my Man Camp idea, and was asking what could be done to recruit and convert beta males to our way of thinking. He was somewhat surprised when I told him I had zero desire to do such a thing. 

Back when I promoted barefoot running, I learned a valuable lesson. If you're promoting an unconventional idea, people are naturally going to resist it unless they have a compelling reason to really listen. Trying to force the idea is not only pointless, but it raises defenses that may make it impossible for them to "come over to your side" in the future. 

Many people promoted barefoot running as a clearly superior practice to wearing shoes, and got rather militant about it. If someone objected to the idea of going unshod, their response would be to bash their opponent over the lead with questionable science and limited anecdotal evidence. That approach made barefoot running seem even more absurd than it really is.

My solution was to simply put information out there, then create a community for mutual support. At some point, many runners would experience injuries, try all the standard treatments that wouldn't solve the problem, then come to me for more information on this silly "barefoot running" thing. In short, I waited for them to come to me because they would be in a position to really appreciate the ideas. I didn't have to waste time and energy selling them on the idea; I could use my resources to actually help them overcome the injuries and become better runners.

The same thing applies to the Man Camp idea. The men that are interested thus far all fit the same basic profile. Their either alpha-ish and know that value of the Man Camp concept, or have experienced something akin to a running injury. They realized their method of operation as a beta male is ineffective and are seeking something better. They knew something wasn't quite right. They knew the narrative they've bought into their whole lives was flawed. They experienced that uncomfortable realization that they were wasting the most precious resource of them all - time. They've spent their lives building something that promised fulfillment and happiness, and that narrative has delivered the exact opposite. 

I see a lot of beta behaviors in the men around me in real life and via social media. Some seem content, but many remind me of the runners I'd see that looked like they were in perpetual pain. I know I could make a few suggestions to dramatically improve their enjoyment and fulfillment, but I know they're not ready to really listen to the message. They need the equivalent of a major running injury to be in a position to listen. 

Maybe it's a dead bedroom situation, a boring relationship, or they're tired of being disrespected and nagged by their girlfriend, wife, or kids. Maybe they're tired of being perceived as weak, indecisive, or incompetent. Maybe they're tired of lame, passionless sex. Maybe they're tired of trying to be the sweet, sensitive boyfriend or husband and getting nothing in return. Maybe their wife or girlfriend is secretly seeking out a man that knows how to act like a man. Maybe they're sick of being friendzoned or being ignored by their love interests. Maybe they're sick of feeling like they've had to abandon all of their instinctual masculine drives and defer to women just for the opportunity to maybe earn their love.

Regardless of the reason, there will be guys that reach the end of their rope and realize their worldview is horribly ineffective. Those are the men that will eventually find us. 

Of course, a lot of men won't even hit that proverbial "rock bottom." They might be perfectly content with their beta-ness. Maybe playing the subservient role is their particular kink and they're perfectly matching with a domineering woman. And that's perfectly okay. I do not care to convert these people. I don't get them and they don't get me. That doesn't mean either of us are wrong. Just like runners that are perfectly happy with their motion-control foot coffins, all of us should have the right to do as we please. We can still run the same races, then share a beer afterward.

So why bother?

After all, there are those men that suggest we shouldn't help betas at all. In the competitive landscape that is the Sexual Marketplace, career advancement, and a host of other social situations, the alphas reign king. They get the highest value girls, the jobs in upper management, and the charmed life. The more betas, the better the available choices for the alphas. Personally, I don't like this scarcity mindset. I'm as competitive as the next guy, but I'd rather compete against the best than dilute the competition. I suppose it's the teacher in me, but I'd rather help 100 men learn to be better at being men than beat out those same 100 men in competition. Those 100 men will push me to be a better man. 

Curiously, I have a fair number of beta males that routinely jump into discussions related to the Man Camp view of gender roles. Their interest is fascinating because I would expect anyone that wasn't interested would simply ignore my ramblings. But they don't. If my barefoot running experiences are an indicator, these dudes have an inkling that their worldview is causing them significant angst and feel the void, but haven't had that "major injury" experience to compel them to overcome the fear of change. Like the shod runners that would take the time and effort to belittle barefoot running, I would expect them to be asking for advice within the year. When they're ready, we'll be here.

At the end of the day, though, it's a moot point. I don't really care to convert betas because it's a waste of time helping people that don't want it and, more importantly, their beta status has absolutely no impact on my world. It's a lot like batshit-crazy religious folks, the folks that attend comic book conventions, or soccer fans... they're clearly content with their lives, why is it important for me to insist they believe what I believe? Not all men care to learn to be better at being a man. And that's okay.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Gender Role Cult Problem: How Identifying with One Particular Team Blinds Our Objectivity

"Hey Jason, why do you seem to have a disdain for feminism and all the male responses (men's rights activists, the "manosphere", The Red Pill, etc.), yet use their concepts on a regular basis?"

I've received this question a few times over the last few months, and it deserves a little explanation. I really like and can identify with a lot of the goals and ideas of both "sides" of these gender advocates, but the actual movements themselves are wayyyyy too cultish for my liking. 

Specifically, the proponents of these ideologies increasingly use the in-group/ out-group bias when considering their particular group. They start framing anything and everything as "us versus them." That leads to a tendency to stereotype "them", which is made worse by the confirmation bias

We don't know nearly as much about gender roles, relationships, and sexuality as we believe we know, so it makes sense (to me anyway) to remain as impartial as possible. The moment we identify ourselves as a member of a particular ideology, we begin losing the skepticism necessary to really investigate anything. 

For me personally, this gets annoying when discussing these issues. People that identify themselves as a feminist or as a men's rights activist have no ability to see the flaws in their own stance because their self-worth is tied to the emotional outcome of the debate. They consider themselves as part of a team and they do not want their team to lose. 

This became apparent when I recently posted about the flawed logic liberals use when considering gender. I was hoping to have an actual conversation that would discuss what I saw as hypocrisy of vilifying masculinity as a social construct while supporting transgender folks as victims of biology. As a pretty liberal person, I was curious how others logically overcame that cognitive dissonance. Instead of actually discussing the issue, it turned into a nit-picking of semantics or outright changing the subject.

When you don't play for a particular team, you don't give a fuck who wins or even if there is a winner. Instead, you can focus on what really matters - getting closer to an objective "truth" and seeing the world as it really is, not how you wish it were. 

I got a healthy dose of this phenomenon when I was actively promoting barefoot running. Scientifically, we didn't know a lot about running gait. We had some hypotheses related to the superiority of being barefoot, but simple experimentation with minimalist shoes *should* have led us to conclude our hypotheses were incorrect. The people that strongly identified themselves as "barefoot runners", however, completely ignored the obvious and continued to cling to their beliefs. Their complete inability to see what was obviously solid empirical evidence that refuted their beliefs ultimately led me to back away. They knew what they knew and could not be convinced otherwise.

I experienced the same issue with men. It's clear the alpha/beta concept plays an important role in female attraction. Beta males simply do not arouse women. Even most women tell men this. Still, the vast majority of modern men continue to believe women are aroused by sensitive, vulnerable, weak men. 

While rejecting the label and refusing to identify with one particular group does provide a degree of insulation, it's not infallible. I still fall for all kinds of cognitive biases. The difference? I expect all my thoughts and ideas are wrong and look for information that confirms my wrongness. It's a pretty simple mental game that turns the conformation bias on its head. This is also the reason I apparently change directions so often. I may promote one idea, then promote a radically different idea for what seems like no apparent reason. People have a hard time understanding that I don't tie myself down with one particular ideology. Ever. 

So what can you do?

I like this activity. Get a piece of paper. Make a list of every "group" you consider yourself to be a part of. Think globally. For me, it does something like this:

  • Male
  • Resident of USA, California, and San Diego
  • Teacher
  • Liberal
  • Libertarian
  • Father
  • Stay-at-home dad
  • Sort-of Marxist
  • Mixed martial artist
  • Husband
  • Left-handed person
  • Caucasian
  • Trail runner
  • Jiu jitsu player
  • Writer
  • Detroit Tigers fan
  • French Canadian
  • Fitness enthusiast
  • Norwegian
  • Dude with a beard
  • Entrepreneur
  • Guns rights supporter
  • Pro life supporter
...and so on. Once you make the list, think about each item. How does this affect your world view? Specifically, how does this cause you to fall for the in-group/ out-group and confirmation bias? Does membership in this particular group limit your ability to rationally consider new ideas, or are you emotionally-invested in the outcomes related to that particular group? Think about an issue related to that group. Can you compose an effective argument against your opinions? If you can't, you're too attached to that group and it blinds you to reality.

The difficult part of this exercise is this tendency to align ourselves and filter information is hard-wired into all humans. It occurs automatically in every situation. Even when we're aware of the concept, we still fall for it. That requires us to make these thought games a habit. If you're interested in trying to learn how the world really works, this is an invaluable skill that' well worth the effort.

I don't despise feminism and the male variants; I just understand the danger of identifying too closely with them. They have good ideas and should be used as resources, not as lifestyle identities. The concept of gender roles influence pretty much every aspect of our behavior. As such, understanding how they work is more important than joining a team and helping them "win."