Tuesday, August 22, 2017

That guy

I had a seat at a table that offered me a vantage point that not everyone had. By everyone, I meant my work colleagues whom on that night we were all out drinking at some bar that had some drink special on. One female colleague was at the time an entertaining lightweight, getting hostile-drunk incredibly quickly thanks to her small stature and also thanks to her small stature was not particularly threatening in her drunken hostilities.

So I was sitting opposite her when I saw a guy in a group of guys stand up and start grooming, ready to approach my drunk and hostile friend. His own friends, somewhat to his credit actually tried to stand up and push him back down into his seat. Now I can't know anything, but in some way I *know* that this guys agenda was to hit on the drunkest woman at the bar, and he had his sights on my friend for that very reason.

That situation, while not being 'fine' with me, was fine. The scene was public enough that nothing suspicious was going to go down like her leaving the bar alone with a stranger and we her friends were proximate enough to watch her handle the advance on her own, which she did.

But this post is ostensibly about 'that guy', and even though I don't get criticized enough, due to the nature of the forums in which I express my opinion, I suspect one of my critic's common points might hypothetically be that I don't shit on guys enough. Well, today I am going to shit on guys, but I can foresee my conclusions being very much a kind of 'respect the natural order' argument which many possibly including you and me, may not be happy with. You might describe it as 'macho-fascist' or something. I don't know. I don't fully understand ideological nomenclature. Just consider yourself warned.

What was it about a guy that if you asked him what was attractive to him in a woman had him listing 'black out drunk' somewhere in his top three criteria? I'm going to assert that he, quite probably did not find himself very attractive. Perhaps on a broader spectrum, didn't find himself very anything. He was short and overweight, and if I can make a racist generalization about my fellow Caucasian australians, belonged to an ethnic group that is generally found the opposite of exotically desirable, including the accent. And on that point, ordinarily, kudos to someone even having the confidence to approach a woman they liked, but in this case the disparity in sobriety was far too great to sit well with me.

I should disclose that I am a believer in gender roles, not that they should be enforced upon individuals, but that they exist. I'm convinced by the evidence. There's a good Dan Ariely talk on relationships at Google, and he refers to the height-income trade-off. In his example (mitigated somewhat by the search design of the website his data was on) for a 5'9" man like himself to be considered as attractive as a 5'10" tall man, he needs to make $40,000 more. He then asks the crowd that having determined men care about BMI, how much more money a woman with a BMI of 21 needs to make to compete in attractiveness with a woman of BMI 20. For which there is no answer, as men generally don't care about a prospective female partners earnings.

I've put the question about the importance of income to female friends on a few occassions and in terms of self reporting, it's always emphatically that they do not care. This is how I believe in gender roles, I am persuaded by the data (including observed behavior) rather than the testimony.

That example dealing with income and 2 other variables is not an exhaustive one though, but I do believe that for men in particular perform some equation in evaluating themselves and their chances with the population at large or specific individuals. A basic question of 'what do I have to offer them?'

Consider myself and Serena Williams as a couple. Financially I offer nothing, Serena would make more money simply showing up somewhere than I can in a year. Physically I offer nothing, my genes would not make any of our progeny stronger, rather than weaker. I have nothing to offer Serena Williams but my love, if I had founded Reddit it might be a different story.

Fortunately for me, I don't live in a world where I have to compete against every other guy for Serena Williams' affection. There is a significant population of women that I find attractive that find me attractive enough to encourage me to keep trying... nothing. I don't need to devise any strategy, I can simply be myself and be confident that I do have a bunch of stuff to offer an attractive human being.

Thus, I don't feel I am 'that guy'. I might listen to what Alain De Botton has to say about seducing the opposite sex, but I've never felt tempted to buy a copy of 'The Game' and learn the techniques of pick up artists. For me, and I may be an anomoly, the prospect of hooking up with a 'false positive' is far more terrifying than generating a 'false negative' through my lack of pick up techniques.

Which is where I may come across as a bit fascist, or Aryan or something. But here would be my defining trait of 'that guy' - his general evaluation of what he has to offer women is set lower than his threshold of women he is attracted to.

Australia (at the least) has this expression about 'punching above your weight' and the US has that similar sporting analogy of 'out of your league' and I'm not confident that these expressions are tied down to any real specific geography, but they are a common currency in the English speaking world but not quite what I'm talking about when I talk about 'that guy'.

Those expressions work well for somebody whose ambition is greater than their reach, but what of that population of guys that might fit in Louis CK's 'unfuckable' category. When I talk about 'That guy' I'm not referring to when Ryan Phillippe being married to Reese Witherspoon or Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman or Jessica Simpson and that guy she was married to for a while. These guys would do just fine released unto any speed dating event, even if they are the less famous of their celebrity spouses.

So after more than a dozen paragraphs we probably still don't have a shared understanding of who 'that guy' is, he isn't any guy punching above his weight, any guy who is 'lucky' to be with his partner. That guy is the guy that adopts some tactic or strategy, that markets himself perhaps, or preys upon vulnerabilities to try and overreach his own insufficient sense of self worth.

I'm a haver of morbid thoughts, for example, when I cycle past a bridal party having their photographs taken in the park or in front of a nice building, unbidden the thought comes to me that I'm witnessing a celebration of a woman meeting the man most likely to murder her in the world. I'm not anti-marriage, nor as pessimistic as I sound, my mind just entertains these things. And when I used to waste hours a day on tumblr or instagram looking at models wearing caps and high tops and otherwise skimpy outfits, the morbid thought was trying to pick the point in that models career where somebody offered her cocaine, could you pick the moment the drug abuse starts showing up in the photo sets?

Why does my mind leap to this? Even if I were to believe it a reliable cliche that models wind up abusing coke, why don't I assume that's a function of the models increased disposable income and not some guy offering her drugs for free?

Because I believe that guy exists, vague as the boundaries are, I feel there's a psychological profile of a guy that hangs around models and model shoots, maybe the photographer, maybe the assistant, maybe the caterer that is looking for the currency to ingratiate himself into the models social circle and discovers if he offers her coke he has a pretext for spending time with her.

And drugs are particularly insidious and extreme example, but I've seen it the school yard. In part this is Jonah Hill's role in Superbad. The drug is just alcohol, but it's his way to try and get in (and get reevaluated) by Emma Stone. Admittedly Jonah's character is approached by the girls upon hearing they have access to a fake id, but Jonah's complicit, even eager to play drug mule.

It might be that the pasty, pimply, unathletic, asthmatic, overweight kid has access to a relatively unsupervised bungalow where a bunch of the cool kids appreciate the opportunity to have sex and that guy get's to play benefactor, even patron of the cool kids.

There's one caveat I'd like to articulate though. It's possible that the guys I'm trying to describe overlap somewhat with 'nice guys' or perhaps even eclipse them on a Venn diagram, however, I do not believe so much in a 'natural order' that a young man who is tall and good at sports, smart academically and possessing symmetrical features and stylish hair is entitled to his resentment of an objectively less attractive man commanding far more attention from the most attractive women simply because the less attractive man has more confidence to approach and talk to women. If you are shy or reserved that's on you. If you are charismatic and outgoing then bully for you whoever you are.

I just know there's a point at which some guys get into 'date rape' territory, and the correlated strategies of offering free drugs, free drinks and/or a place to crash. The sexual harassment in the workplace territory, where coercion comes into play. Or adopting a tactic like negging.. or any other strategy that involves tearing someone else down until you feel they are on your level or beneath you.

These things exist, they are done by men to women and they are parasitical and abusive. To engage in such is to be worthy of reprehension.

Just by comparison to 'nice guys' and since they haven't been discussed in a while, a slight recap, but they commanded highest mindshare when someone compiled a 'nice guys of OkCupid' tumblr, of a depressingly recurrent phenomena of men who complained in their profiles about putting years of work into women, treating them like the princess they felt they were and not getting any intimacy out of them, being relegated to the friend zone, blah blah blah. Even though 'nice guys' became a social taboo, there's an SNL sketch from the 90's called 'not getting any' that more or less expresses the same sentiments. The 'of OkCupid' tumblr juxtaposes the complaints with statements from the self described nice guys with statements to disqualify them from being nice at all. (hence the overlap).

However, I extend some sympathy to nice guys (some), on the basis that in part owe their frustration to a prevalent stupidity. That is the gap between what people report they are looking for in a guy (perhaps sensitivity, thoughtfulness, creativity, loyalty, devotion) and what they actually look for in a guy (perhaps symmetrical features, height, shoulder width, smell, confidence, resourcefulness etc) and ad to that owing to the halo effect people often see qualities in people they are attracted to that are to the world at large not actually there. Hence if you look closely you'll find partners of abusive narcissists capable of describing their partners as sensitive, thoughtful and a good listener.

Nice guys to some extent are trying differentiation strategies on faulty market research, they are hearing Sarah say 'I want a guy who isn't afriad to cry' because Sarah doesn't want to be heard to say 'I want a guy with bright white perfect teeth and blue eyes' because nobody wants to look that superficial. Had nice guy asked Sarah's friend what Sarah was looking for though, he may have got a response much closer to the truth, because Sarah's friend is not as invested in Sarah's public image, nor necessarily a love rival so is more likely to base her judgement on what Sarah does rather than what Sarah says.

By contrast, 'that guy' is evaluating himself pessimistically, and perhaps his love/sexual interests rather accurately. That guy is less likely to whine about the game being rigged against him, of wasting time and effort, he is trying to re-rig the game.

Interestingly, while there's an equivalent to 'nice guys' across the gender line, that is simply so normal, so commonplace and so non-threatening that nobody discusses it except in books like 'He's Just Not that Into You' and it's adaptation into movies and Sex and the City episodes, there's no real corresponding 'that girl'. I've heard limited instances of a female partner attempting to keep their male partner drug dependent, but these stories are usually about exploiting some practical concern or control rather than tearing someone down to the point that they would sleep with her.

Perhaps their are women that call their male partners 'stupid' and 'worthless' and keep them 'hen-pecked', but I still don't see that as the equivalent of the guy that says 'Hey Katie, hey Jessie have you ever tried MDMA?' or (arguably) worse 'Do you wanna hear me rap?'

The most obvious reason being, somewhat counter-intuitively, women are not as bombarded with the message that the man you obtain defines your status in the world, even though for much of modern history the only thing a woman could do to get status was to marry a man of status. Instead for some reason if Eugene date's Eustace he knows his standing in the social order will not budge from where he already is, but if he date's Naomi, both men and women will think more of him, see more of him.

You hear far more media stories of a high school kid asking some female celebrity to be his date to a prom or a school dance or something than you do of the reverse situation. Furthermore, men are far more often sold things using completely irrelevant female models. Ad to that the prevalence and availability of porn and you don't so much get a sense of entitlement to a young and buxom sexual partner as an imperative to obtain one.

There would appear to be an easy and convenient workaround to sleeping with people you don't feel you ordinarily would deserve or be able to keep, and that is prostitution. To simply pay somebody more attractive than you feel you would obtain in the meat market on the money market.

I don't like that solution though. I have my misgivings about prostitution and sex work, I'm pro-stop killing them or abusing them on the job, stigmatising them in the media etc. But I'm anti growth of that industry.

What I would say to Eugene the loser, is that he should date Eustace the loser, who would actually be happy to date Eugene and they may be so happy together that they stop caring about whether other people think they are 'losers'. This is much better than Eugene trying to make Naomi feel like such a loser, through psychological attacks or introducing harmful destabilizing elements into her life (ostensibly as an act of goodwill) until Naomi feels she stands lower than Eustace and Eugene.

Which I know, sounds like 'respect the natural order' but I'm assured to some extent, the natural order exists. Criteria may differ between the sexes, and sexual orientation, but apparantly we have a pretty good intuitive sense of how attractive we are - psychological impediments aside like body dis-morphia etc. This is the attractiveness that drives 'approachability' I would say, there's obviously a whole heap of stuff we need to find out about a person to maintain our attraction over a sustained period of time. But this intuitive sense of our attractiveness who we can reasonably approach and who is 'out of our league' makes sense at least to me. Our social brains fairly early in our sexual awakening must process hundreds of thousands of micro-expressions, bits of data that calibrate in our subconscious where we stand. Given that attractive kids get better treatment from adults, it's probably wired in earlier for a lot of us.

But to me, for consistencies sake, if it's a problem that young girls and grown women are bombarded with constant messages that 'this is what it looks like to be an attractive woman' then this is happening behind closed doors in the women-only part of society, and it must be a problem for the male population at large to be receiving that same message. And I take issue with that message that says 'if you are unattractive boy, women equivalent to your attractiveness don't exist, just attractive women and you have to find some way to get one.' maybe it results in relatively harmless compensation techniques, maybe it results in predatory behavior. It's not worth the risk.

I don't have a good answer, but I notice 'that guy' doesn't get talked about much. So little in fact that I don't know what 'that guy' is referred to. His unattractiveness may render him so non-threatening that women don't even notice this is going on. They just quietly state in a rehab session or NA meeting that 'Brody gave me my first hit because I was a popular girl at school'.

Terminology like 'male privilege' and 'entitlement' can foster the image of a powerful male, and that may look like a jock, or a tall guy in a suit with a square jaw. A white guy. Whatever, and I don't exclude jock's from being 'that guy' as they may pessimistically evaluate their self worth much lower than their outward appearance might suggest, predatory behavior, sexual frustration and a sense of entitlement are a common constellation at all strata of the male hierarchy. 'That guy' may allegedly even be a world class photographer.

To me they are uniformly defined by a disparity in some criteria between their perceived self-worth and their perceived worth of their target. That's got to be a destructive social element worth being on the look out for. At the very least something to aspire to not become.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Desirable Misery

I'm not a researcher, so I have no hard or even compelling evidence for this, but I'm willing to bet that it is within everyone's personal or anecdotal experience to have experienced the following process:

1. We like something bad for us.
2. Things get really bad.
3. We adopt a new thing that is good for us.
4. Things get better.
5. We are comfortable again so abandon the new thing in order to return to the old thing.

Maybe it's as simple as a diet, to an unhealthy or even abusive relationship, it might be a corporate strategy, or a pattern of political election outcomes. Whether in the general or specific, people tend to take x steps forward, then y steps back. The ratio of x:y would require hard research.

You may have heard the expression 'no good deed goes unpunished' and this description of Iceland's post GFC situation by Mark Blyth, is a good example of the above outlined narrative. A party steered them heavily into the global financial crisis, they get voted out, a new party comes in, the economy recovers and the voters vote back in the party that steered them into the financial crisis.

Politics is complicated though. But it often seems that history confronts us with a mind bending lack of momentum - a clear pattern of progress running from the Middle Ages to the Modern era, where science is embraced, people of all color and creeds are not just tolerated but embraced and legally recognized, our differences are broken down as social constructs and we pursue a more egalitarian and meritocratic way of life. And yet there still seems to be viable political parties and ideologies that fly in the face of the direction of history.

Good things just can't get their momentum going. At the end of every 4 week raw vegan challenge seems to be a bacon cheesecake. 

And with a diet, and perhaps even an adult relationship, we can understand that powerful compelling emotions are driving people back to their failed strategies rather than reason. But what about voting for economic policy? How can people get so emotional about something as boring as economics?

Body language. I'm a believer in it. And once again not because I've done the hard clinical research to know what facts I can point to, but because I've done sufficient self experimentation to be confident that gaming body-language is just too cerebral a task for somebody to do at the same time as speaking out loud.

Hence, you might expect that I'd expect that by reading body language a person could tell if another person was lying. I don't. I heard tell that when you ask people, even professionals you'd expect to be more proficient at detecting liars (cops, trial-judges, trial-lawyers) are no better than a coin toss at determining who is lying and who isn't. 

However I'm also told that if you change the question from the very cognitive 'tell me who is lying?' to 'who do you trust?' people jump significantly upwards in their accuracy. Because 'trust' is an emotional, instinctive evaluation, detecting lies invites us to pay too much attention.

Hence the power of asking the right question. In all my experience of economic instruction, my instructors have been openly critical about how unemployment is measured in official statistics. It's seemingly designed to be misleading - the pollster asks members of the population 'in the past four weeks have you or are you actively seeking employment?'

Think on that. A group of people in suits are tasked with finding out what relative unemployment rates are. 'How do we find out if somebody is unemployed?' they asked, and the answer they came up with is 'ask them if they've been actively looking for a job.' whereas I'd bet good money your intuition would be 'why don't we ask people if they have a job?'

Consider polls on the popularity of the government, on preferred party, on preferred leader etc. Now imagine you are sitting in a room with a bunch of people tasked with 'find out if the government is doing a good job or not.' One answer certainly would be along the lines of 'do you like the government, who do you prefer etc.' another could be along the lines of 'how satisfied are you with your quality of life?' and 'are you optimistic about the future?' line of questioning. Yet another line would/could be to dispense with asking people for their opinions and find objective data like changes in real wages, inflation, household debt.

And you'd notice that all these approaches are taken, but polls focus specifically on people's preference for one party over another. And these get far more attention than the latter group of objectively determinable economic measures, and both of those crowd out the non-partisan qualitative self-evaluation.

What does this have to do with anything?

 Imagine that you live in a spacious comfortable home on a large expanse of lush green land overlooking the ocean. The climate is temperate all year round and you manage to pull in a lavish wage working quite modest hours at something you love while affording you the time to have catered dinner parties with your friends, spend time with family and other loved ones and cook yourself new and exciting recipes for lunch while also taking twice annual vacations to exotic destinations around the world. You have it all and one average day in your good life a pollster calls you and asks 'how satisfied are you with your life?' how do you answer?  

Now imagine that you have somehow achieved this lifestyle while you are living under the rule of your ideological antithesis. Take a second to imagine who they may be. It might be some White Supremacist version of Colonel Sanders, or Kim Jong Un, or Isis or a Transgendered Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders composite.

You might think that that might change your answer, your moral outrage at the state of the government would blind you to your immediate quality of life. But I suspect that un-primed by the pollster to think about the political leadership, you'd actually just appraise how satisfied you are with your day-to-day life.

Thus if while living your dream life the pollster instead called to ask 'how satisfied are you with the leadership of [your worst nightmare]?' we would have jumped from a very positive answer about the reality of being you, to a very negative answer about the reality of being you.

Thus we enter the realm of desirable misery. Why you can observe that some political leaders draw most of their support from the very demographics their policies hurt the most. And that cuts both ways, there were a lot of people in the occupy wall street movement condemning the top 1% who themselves were in the top 20% and are themselves massive beneficiaries of the rigged game that they are opposing.

It's a kind of anti-Machiavellianism that I suspect, but haven't researched, is actually the prevailing instinct of most people on this planet. And I don't mean anti-Machiavellianism in terms of being opposed to glib self-serving amorality, but more a reversal of 'the ends justifies the means' to 'the means justifies the ends.' Or in much plainer speech: the 'how' is far more important than the 'what'.

And it's easy to come up with good examples of anti-Machiavellianism - 'not cheating is more important than winning the competition.' Hey hey, good stuff. 'being honest is more important than avoiding being in trouble.' I'm with you. 'Abstinence only sex education is more important than teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.' No, no, no can't you see the evidence? Abstinence only education has dismal results. 'Inflicting austerity budgets is more important than paying back the debts.' that doesn't seem right? Isn't the point of austerity to pay back the debts?

Empiricism is actually in my experience, incredibly rare. Few people approach being open minded. Most are anti-Machiavellian. Let's return to our pollster scenario and introduce another concept.

The second concept is called 'going upstream' taught to me, quite informally as a TQM principle. In its literal application you might notice that your drinking water is dirty, you walk upstream a bit and you find a heap of garbage in the river. You could immediately fish it out, or keep walking up stream, discovering that there's a group of campers generating the garbage going into the river that is generating your dirty drinking water. Had you just cleared out the garbage from the stream, the fix would only have been temporary. By murdering and eating the campers you have solved the dirty drinking water problem and filled your belly with delicious people.

Suppose a pollster, in fact, a fully fledged researcher called a person and asked them about their quality of life. And that person was all like 'I'm pretty miserable.' rather than bumming out the researcher, this bleak self-reported state excites them and the researcher 'goes upstream' to find out the root cause of this citizens misery.

They find the person, the citizen, doesn't like their job much. 'So quit it?' no good, can't quit it without finding a new job. 'So find a new job?' don't have time to do the job searching or conduct the interviews, besides I'm only qualified to do a job more or less like this one. 'So retrain, go back to study?' I don't have the time to job hunt, what makes you think I have time to study? Besides studying is expensive. 'So take out a loan?' I already have a loan. 'So refinance?' I could, but then I couldn't afford to lose the income to take the time to study to repay the debts I have. 'Okay... so studying is a dead end. What don't you like about your job?' the commute. 'You don't live near where you work?' I can't afford to live near where I work....

And so on and so forth. Until I would bet, dollars to donuts, that what is upstream is their house. And I can't imagine a more universal demonstration of the principle of desirable misery. Because it's hard for people to imagine that their home, their abode, their shelter, the place they can call their own, do their unwinding, get their rest, raise a family etc. as the presiding and ultimate cause of a person's misery. I would also bet my dollars against donuts, that if you ask a generally dissatisfied person the one thing they did right, the saving grace in their life their answer will most often be 'buying a house.'

And it isn't anything magical about the house itself, it's actually all the bad voodoo in the very magical process known as 'the financialization of housing' and technically a case could be made that it isn't buying a house that made people miserable, but all the fucking other players in the market that have eroded adequate housing as a human right into housing as poker chips. But your decision making ability stops at your individual decision to participate in it.

That's the most ubiquitous form of desirable misery, but really it's every. The home ownership that makes you miserable is useful though in term's of drawing people away from thinking that there's something crazy about the American rust belt population that keeps voting for a party that takes away their incomes, reduces their welfare and hands the savings over to rich people who are actively trying and celebrating the loss of their jobs. There is nothing crazy or abnormal about it, these people, like people everywhere are simply acting on their beliefs instead of evidence.

You do it to. If you were one of those rare empiricists that based your beliefs on the facts and acted on your beliefs, you wouldn't drink, wouldn't smoke, wouldn't drive a car, be renting your housing somewhere close to where you work and saving money to mitigate against future job insecurity. You wouldn't have a credit card, would prepare your own meals, wouldn't get married and on and on and on. 

I'm a freak and I don't do half that incomplete list. One of the paradoxes of life, I'm told, by a psychiatric professional is that 'pleasure causes pain' The 'original sin' of evolution if you will when we had far less mastery over our environment and couldn't expect to find a bag of Doritos in the wild every day.

Desirable misery is a recurring theme in the works of a lot of thinkers I love and respect, whether it's Alain de Botton talking on Why you'll probably marry the wrong person, or Gabor Mate explaining that addicts substitute 'pleasure' for 'happiness'. Dan Gilbert talking about how we are terrible at forecast what decisions will make us happy.

The most frustrating manifestation though, is that scenario, the 'no-good-deed-goes-unpunished' principle. Where when our desires drive us off track, forcing us to do the hard work to get on track - it appears all in the service of getting to a place where we can once again act on our desires. 

It might cause chagrin to the individual under a diet regime, but it causes severe mental anguish to a community changing from progressive to conservative political regimes.

But if you can understand your own ability to sit in your dream house, on a perfect summers evening and pay out some government that hasn't been able to take away your dream, then you can understand why people whose lives have been crushed by the economic policies of a party can turn out in force to their rally. 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Sugar Cookie Cutter

Where to begin? Anywhere I guess. So there's an inversion when you start drawing of at the very least, appreciation of lines. A craggy weathered face, where all the collagen has broken down, the skin folded is a drawing dream. The extremely old are some of the best studies. And sure, craggy old faces enjoy their time in black and white giclee print photographs, but for the most part, once you put a pen or brush down and assess what's easy on the eye - we as human beings tend to prefer the smooth contours of youth.

And this inversion applies doubly to women. In fact, when starting out there was nothing worse to draw than 'cute girls' because every mark you make blemishes their skin. It is an exercise in restraint. The nose particularly is problematic, putting in a bridge can instantly hag-ify the face, and some schools simply mark the nose with little more than a dash.

And of course, the less lines you have to work with, the less marks you make the harder it gets to differentiate. Furthermore, there's a developmental difference for any comic inspired artist in particular when drawing the big 2 genders. It's not just that you can draw in the bridge of a nose more readily and in most styles with male characters, but their boxy anatomy is kind of straight forward as well. Moving from the red and green men that inform pedestrians when to cross an intersection to drawing a superhero is not that big a stretch, most of the developmental challenge of learning to draw male characters is in learning the musculature - which for ripped superhero type characters provides vast options for articulation - and therefore variation.

Drawing an appealing female figure is a skill. A fine balancing act, and as soon as I started working on a project requiring me to draw a whole cast of females, I noticed I was stamping them out as a cookie cutter. I've been drawing for years, but it seems I just figured out once how to draw a sexy lady image, and then left it at that - my go to construction. What is more interesting than my own stalling though, is how common that is.

For example:
These are the two female cast members of Japan's number one serialized comic 'One Piece' Nami and Robin. This series has been running for over 20 years putting out about 40 issues a year averaging around 16 pages. Eichiro Oda, the writer and artist has created around about 1,000 named characters for the series and in my opinion is one of the best character designers in comics... except Nami and Robin could have been cut with the same mold from dough and simply decorated differently. In Oda's defense there are characters like Big Mom, Brulee, Miss Christmas etc. that have different body shapes, one of the first prominent female characters was Alvida, an obese pirate captain that later had a dramatic transformation into the standard Oda bikini body. the number of women that share Nami and Robin's proportions is at least 2-1.

Oda isn't the prime offender, and despite the cookie cutter effect he creates characters with distinct personalities, if not distinct busts. My impression is that many in the western art world look at Japanese comic aesthetics as 'prescriptive' there are right and wrong answers. There are generally accepted definitions of what a 'cute girl' looks like. However turning west there are artists whom are quite successful even though their cookie cutters are quite inflexible. Perhaps the most prominent in my mind is J Scott Campbell's work. Where proportions are almost entirely constant and even facial features are quite close to identical. Do a study of his works (as I briefly did) and you notice immediately that there's just one way of doing things. Campbell's the artist I would absolutely go-to for this cookie cutter effect, but many of his contemporaries like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Greg Capullo etc. do so to a greater rather then lesser extent.

Prominent female artists are a much more recent phenomena particularly in the west, but if you look at the works of Loish perhaps the best known and most internet famous new gen artist, you can see a go to facial construction in there although she has much more diverse body types and ethnic feature exploration.

blah blah blah blah blah. Just about everyone does the cookie cutter, particularly when it comes to women. While phrenology has been thoroughly debunked as a science, it still kind of applies in art, albeit not with measurements of the skull, but what features indicate which personality traits.

I suspect, for historical reasons, what is happening is that a male character is nuetral - thus you articulate your character out from a male mule - male protagonists are pretty generic if you look through comic book history and that's because they are the eyes and ears of the reader - presumed to be male. Then you thicken a male's neck and frame and they become a pin-headed thug, you make them lithe and elongated and they become the serpentine string-puller. You shorten them and emphasize the forehead they are a brainiac.

If you widen their hips, give them breasts and round their jaw off they become the character archetype of 'a woman'. And I would suggest that it is non-controversial to say that much of the roles women are given to play in most of narrative history - is a woman. A love interest, or the love interest's competition. They are little more than a macguffin, interchangeable for another precious and desirable object - including I guess, each other.

I'm sure there are more exceptions to the rule, but in terms of facial features, the one artist I found that stands out as having distinguishable female characters is Jeremy Treece and sure, ultimately it's a matter of preference in the absence of me bothering to construct the computer models that measure non-similarity across stylized artwork...but if you scroll through his feed and find two female characters side by side, you'll be able to distinguish them by their facial features alone. To the same extent that if two women you know got identical haircuts, you'd still be able to tell them not just apart but who they were - something you can't do with J Scott Campbell.

I could speculate in a psuedo-scholarly fashion as to what historic cultural trends lead to this state of affairs, but it would be just that. I can speak from experience and say that it is simply much harder to draw an appealing beautiful woman character than it is to design an appealing old woman character.

The saying after all goes 'if at first you don't succeed, try try again.' and I suspect the moment you do succeed, that's it. You rest on your laurels. Once you've gone to all the effort to pin down a design of Veronica that 'pops' that you intuitively say 'yes' to, then are you going to start from scratch and avoid the same solutions to design Veronica?

There's two interesting things at play here - the first requires you to recall that throughout human history, the technology to draw or paint a female form developed centuries before the technology to photograph one. Sculpture preceded painted portraits as well and at the very least survived better. Hence we have venus dolls from 35-45 thousand years ago. That means that long before the fashion industry began in Louis' court of Versailles, abstracted stylized images defined the unrealistic body types of women, and possibly influenced fashion and photography, not the other way around. It's the arts since classical antiquity after all, that were based around narratives and literally defined the roles and value of female characters - fashion photography is a relative narrative vacuum by comparison.

The second interesting aspect is that if you consider the printing technology available for comic artists in the 1950's, you had a very limited color palette often applied 'paint by numbers' style by some employee at the printers, this lead to cookie cut characters all over the shop. Also a prevalence of dark haired male protagonists, like Bruce Wayne & Clark Kent, but curiously, given that you couldn't differentiate characters based on color scheme, like Ryu & Ken - why did nobody think 'Eureka! I could draw their facial features differently so they look distinct and different!' The obvious answers that come to mind are - comics in the 1950's was not where ambitious artists sought employment, deadlines meant most of the artwork was a rush job, nobody took them very seriously then starting a long term trend of people taking comics too seriously.

Now, all of this may seem to be leading into a feminist critique of how women's bodies are portrayed in popular art media. Alas no, I could concede all the criticisms in terms of the adverse affects it has on the development of women and women's esteem. I'm just not of the camp that believe ideals of feminine beauty to be arbitrary - a manufactured cultural conditioning that came about through an oppressive conspiracy.

I may as well lay out my prejudices, and keep in mind that being male I'm insulated from the ramifications of holding one belief over another, I'm also horribly horribly superficial. It's not so much that I feel ideals of beauty aren't arbitrary, but that gender roles aren't arbitrary either - even though they may be almost entirely constructed. There must be some irreducible bedrock that accounts for the fact that there are at least 2 distinct sexes and they are different.

Without actually knowing that bedrock, the most plausible explanation I defer to is an evolutionary psychology that defines male and female sex by their sex cell. (Why not chromosome combinations? I don't know, perhaps the sex cell size is consistent across species...?) Large sex cell = female, small sex cell = male. From this arises the concept of 'sexual investment' and there's a clear disparity between the sexes on this point. I forget the exact numbers but it's something like in the time it takes one female to produce one offspring, a male can sire 50-100.

Obviously, it doesn't pan out that way, but without going into too much detail - if you are interested, or interested in thoroughly debunking evolutionary psychology, you can go digging - but multiple iterations of game theory establish that if you have high sexual investment due to possessing (in humans at least) the large sex cell, your best strategy is to be discerning. If you are in possession of small sex cells your best strategy is to be resourceful and specifically command a lot of resources.

Both have to be desirable. And in an attempt to triage this post into something manageable, I'm not going to compare across sexes.

Without a doubt culture has an impact on the ideals of beauty, the past 30 years has seen a continental shift from t - a in the t'n'a equation. It's hard to find a picture of Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista that emphasizes their posterior, inconceivable for any current modelling shoot.

However, certain themes seem constant throughout history, not even recent history. The big one being hip to waist ratio, full breasts are always popular, and symmetrical or 'average' faces and long lustrous hair. There's other interesting tidbits, like this one about gender and contrast, walking motions, helpfulness, exoticness etc.

I have time for this camp because evolutionary theory produces coherent explanations - they all center around fertility and health. Furthermore, the kinds of people that advocate these explanations of beauty ideals tend to not be the kind of spokespeople I'd be inclined to distrust. You know, if it was former Whitehouse Communications Director Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci saying that the reason men only dig broads with a hip to waist ratio of 0.7 because that means you wanna bang them and any other chicks are disgusting.

Instead you tend to get a bunch of middle aged academics calmly outlining their research and generally don't have much of a horse in the race.

While I don't believe that 'ideals of beauty' are arbitrary, there's two things that are clear to me - narratives are important and context is important.

Last first, context. I remember being a young uppity upstart employee at a typical corporate environment and having a chat with a middle manager. At some point in the chat, even though it was a positive exchange I realized I was being evaluated - as was he - but I inparticular was being evaluated through the context of the managers own ambitions. Namely, if he had the education I had the things he would do with it. However having had the education I had, his ambitions were ambitions that didn't even occur to me. Just as if I was meeting a 6'8" person and I got stuck on how good they could be at basketball, when they just want to be an artisan breadmaker. Or if you are a woman and men treat you nice because you are attractive or poorly because you aren't.

Being evaluated on your appearance - your reproductive value - in the wrong context ie. school or employment, is problematic for numerous entangled reasons. Such a predisposition if common, and it is common, results in both false positives and false negatives. There's the halo effect, where your attractiveness creates a bias in how intelligent, trustworthy, honest etc. you are percieved to be, and also the likelihood that you received more attention and better grades from teachers in your schooling further skewing your actual merits. On the inverse there's the glass ceiling, the threshold at which stereotypes about beautiful people obstruct your ability to be taken seriously. I haven't done enough research to see how these play out, but I suspect they certainly don't cancel each other out.

As for narrative, well you only have to look at the history of Disney films, particularly pre Tangled-Frozen. The Disney Princesses are ostensibly main or titular characters, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White etc. but often their role is just to stand around looking pretty, pass out and then be rescued by a prince. They also all fit in the same mold, slightly different accessories.

Before giving too many props to Disney's recent change of pace, self-consciousness. It's worth noting that they are making live action adaptations of all their old films and reviving them as such. The characters from Frozen although being partially explained by being sisters share the exact same build and proportions just one is blond and the other a red head. And they both have close to identical proportions to Rapunzel in Tangled. Google 'Moana Frozen Tangled' and you get composite images like this one that kind of demonstrate that the cookie cutter is still in effect design wise. Moana has a slightly broader nose but otherwise identical head to her fellow princesses such that the design team at Disney has very little work ahead of them as essentially needing to adjust skin tones and render a different hair style.

I'm not sure I have a beef, I simply noticed in myself an inability to draw a diverse female cast, and that in turn limits my ability to tell a story with a female cast. Since of the turn of the century, the standard tale of male hero rescues 'the girl' has generally put in some token scene where the woman in need of rescuing aids and abets the hero through her own initiative. She isn't completely helpless, she deceives a gaurd, stamps on his instep pushes him down a staircase and has her cuffs off ready to escape with the hero by the time he's cleared a path to her.

This is a hangover from years of design contentedness. We don't quite yet have a John McClane and Hans Gruber dynamic for women. It's usually sassy fox vs a cruel bitch. There are more diversity of womens roles generally speaking in a tarot deck than in most fiction.

And maybe, just maybe it starts with figuring out how to draw a feminine nose bridge.