Every so often, a study comes out that makes me want to cheer.

I can talk about the importance of being yourself as much as I like. But unless there’s research to back it, it’s just my opinion.

And that opinion isn’t shared by old-school dating advice, which tells women to fit in or else. If you want a man, you shouldn’t rock the boat. You should be ladylike, accommodating, and appropriate. Don’t risk scaring him off by revealing anything too odd about yourself.

Luckily, scientific inquiry seems to be pointing us toward a different conclusion.

It turns out that old-school dating advice is all wrong.

Modern men want nonconformist women.

They want women who rock the boat. Women who don’t fit in. Women with idiosyncrasies and quirks that make them smile.

The authors of this particular piece of research[1] wanted to be extra sure, so they designed five separate studies to test the hypothesis that men prefer nonconformist women.

The first thing they found was that women overestimate the degree to which men find conformist women attractive.

Instead, men admire women whose opinions, lifestyle, and fashion make them stand out from the crowd.

That can be hard to swallow, especially if you’ve suffered in the past for being different. Anyone who survived high school knows that conformity wins admirers, while being different in any way makes you vulnerable.

But it’s not high school anymore.

In the grown-up world, consumers place a premium on anything that’s unique and hard-to-get. And that includes romantic partners.

In another part of the study, men were asked to think back on their exes. These men recalled their one-of-a-kind girlfriends most fondly. In fact, the more idiosyncratic she was, the more she was remembered with lingering love and affection.

When you think about how dating has changed in the past 100 years, this shift makes a lot of sense. Generations ago, a man would want to consider how well his future wife would fit into his culture and community.

But thanks to online dating, the modern dating pool has expanded beyond comprehension. There are so many options. How in the world can anyone make an informed decision about who to pursue?

Easy:

They pick the profiles and people who stand out.

That goes for appearances, too. Think men prefer women who look the way women are “supposed” to look? Think again.

Pick up any magazine, and you’ll see image after image of the ideal woman. You’ve probably compared yourself against her a million times. But all those women look the same. It’s hard to remember any particular one.

That’s why your “flaws” actually work in your favor. When you have a unique feature—such as a prominent nose, freckles, or untamable hair—you stand out from the crowd. You don’t look like a Barbie doll, and men do notice.

There’s a secret to the perfect balance between being normal and being weird. It lies in celebrating just one or two of your most unusual traits.

Instead of trying to be different from everybody on everything, pick just a couple of things about yourself that you love, then celebrate them unashamedly.

I call it the “Spice Girls Effect.”

The Spice Girls was a 1990s girl band that became one of the most lucrative pop groups of all time, thanks to hits like “Wannabe.” But what made them stand out wasn’t necessarily their music or their “girl power” message. It was the way they were marketed.

Each girl was given a nickname based on some aspect of her personality. Their fans may not have known each girl’s real name, but they knew exactly who Sporty Spice, Posh Spice, Baby Spice, and the others were.

If you had to come up with a nickname for yourself, what would it be?

What are you known for? What role do you play in your group of friends? What do you love most in life? What do you spend most of your time doing?

Your nickname should be accurate, not aspirational. Don’t pick what you think is your most attractive trait. Pick something that’s raw, genuine, and from the heart.

What we’re known for isn’t always what we wish we were known for. But if it makes you stand out, don’t immediately rule it out.

Men don’t want perfect Barbie dolls. They want real women with real opinions and the courage to stand up for what they believe.

Don’t just believe me. Believe the research. Conformity is out; nonconformity is in.

Being yourself is pretty good after all.


[1] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167215577366