The Coats Were Bold, And The Body Language Even Bolder
Quite the week we’ve had, eh? New administration in DC, first woman VP, and the most dashing collection of bold coats and coordinated outfits we’ve seen since Britney and Justin hit the town in 1000% denim. One of the things that struck me about the inaugural events this week was just how poised and in control the women involved appeared. Being that they, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, et al. are some of the most visible women on the planet, the fact that they presented themselves as self-assured and in control is no accident. Showing up in the world this way – strong postured, open armed, confident expressions behind the masks probably – is what I want to discuss today.
We’re talking about body language.
The ultimate power play.
Or, in some cases…
The ultimate give away.
OK, now that we got Bernie out of the way, let’s dig in.
Body language can be a dicey topic to explore because we live in a world where most people are conditioned to believe, consciously or subconsciously, that women should present themselves as nice, polite, and overall unintimidating. Society reinforces this trash again and again, sending messages that we should be doing things like procreating to fulfill other peoples’ ideas of who we are, or taking up as little space as possible.
You know, save the space for things and people more important than little ‘ol us.
Unfortunately, we often reinforce these beliefs ourselves through our nonverbal communication, or body language. Women are especially likely to feel this urge to revert to the small, closed off body language associated with fragility during high stakes discussions or uncomfortable situations. The reason for this is as unfortunate and infuriating as it is uncomplicated: for centuries it has been dangerous for women to present themselves as anything that could be misinterpreted as a threat. And for many women, this concern is still very real. If you, like me, are in a place in your life where the issue of physical safety is not a day-to-day concern, I urge you to think about ways you can use your position to make this world a better place. I hope the call to action for stronger body language is taken seriously by you, for you, as well as for our friends, sisters, and strangers who do not yet find themselves in safe places to do so.
I think of body language as the entry point for letting other people know how you expect to be treated. If I’m demonstrating, through closed off and restrictive posturing, that I am apprehensive and unsure of what the hell I’m doing here, I’m quietly convincing others to feel that way about me too. However, if I’m walking into the room with the swagger of Michelle Obama in that phenomenal burgundy (Maroon? Magenta? Wine? Oxblood, even?) monochromatic moment she made happen at the most recent inaugural events, I am setting the tone that I’m here for a reason.
And you. Yes, you. Right there.
You are here for a reason.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a number one stunner like our girl Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, hold the impressive credentials of Dr. Jill Biden, or make history as the first woman Vice President of the United States like Kamala Harris to appear confident. Carrying yourself in a way that appears bold and self-assured is as much about mindset and habit as it is actual competence. Multiple studies suggest confidence is more important than competence and based on some of the nonsense I’ve seen in my career, not to mention politics, I feel confident in saying I know that’s right.
Below are two of the simplest ways to incorporate more confidence into your body language.
Increase Your Eye Contact
Women are less likely than men to look the person with whom they are speaking in the eye. Now, you don’t have to have a staring contest with this person like my husband has with our dogs when they’re begging for scraps, but you do need to maintain that eye contact at least 50% of the time. Also, making eye contact while addressing the other person is more important than maintaining eye contact while the other person is talking to you. This might seem rude to you, but keep in mind that your fear of being seen as impolite is quite possibly more related to your social conditioning than the actual sting of your non-eye contact glare.
Own Your Space
By going against everything we have been conditioned to believe we should do and commit to taking up a similar amount of space as men, we are breaking that subconscious message that says we are better when kept small. Intellectually we know that that message is as meaningful as the robo calls you get regarding your car’s warranty being D A N G E R O U S L Y close to expiring, but years of living in a world that reinforces this makes this a tough one to shake. It is incredibly important to do this with intention. Focus on expansive, open body language. If possible, stand with your weight distributed evenly on both feet. Uncross your arms. Fight the urge to cross your legs when seated. Rest your arms on the conference table. Pay attention to your posture. Don’t be afraid to laugh freely and use hand gestures (see Michelle above) when appropriate.
I’m thankful we live in a time when the importance of breaking through the bullshit of misogyny is highlighted in many parts of society and I’m hopeful you are too. The devastating impacts of unchecked and undeserved power have gained much earned and needed attention of late – and the media is now paying attention to some renegade women who are getting shit done. In order to make lasting change, we must commit to living our lives in ways that support and honor the cause of normalizing women in power. One way to do that is through strong, positive body language. Expressing confidence through your nonverbal communication is to express dissent with some very outdated societal norms. And since those norms are unacceptable and demeaning, I emphatically support this dissention.
The ultimate power play.