If you were asked to describe yourself, would you consider body language? In most cases the answer would likely be, no. Yet, we go through our entire lives being judged or judging other people on their body language. The question was presented to an audience of women at a workshop conducted by radio personality, P. Ann Price from Cincinnati. The question stirred up some thoughts within about how I have been perceived by others as well as how I may perceive people based on body language.
As I explained to a colleague during the workshop, I naturally walk with my head upward and growing up, people often labeled me as stuck up. Because it is a natural function of my body, I rarely if ever notice it until someone points it out. From one perspective, walking with your head high eludes confidence, but there is another side to the story. I have a tendency to trip over cracks when walking on the sidewalk and people have also labeled me clumsy. Therefore, my body language would indicate that I am stuck up and clumsy. Neither is true. My colleague said that she has a tendency to walk with her head down. I do not perceive her as lacking confidence and she probably does not trip as much as I do. However, people often associate walking with your head down as lacking confidence. There is no evidence to support any of these assumptions.
I have a teenage family member who sometimes stands with her shoulders hunched over. I absolutely dislike this stance because I perceive it to be associated with a low self-esteem. When photographing her dressed for homecoming, I noticed her shoulders slouched and before taking another picture, I instructed her to straighten her shoulders. When viewing the two photographs, there was a distinct difference between the straight and the slouched shoulder photos. Her beauty was more prominent in the photo where she stood with shoulders straight. Does her self-esteem change because of her shoulders or is that how I perceived her body language based on my own assumption?
My daughter once complained about going to an event where the men tended to stand around and ignore most of the women with the exception of the one’s they apparently knew. This event was one of the only social activities going on for young adults in the city where we lived at the time. I suggested she change her attitude and walk with ownership when she entered the event. My exact words were “walk in the room like it’s a penthouse and you own it.” She came home that evening excited about the results she received from following those simple body language instructions. Was she a different person? No, but her body language and attitude caught the attention of a few gentlemen and she expressed she had a good time dancing and communicating. Because of her change in attitude and posture, I perceived her as having gained confidence.
Another misunderstood body language is facial expression. For instance, as women age, they tend to frown more than smile? I was at a beauty salon last year sitting under the dryer when I noticed two mature women reading. They both appeared to have frowns and my first thought was whether they were happy or not. When they peered up from the books and started talking, the frowns disappeared. In retrospect, as we age, our skin loses its elasticity particularly around the eyes and mouth area. Sometimes when we face downward, our skin may appear to sag. What I perceived as unhappy was a natural function of the body. Therefore, our body language can say things about us that are misunderstood.
In the workshop, P.Ann asked several women to walk across the stage and the audience had to guess about their sex life based on the way they walked. The categories were, “Off the Chain, You Don’t Want to Know and Just Okay.” Over sixty percent of the time, the audience was incorrect. It is easy to place judgment on people by their visible language and actions because those are the things we see and perceive we understand. In reality, what we don’t visually see in people is more of who they are as opposed to what they are. Sometimes we should go beyond the surface and beneath the skin to really get to know a person? I truly believe we will be quite surprised at how we can misjudge people based on our own perceptions.