Written on the Body

“The best unsyndicated columnist in America,” Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle, is writing today about body language, a subject at the heart of body image.

Carroll relates the experience of one of his readers, playing theater games with middle-school kids, and finding that they had a hard time changing their body language for the games. Among other things, Carroll says, “One of first things I heard when I entered the workplace was: People take you at your own evaluation. … People who are aware of status cues can change them, even working against expectations. A fat guy can look schlumpy and defeated; a fat guy can look large and powerful. Hell, he could even throw in a swagger — nothing like a swagger to make people back off. ”

Both of us have done specific work on our own body language, in different ways. Have you tried to change your body language? Why? What worked and what didn’t? Did you pay dues for making the change? Also, what things about you that you can’t change affect how your body language works in the world?

3 thoughts on “Written on the Body

  1. There are only two things I’ve specifically tried, but both have worked.

    The first is to look straight ahead, at eye level. I have a tendency to look down at the ground, especially when I walk, and especially to look down when someone makes eye contact with me. I have to make a conscious effort to keep my eyes up at eye level.

    The other is to change my “default expression” to a slight smile. A lot of people actually have a very negative-seeming default “no expression” expression and I found that it really colours my impression of them. By extension, I wondered what my default was and if I could change it. I think my default is fairly neutral. Grinning like an idiot is a different matter, but I found that if I think about it consciously for at least the first little while, I can make myself smile slightly most of the time, even when I’m just sitting there staring off into space.

    Both of these are habits that I fall out of if I don’t think about them consciously on a regular basis, but when I do them it both drastically affects my own mood and drastically affects how people treat me. More strangers strike up conversations with me or ask me for directions; I assume I just seem more approachable. Also, interpersonal relations, especially at work, seem to move much more easily. I find that there’s more of a “team spirit”. I assume that this also comes from seeming more approachable and not putting people on the defensive.

    It’s small, but it does seem to be doable and thus far the benefits have been positive.

    I’ve consciously tried to change other things that had lasting impressions. When I was young, I went to a great deal of effort to learn to walk ‘gracefully’. I measured that mostly by evenness of motion. I would test myself by walking around the house without making the floors creak, and by trying to walk with my head staying as much as possible in a horizontal line: minimizing vertical bobbing. I think that that affects how people perceive my weight. (I know that it affects how I perceive other people’s weight, as much as I think it shouldn’t.) A little less directly related, I also engineered my handwriting rather heavily in the 7th grade. It, surprisingly, has affected some people’s perception of me a lot as well, I think.

  2. I spent a lot of my growing up time with my father and grandfather. Some people have bits of my body language to be male and I think I work at making that more so. Particularly in the taking up space issue. I’m entitled to space to be comfortable and I’m taking it.

    Also, what things about you that you can’t change affect how your body language works in the world?

    Heh. I’m short, round, pink cheeked, blued eyed and blonde haired. You write the script. Oh, and I’ve always looked younger than my age.


  3. i’ve always tried to walk tall and proud–good posture, shoulders back. lately i’ve been trying to dress differently–clothes that fit–that cling to me despite the bumps and bulges–that make me look like i feel that i am sexy. either i’m hanging out with really different people or that works pretty well. i think that there’s a feedback loop–the more that i project that, the more i am told it, and the more that i am told it, the more i project it.

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