Wonder women

Learn a stance from the superheroine

Women@Work

Camille Khodadad

Camille Khodadad is a principal in the Labor & Employment and Litigation & Dispute Resolution practice groups at Much Shelist. She is a frequent speaker on current trends in employment law and issues pertaining to women in the workplace.
ckhodadad@muchshelist.com

September 2017

Update: A description of Amy Cuddy's book "Presense" was clarified in the fifth from last paragraph.


Over the summer, I took my three daughters to see the movie “Wonder Woman.” When we came out of the movie, there were girls in the lobby in the Wonder Woman pose — chin up, hands on their hips, standing up straight with their feet firmly planted on the ground. One of the girls commented to her mom that she felt like a superhero.

Watching those girls stand in that position and project an air of power made me wonder about the connection between body posture and confidence. Specifically, can we make ourselves feel more powerful and confident by changing our body posture?

Interestingly, it turns out we can.

Studies show that across all cultures people who feel powerful tend to adopt what is known as an expansive body posture. They tend to lift their chins, pull their shoulders back and expand their chests. They also use open arm gestures. Conversely, people who feel powerless tend to use body language that makes them smaller. They literally collapse into themselves. They cross their arms, hunch inward and cross their legs. The most extreme example of this is someone curled up in the fetal position.

While it is widely accepted that one’s emotions can dictate body posture, recent studies suggest that the reverse is also true. In other words, you can change your emotional state by changing your body posture. If you pose in powerful ways, you will feel more confident. Conversely, if you pose in powerless ways, you will feel less confident.

Typically, women use less expansive body language, and men use more expansive body language. Many social scientists believe this has little to do with any biological difference between the sexes and everything to do with actual societal power differences. As women in most cultures have less social power than men, it is no surprise that their body language would project this lack of power.

As women, it is important for us to feel personally powerful and confident because our thoughts affect our actions. When we feel confident, we tend to be more creative, seek challenges and opportunities and ultimately perform better.

When we do not feel powerful and confident, we tend to avoid opportunities and our performance suffers. Keep in mind, when we are talking about power, we are talking about personal power — the personal power which allows us to bring all our best abilities to situations and be “switched on” — not the type of power that dominates over others.

Ultimately, (as we have discussed in previous columns) it is important to develop a sustained sense of confidence. But we all have those “bad” days when we have to nudge ourselves toward feeling confident. In her book “Presence,” Amy Cuddy suggests ways to use power-posing to prime yourself to feel confident and in your personal power.

Cuddy suggests that prior to entering a situation where you need to feel more powerful, adopt a power pose and hold if for two minutes. The poses are illustrated in her book. A few that she suggests: (1) the “Wonder Woman” pose; (2) sitting in a chair, leaning back, hands behind the neck and legs stretched resting on a table; (3) standing with feet and hips width apart, hands on a table, leaning in, neck and chin up.

These power poses focus on taking up as much space as possible. Ideally, power posing should be done in a private space (closed office, bathroom, etc.). Interestingly, Cuddy notes that even if you do not have the physical space to power pose, you can achieve the same result by visualizing yourself in a power pose.

Keep in mind that using grand power poses in social situations not only looks odd but also makes people feel extremely uncomfortable. In those settings, Cuddy suggests projecting confidence by using good posture and open body language. Cuddy also recommends checking your body posture throughout the day to make sure that you are not using powerless body postures — such as being curled up in front of a computer.

While power posing may not turn us into superheroes, it can help us find our personal power when we need a quick reboot.