Power posing

I spotted this article this morning:


In the wild, higher status animals often take expansive, open postures. To assert their rank, chimpanzees puff themselves up to seem larger. Peacocks fan their tail feathers to attract mates. We see the same displays in the human kingdom. The confident speaker strides across the stage, voice booming. The boss puts his or her feet up on the table to show they are in charge.

That then made me think about something else I had read recently:


… red has become so important for women that an initiative was started celebrating female empowerment. The Red Shoe Sandberg-Time-coverMovement is an initiative to help increase female representation at the highest levels of decision-making across all kinds of organizations. To keep the conversation about parity top of mind, it invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesdays to signal their support for other women’s career advancement.

These two links speak for themselves but I do want to just talk about the importance of self-image, for all of us.

We were likely all raised to be polite and somewhat self-deprecating. For some people that has had little impact on self-esteem and they are just as brash and self aggrandizing as they would have been with any other message growing up. Sometimes this reluctance to stand out translates to the clothes we wear and the posture we use, trying to go unnoticed or at least not to attract the wrong kind of attention (which is prudent in certain circumstances, no doubt).

For others of us, this culturally accepted modesty has had a negative effect in that the attempt to consider feelings overrides self-interest in many if not all areas of social and individual functioning.  Sympathy and empathy are valued traits and I wish we had more people who were able to identify with others in such a way that they could feel and understand the life experiences of those around them and be truly helpful, as well as receiving that help.

But when it comes to certain situations, this emphasis on cooperation, deference, social convention or lubrication can be a handicap. Thoughts are things, if you think you are successful, and even better yet, if you can visualize being successful, you will be more fall_red_coat1likely to enjoy success.  It is a simple idea but hard to do.

There have been hundreds of books written about how to reach your highest level of achievement, your own personal actualization, so I certainly don’t need to explain or recommend that idea.  But increasingly, researchers are finding that things as simple as affirmative statements about what you want to come true in your life, the postures you take, the colors you wear, your height, the type of jewelry or lack of, hairstyle, even your name, and especially your voice and communication skills have an effect not only on those with whom you interact, but on your own mentality and sense of self.

Regarding colors, I think we reach instinctively for colors that reflect our mood.  When I was an undergrad in upstate New York, the weather was almost always snowy and the landscape either white or gray, the autumn was brief and could be bleak. I seemed to wear a lot of bright red, yellow and blue in those days and it sure did make me stand out on campus.  When I got to grad school, in la modella mafia paris street French Vogue teamManhattan, I became ultra serious about my work.  In addition, I had to travel through some dicey areas to get to school way uptown, and I was often walking around from classes to the library to home in the dark.  I completely switched my wardrobe to what I called ‘urban combat’.  I literally wore black from head to foot, usually a black turtle neck, black skinny pants, Olof Daughters of Sweden ankle tied boots, and a fitted black wool or leather jacket.  I was ready to run if I had to and just one time and one time only, in my life, I was chased into the subway, and ducked into the train just in time.  Another time, I was sitting on the train headed back home late at night, and a guy diagonally across from me caught my eye (something I almost never let happen, as any NYer knows not to do) and began to get agitated, muttering at me under his breathe.  I didn’t hesitate — I got up and dashed out the door at the next stop and caught a different train.  That outfit helped me recede and yet be nimble.  There wasn’t a superfluous ounce of fabric to get in my way.  Oh, and I had the across-the-chest strap for my backpack so no one could snatch it off me either.  I probably looked pretty fierce, too, just for good measure, lol. (Ignore the cigarettes in the photo – the French, what can I say; I still have my Olof boots!).Olof Daughters of Sweden

Maybe one of the most effective things anyone can do is get in front of a mirror, before a big job interview or appointment with the boss for a raise, and certainly before a college admission one on one, and rehearse your talking points, watching yourself in the mirror.  Naturally, video taping yourself in good lighting is another way to do this.

Anything we can do to help build our positive attitudes toward ourselves, including what we wear, how and where we sit, stand, and walk, and the words we use, can be carefully thought out, using the data that is out there right now telling us what successful people have already learned or done by instinct.

My niece has recently organized an international science conference.  She is a bit nervous, even though she has stood up in front of people many times before.  One thing I am making sure she does is pack a red sweater, dress, and suit to wear each of the three days.

Men can wear bold red ties.  And everyone should duck into a room with a full length mirror, put their hands on their hips, head up, and look themselves square in the face for a few minutes.Business_suit_picnik

It certainly can’t hurt.

Images: time.com, camilleovertherainbow.com,akinal.com,etsy.com,rutledges.com


8 Comments on “Power posing”

  1. Yeah I have no problem looking at myself in the mirror, LOL. I’ve always understood the importance of clothes/appearance and what they communicate. Kind of surprises me that so many people don’t. I’m always torn about the many “spirit days” we have in the schools – most of the staff love them because it means they get to wear jeans to work, but I’ve definitely gone through phases with that, where I wouldn’t wear my ‘spirit shirt’ on Friday because it was just too sloppy (for us a spirit shirt is a tee shirt). And it always bugs me that the only thing we seem to be showing spirit for in a school is the football team anyway. But right now, I am wearing them because it’s two days a week I don’t have to think about what I put on my body, and that’s just where I’m at right now. Not usually how I am though. I was always aware as a teacher of what I wanted to communicate with my attire and ‘sloppy’ was not on the list.


    • Yeah, I would have a problem with that. For one thing, T-types don’t look great in jeans. We have that hour-glass figure thing, whether we are fat or thin, and if I wear anything but fitted clothes, even at my low weight, I look like a cow. Also, I just don’t like looking sloppy and never leave the house without everything done, hair, makeup, nails, outfit. Life is tough enough without being dismissed for looking frumpy. That said, I think it also makes sense to fit in, wherever we go, to the extent it doesn’t compromise our values. I try to tailor (pun intended) what I wear to the event and the group so I don’t look inappropriate. I want to be taken seriously, so I try not to be flamboyant unless I have a point to make. In fact, I am talking about that tomorrow :-).


    • I hope I am not sounding uppity – I hope I am never that. Just that I have to put extra effort into everything to make sure as I get older that I am still properly groomed. I have that fear of lapsing into laziness. If I had my druthers, I would just wear pajamas all the time, lol. I know people who can throw on a simple shirt and cut-offs and look gorgeous. I am not one of them.


  2. It has taken me many years to reach the point where I refuse to let other people tell me who I am. Sadly, it’s still a struggle for me sometimes, to be the real me. Thanks for writing this to inspire us, Beth!


    • This is the funny thing. I have always been my own person, but when I got married and had to move out West, I had to start all over again. What everyone knew about me back East was completely unknown with my new crowd (mostly related to my SO). So, I have had a battle royale to keep my identity and not let them be blinded by envy and jealousy, simply because they would prefer me to be a wall flower, which is not my thing.
      Thank you for your encouragement, Vera!


  3. Very interesting post, good luck to your niece, I only enjoy presentations when I’m confident about the subject and I like to use visuals, I love colour and whacky patterns.
    I love wearing long dresses to sing in it puts me right in the zone. I also always put on a dress if I am to sing in a masterclass because as soon as I put one on it reminds me its not just a normal day in college and I need to up my game.
    I must admit I don’t wear makeup most days although last Friday when I had the opportunity to do an impromptu interview with a tv personality for my blog when I saw the photograph I took on my iPhone after I wish I’d brushed my hair and put on a bit of lipstick before I approached him lol 😉

    What colours do you wear to please yourself at the weekend?


    • Absolutely, in your line of work (and study), formal attire is appropriate. I have been to many operas and wouldn’t we all be disappointed if the performers were dressed down! I tend to wear black and grey on the weekends. Black skinny-leg slacks (fitted, otherwise I look too hippy) and a grey long-sleeve or three-quarter knit shirt. I get them at J. Crew or Banana Republic, sometimes Ann Taylor. I have a lot of clothes, but I have simplified my weekly wardrobe since I work most days from home. I do get dressed up for the holidays, and, as a NYer, I have been to a lot of black-tie events where cocktail dresses or evening gowns are standard. I do love that, as long as I don’t have to be in them for more than a couple of hours! 🙂


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