A female friend was having her professional photo taken for her website yesterday and I told her, "Whatever you do, don't cross your arms"...so why does it seem like 8 out of 10 professional photos of women on Pinterest show them with their arms crossed?
If you google it, this is the FIRST definition that comes up,
“Crossed-Arms-on-Chest is universal and is decoded with the same defensive or negative meaning almost everywhere. It is commonly seen among strangers in public meetings, in queues or cafeteria lines, elevators or anywhere that people feel uncertain or insecure.”1
My first thoughts too when advising my friend. Upon further investigation, my favorite author on the subject of body language, Joe Navarro, wrote a piece on this exact thing. However, he says, not so fast! That in fact, it can mean many things including: comfort, insecurity, creating distance, stress, anxiety, fear, frustration, yet another is actually a power pose. Please note the article depicts a female with arms crossed titled “self-hug”, and a big burly male is labeled “power pose”.2
In fact, the article was written specifically to dispel misconceptions. With so many different meanings, it's probably not the best bet for a professional photo. As its most commonly accompanied by a smile, my guess is that the intention for this pose is to communicate a relaxed, comfortable-in-your-own-skin, kind of feeling. But does it really convey confidence? Will others read "I'm great at what I do!", "Hire me!" or "I've got the answer you need!"? I'm not convinced. If there’s even a chance of creating the wrong perception, why is this pose so common?
In Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, she talks about accepted norms (I'm paraphrasing here). There are conventional norms people have come to expect as it relates to gender roles. They expect women to be nurturing, part of a team, to credit the community vs. taking credit, to be comforting like one would expect a mother to be and if you're not, well then, you may come across too strong, brash, or overbearing. In the same breath, it suggests if norms are ever going to broaden, women need to break the mold, be bold, be confident, stand up strong and don’t apologize for it.3 There is nothing wrong with being comforting or nurturing; I'm saying that departing from expected norms takes courage and it can also cost you if it makes others perceive you negatively. So, what's a woman to do? It’s a conundrum for sure.
My belief is there is a time and place for both and that recognizing who you are at your core is the first step. The second is to read your audience. Understand with whom you are trying to convince of an idea, sell your product, or share your success, and then morph accordingly. Matching style and mirroring body language can also help people identify with you and put them at ease. This takes mindfulness, practice and preparation. As an audience, we have to remember that we can learn something from everyone regardless of gender or style. I certainly don't have all the answers... but no matter what, I'm not crossing my arms.
- Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In New York: Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., 2013. Print.