• Find a moment when they are sitting so you can shoot the image from above to make them look accomodating.
  • Catch them in a social situation so they are not showing any signs of power, ideally with slightly slouched posture.
  • Make it a little uncomfortable so they demonstrate pacifying behaviours with their hands and legs, and have tense smiles.
  • Add a red overtint to the skin so that they look a little flushed which is a body language cue of embarrassment.
  • pro tip: contrast it with a strong image of a man in a uniform showing high power body language cues to complete the effect.

Of course this check list is sarcastic, and not something I recommend you ever do!

I’m convinced this was absolutely not the intention of the person taking the photo, but if they had wanted to make these powerful women look weak, they couldn’t have done a better job.

When the photo above landed on my facebook feed this morning, it made me cringe… BIG TIME

The implied sexism, and the east vs west antagonism are two things I cannot stand by… and because this is such a perfect example of how we are manipulated by our instincts when looking at an image, I want to share a few things I see happening in these photos on a nonverbal level.

Context

When reading body language, one of the basic elements to take into consideration is context. The top image was taken during a social moment, the second one at a military parade. We’re basically comparing apples and hammers.

Shooting angles

Shooting down at someone makes them look weaker, because we are literally looking down at them. To make someone look strong, we want to place our camera at the same hight, or slightly below the person, which is the case for the second image.

Low power body language

Here are some of the lower power body language cues I observe.

  • closed eyes (blocking),
  • slouched shoulders (low power)
  • tight hand wringing (stress indicator),
  • ankle lock (tension, holding back),
  • head tilt (friendly but low power),
  • slouched back (low power),
  • leaning back (distancing / discomfort),
  • clenched fist (tension)
  • raised shoulders (discomfort)
  • arms held in (self protection)
  • not looking at the camera (avoidance)

Headline: women looking uncomfortable while having their picture taken

This does not mean that these women lack power in every day life, simply that in this moment and social context they are demonstrating signs of discomfort which comes across as low power. I speculate that it’s probably from having their picture taken as per the context described in the Guardian’s article here.

This was just a snapshot of a social moment. Nothing special right? Or was it? The image went viral and was used by mainstream media, then by commentators to tell a different story such as Female defense ministers pledge to break Europe’s old boys’ network but also things like Why Isn’t Europe Defending Itself? being the least despicable sexist comment that hijacked this image to promote women’s incompetence and lack of strength.

They could have used a different image like thedailybeast.com did, but instead they chose one that makes these female defense ministers look weak. It’s not my place to speculate if this was intended or not, but what I can say is that this is NOT a powerful image of these amazing women and it is not helping their image or their mission.

Body language cues that make you look powerful in photos

So what can you do if you’re in a position of power and someone pulls out a camera?

Here are some universal cues both women and men can use to look powerful in photos.

  • Stand up and stand tall – we look stronger when we are standing than when we are sitting. It also makes it harder for someone to shoot down at you.
  • Keep your shoulders back and your elbows away from your body, even slightly.
  • If you have to sit… sit up straight, avoid leaning back and cross your legs at the knee (or not at all if you’re wearing trousers), but not at the ankle (low power).
  • Make sure the photographer is not shooting down at you.
  • Avoid any pacifying or blocking gestures (clenched hands, fists, rubbing fingers, crossed arms).
  • Keep your hands visible and relaxed.
  • Smile if you want, but not too much. There are differences between men and women when it comes to smiling. For women, smiling is a way of creating rapport and a sign of appeasement, but to men this can come across as submissive. Men also smile less than women. To look powerful when smiling, keep it friendly but not overly smiley.

Sources: The original photograph was posted by Jeanin Hennis and can be found here: https://twitter.com/JeanineHennis/status/429630898532016128