The way you express yourself physically is not only affecting what others think of you, but also what you think of yourself.
“Don’t fake it until you make it. Fake it until you become it.”
Amy Cuddy gives a TED talk, “Your body language shapes who you are” that resonates with me as a woman and as a human being. Cuddy, a social scientist focusing on nonverbal behavior, is an inspiration for several reasons. Along with contributing valuable research to her field, she survived a traumatic car accident in which her IQ temporarily dropped two standard deviations. It is clear that the drive behind her work comes from her own experience recovering from this car accident and then working to succeed in school.
In her talk, Cuddy discusses the importance of body language in determining life outcomes. Powerful stances are those that enlarge one’s presence in a room, while those stances that shrink the body make one less powerful. Crossing your legs, looking down, touching your neck—all signs of weakness. And it turns out that the way I express myself physically is not only affecting what others think of me, but it also affects what I think of myself. In Cuddy’s words, “Our bodies change our minds.”
An avid TED talk enthusiast, I cannot get enough of the sometimes uplifting, sometimes wacky lectures. The colloquial tone of the talks make it seem as though some world-renowned genius is sitting in my living room, having a cup of tea, while giving life-altering advice.
Cuddy’s talk stands out to me though. Maybe it’s because I’ve been jamming to Beyonce’s album, Beyonce, all morning. Or maybe it’s because of that #LikeAGirl commercial that Always aired during the Super Bowl. Her talk captures me because I think about how, as a woman, I’ve been taught to shrink myself on multiple levels.
Beyonce’s album includes the song “Flawless,” which features a poem by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The poem starts out, “We teach girls to shrink themselves—to make themselves smaller.” If women are taught to make themselves physically smaller, they are essentially being taught to make themselves feel weaker in societal structure.
The #LikeAGirl commercial features girls of different ages. When older girls are told to do something “like a girl,” they perform it weakly. When younger girls are given the same direction, they demonstrate giving their all. One little girl responds to the question, “What does it mean to you when I say to ‘run like a girl?’” with “It means run as fast as you can.” The commercial demonstrates the loss of self-confidence in girls while growing up—how they learn to view femininity as weakness.
I’m a sucker for this commercial, Beyonce’s music, and TED talks, so the combination in a 48-hour time span causes me to reflect on my own experiences in college. I remember sitting in my dorm room after class with one of my friends my sophomore year, which was when my self-esteem was the lowest. I was overwhelmed by the rigor of my college, and I was struggling to hang on. I was confused, and, in the words of Cuddy, “I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
On this particular afternoon, my friend turned to me. “You know, you never talk in class. I feel like you would say smart things. You should talk in class.”
That one friend believing in me was the catalyst for change. I remember going to my International Relations class the next morning, and forcing myself to raise my hand all the way up in the air. “I’m just going to say a thing, and then I won’t be nervous anymore,” I thought. I don’t even remember what I said, but I guess it was not ridiculous because no one burst out laughing and the professor even said, “good point.”
It took a while longer to stop being nervous, but in the words of Cuddy, “I faked it” until my palms stopped sweating every time I answered a question. And I faked it until I was getting perfect grades rather than worrying about passing.
According to Cuddy, all it takes to feel more powerful is a two-minute power pose. So next time a friend is making herself small, give her some words of encouragement and do a power pose with her. It could have a bigger effect than you think.
Edie Wilson is a recent graduate of Hamilton College where she studied Anthropology, Economics, and Government with a small dose of Marxism. She writes on multiple topics and primarily online. A few of her other pieces include: Cute Is For Teddy Bears, Not For People, Drowning in the Fountain of Youth, and New Year’s Resolutions You’ve Already Broken. Find her on twitter @EdieWilson5.