Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Body Language: Head Posture

I just noticed something the other day. My daughter recently received a Disney Princesses art set for her birthday (she loves art) and one of its elements is a ruler with pictures of six princesses, side by side.

Not one of the princesses is holding her head up straight. The closest to it is probably Cinderella, but even she has her head inclined slightly forward. Forward, or back, or to the side, they're all giving me some sort of come-hither look.

As a mother and a believer in gender equity, I must say: Argh!

Mind you, it's a funny thing. I'm having some art created for an author website right now, by wonderful artist Jared Fiori, and of all the characters who appear in it, only one has his head up perfectly straight - Xinta, servant to the Eminence Nekantor. Even Nekantor himself doesn't hold his head up straight. And I wouldn't ask Jared to change any of it.

What is conveyed by head posture?

Confidence, I'd say - that goes with the straight head. Claims for dominance can be partly expressed in straight head posture, and stances expressing submission go with the forward-tilted head. The side-tilted head posture is one I associate with coquettishness.

There's another factor in portrait drawing (or photos), which is that a person's stance seems more dynamic if their head isn't straight up and down. However, looking slightly to the side or slightly up doesn't have the same effect as that head tilt. A professional photographer friend of mine - Chris Jackson, who took the portrait for my blog - told me that for photos of company officers, the photos don't look right unless the person is leaning forward toward the camera. That has to me another message - perhaps one of determination and seriousness that people like to see associated with the leaders of their favorite companies.

The topic of body language is larger than this, of course, and perhaps I should come back to it. Until then, be aware of head postures as an indicator of mood in the description of your characters in their interactions - and ask yourself how head posture habits might differ if you're working with aliens...


  1. Having a lot of fun with body language in a story I'm writing. The aliens have bodies (and therefore body language) very different from ours. The aliens could be described as something like inflatable, it does make sense in the context of the story. Honest! :)

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  3. I think that to younger people a straight head posture does not primarily convey confidence - it instead conveys someone who follows the status quo, someone without the required teenage anti-authority attitude. I'm sure your daughter is young enough that this would be meaningless to her, but marketers for some reason seem to think otherwise these days . . .

  4. Well, Rich, that's an interesting issue. I've never thought about it this way, but these things are taught to us by various sources, starting when we're very small, and things may have changed. Your mention of marketers does makes me wonder, though. I wouldn't be surprised if they were tempted to portray confidence in head posture deliberately as a form of selling out to authority... in order to encourage malleability in their potential marketing targets. I'll have to pay attention to more advertising if I want to have more data though. It's just my speculation at this point.

  5. Now I'm left to wonder what anonymous comments are attracted to inflatable lobsters...

  6. Do inflatable lobsters eat spam? ;-)

  7. Perhaps they do. Exactly what the aliens eat isn't really relevant to the story, so the matter isn't discussed. And it is a flash fiction piece, so the aliens don't have time for dinner or even a coffee break.

    At one point, one alien does squirt some digestive acid -- and that sounds like the perfect way to deal with spam :)