“Let me tell you a secret,” an experienced empowerment self-defense instructor told a new group of students. “I was a little nervous before class started, so I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror like this.” She then demonstrated a few Wonder Woman poses, and explained that she was now feeling strong and ready to go. “Body language matters.”
Yes, it does. It matters at job interviews, it matters on dates, and it definitely matters when you’re in a situation in which you have to defend yourself.
Which is why body language is such a substantial part of any ESD curriculum.
Body Language -- A Two Way Street
We know our body language affects how others perceive us, but we rarely talk about the effect our own body language has on us.
As social scientist Amy Cuddy points out, "When our body language is confident and open, other people respond in kind, unconsciously reinforcing not only their perception of us but also our perception of ourselves.”
She also argues that our body language can affect our hormones.
Whether or not Amy Cuddy’s scientific evidence is 100% accurate, one thing we do know for sure is that power posing makes us feel good. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t get such a kick out of posing like Wonder Woman and Fearless Girl.
Body Language in ESD
There are plenty of gestures, like the American gesture for “perfect” or “okay”👌, that aren’t universal and have different meanings across cultures.
Even smiles or nodding the head can mean different things to different people.
But some gestures and forms of body language, like taking up space by holding our hands up in victory when we’re confident, or making ourselves small and touching our necks when we’re insecure, are instincts we are born with. We all do them, no matter where we’re from, whether we’re seeing or blind.
There’s one particular gesture, beloved by ESD practitioners worldwide, that has the same meaning anywhere, anytime and is never misunderstood. And that’s holding one or both hands out in front of us ✋🏽.
A big part of empowerment self-defense is learning de-escalation skills and preventing violence by stopping verbal and physical confrontations in their tracks.
Which is why ESD instructors spend a lot of time explaining that pointing a finger, making fists, or even crossing our arms can come off as aggression and send a message that we’re ready for a confrontation or fight, even when a fight isn’t what we want.
As an alternative, we teach the “defensive” or “ready” stance, which involves standing up straight (leaning forward can come off as more aggressive than assertive) with one foot slightly behind us, bending our knees, and holding both hands up in front of us.
The reason this stance is less threatening is that it’s a signal