As you may or may not be aware, studies peg the importance of nonverbal body language this way: between fifty-five percent and ninety-three percent of the entire message we communicate to others is nonverbal and unrelated to the words coming out of your mouth. The amounts may differ from study to study and context to context, but the overall message is the same. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it and how you look.
Naturally, this is going to transfer seamlessly to flirting and attraction, perhaps even more so because flirting involves a heavy number of cues and operates within gray areas. If this is important in everyday situations like school and work, imagine how important it is in engineering attraction and love, which reach down into our deepest and most primal relational urges.
The overall lesson of this chapter is to arm you with knowledge about what types of nonverbal body language are most attractive to the opposite sex, what to look for in evaluating the interest level of other people, and how to use this knowledge to make yourself attractive before you even open your mouth.
Various studies by Helen Fisher, Allen Pease, and Barbara Pease were able to articulate two main traits of body language that are both indicative of interest and attraction to others on an instinctive level and from an evolutionary standpoint.
Surprisingly, the studies showed that the first aspect of attractive and effective body language is availability.
This means that you appear to be open, welcoming, friendly, and willing to engage. Smiles, uncrossed legs, eye contact, and a torso that is pointed fully toward the other person indicate availability. Think about it; how does someone who uses all of those body language gestures simultaneously appear to you? You would probably be less nervous to speak with them than someone with crossed arms and a mean look on their face. You’d feel that you would be welcomed instead of pushed away. You might feel like they are friendly and that you have a chance, which is always the first step to engaging.
Availability means there is, in theory, a decreased chance of rejection, and that is attractive because it feels as if it is within our grasp. If you have a chance, you’re automatically more interested because it’s more likely to be a better use of your time. Here, love and attraction shows itself as opportunistic.
How this comes across in body language is relatively simple—just be aware of closed and unavailable body language to start with. Start by eliminating the negative, and think about how open, vulnerable, and welcoming you make your body when you are approaching a puppy. It’s a useful mental image for how to appear more available and overall attractive.
The second aspect of attractive and effective body language is how fertile you appear. Fertile is a term that refers to how powerful and effective a mate someone would be—as you can imagine, there are very different standards for men and women.
This goes back to understanding what we look for in each gender and the sociobiological theory of attraction from the previous chapter. Think back to traditional gender roles and the adjectives we use to describe each of them. What makes a man sexually attractive versus what makes a woman sexually attractive on a purely biological level? Now, how can you reflect those through your body language?
The body language of a biologically attractive man is dominant and powerful.
Attractive males embody the triangle-shaped body—broad shoulders that taper down to a thinner waist. They take up space with their shoulders and arms and try to emphasize their muscle mass with their posture. The bigger they can appear, the better (think of a peacock spreading its tail feathers). The more they can separate and distinguish themselves from other males, the better. The more dominant and deep the eye contact, the better.
Male fertility is about the ability to be a dominant mate who can protect his own, something that masculine body language signifies.
Males may also preen like peacocks, groom themselves, and make bodily movements to attract the attention of nearby females. It’s all a show to draw attention to their alpha male traits. They compete for attention and mates, and everything is geared toward winning that competition.
Unsure what this looks like? Just imagine how differently a roomful of men would suddenly look if a supermodel walked in. Everyone’s spines would straighten, stomachs would be sucked in, chests puffed out, and voices would deepen and get louder. They might each attempt to become the center of attention to show social influence and power. All this behavior might not even be conscious, but instinctually we understand that each gender is biologically programmed to project fertile body language.
If any men need guidance on how their body language should ideally be for flirtation and attraction, just think of the cartoon character Johnny Bravo, but not so over the top. Everyone has their preferences, but the body language Johnny Bravo exhibits, with his huge upper body and expansive motions, is undeniably masculine and generally more preferred than a male that exhibits none of those things.
The ideal body language for a sexually attractive woman, on the other hand, is stunningly different.
In contrast to the triangle-shaped male, the female ideal is the hourglass figure. A woman is seen as more attractive if she appears graceful, soft, and curvy and slender at the same time. Femininity is all soft curves and supple flesh because female fertility is about the ability to give birth to multiple children and remain healthy.
Women want to accentuate the curves of an hourglass-shaped body. Put a woman in a pair of heels and have her walk past a row of attractive men. Notice how her gait changes, how it emphasizes her hips and bust and she suddenly acts like she is walking down a fashion runway.
Other indicators of fertility for females are the lips and hair—health is reflected in how healthy these physical traits are. This means the body language for an attractive female is to emphasize those physical traits and draw attention to them—hence lip-biting and hair-flipping.
If any woman needs guidance about how their body language should ideally be for flirtation and attraction, just think about Jessica Rabbit from the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and how she saunters across a room. There’s a reason so many men see her as the one cartoon they would sleep with without question.
This approach isn’t about looking for specific signs—it’s about thinking along the lines of availability and fertility. If you’re still having trouble imagining how this plays out for the different genders, just imagine how ten women would pose for a picture versus how ten men would. They instinctively pop their hips and shoulders and attempt to create the illusion of curves and fertility to create a favorable hip-to-waist-to-breast ratio. You’ll have a real-life illustration of how it plays out, and you’ll be able to see exactly why the poses end up so differently. You can also consider how ancient Greek statues portray the different genders in a stark contrast of hard angles versus soft curves.
The vast majority of the messages we send to other people and to the world are nonverbal. Knowing the biological and evolutionary basis for what’s attractive will help you see these signs and fulfill them yourself.
It’s easy to overlook these aspects as “common sense” or as something you are already doing, but in reality, are you?
That’s why it’s so important to bring light to what have been proven to be objectively (as much as there can be in the field of attraction) attractive body language. Make sure you are ticking off the biologically proven triggers first, because it is unlikely you are acting in such an arousing way as to override people’s evolutionary sensibilities.
Some people who struggle with attracting others are not objectively unattractive people. They may worry that the reason their love life is flatlining is because they need to look better somehow—they think if they were thinner/more buff/more tanned, then everything would work out for them, but rest assured: the attraction triggers discussed above are more negotiable than that.
If you are not naturally blessed with a tiny waist or biceps that look like barrels, don’t worry. Remember that flirting and attraction is about communication—we are sending conscious or unconscious messages to signal our health, our social and sexual availability, and our intentions. And a lot of this can be achieved with dress, posture, gesture, and body language. Marilyn Monroe, the quintessential sex bomb, was said to have blended into the crowd and been unrecognizable when she chose to be—she simply dressed down, dialed back her body language, and signaled her unavailability. Now, if Marilyn Monroe can make herself look plain and invisible, it stands to reason that people of average appearance can do a lot to make themselves more attractive and noticeable!