what’s with the weird power stance people keep doing?

Do I need to start doing it too?

by Hanna Hanra
03 May 2018, 11:37am

The Conservative party. They’re an odd lot, really. Let’s put politics aside for a hot second and talk about a different kind of current affair that has taken hold of social media: the rise of The Tory Power Stance.

This week, the newly announced home secretary, Sajid Javid, was the latest in a line of posture-iconoclasts. Standing legs firmly akimbo’d, feet out, fists lightly clenched, he took up the mantle so recently left by Amber Rudd. Previous poseurs have included Theresa May and George Osborne, as well as Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill. But what does it mean? And more importantly, why?

“As soon as you lean your body, you become cutesy or nonchalant,” says i-D Junior Fashion Editor, Bojana Kozarevic. “This pose is power. It’s dominating the space. It’s very self-aware.”

The Tory Power Stance -- TPS, if you will -- has been developed over a number years. But, like so many other legacy problems, it actually began with Tony Blair. Author and body language expert Judi James says that, “like a lot of political ‘copied’ behaviour, it does bear the hallmarks of being deliberately taught in the Tory party”.

In photographs the stance looks unbalanced -- like an ungainly foal on a rocky crag in a high wind: they are going to topple. “In terms of perceived and inwardly promoted power signals, the stance delivers a simple truth and over-exaggerates it into what looks like [a] nonsense,” James continues. She herself has taught the power pose for years, and says that May, Javid and Osborne’s interpretation is a clumsy bastardisation. “The idea is to splay the feet in a much less exaggerated distance -- a few inches is fine -- and keep the weight evenly distributed on both feet to provide a solid base to your post that not only projects confidence but creates inner feelings of strength too. Over-congruent leg-splaying like Osborne and co. employ can actually increase timidity if your bravado signals exceed your inner assurance.”

So who does get it right? “Annoyingly, Trump is more accurate in his power splay techniques, splaying and puffing his chest while standing and splaying his knees like a pure Silverback Gorilla when he sits,” she says. “The moral is that off the peg body language trait training is rarely effective, especially if it gets exaggerated like this. The good news is that the results can be hilarious!”

One of the reasons that the stance is so eye-catching -- aside from the fact that normal people don’t stand like that -- is that it is also a pose that we don’t see in the visual language that surrounds us. The semiotics of fashion photography has meant that models are rarely encouraged to stand like that, it’s not sexy, it doesn’t sell clothes, it’s neither engaging or aspirational. “Models often adopt a leg/foot pose with one toe pointing inward which can be annoyingly weak and low-power,” says James. “Their 'charisma' is, sadly, prompted by a more passive, vulnerable and compliant appeal. But guess what? I have just been working with a firm of shop window mannequin makers to correct this!"

So maybe standing like I’m gripping a bag of shopping between my buns isn’t the way forward -- but then holding model-esque fashion poses isn’t right either. So what is the best way to stand? Judy is quick to answer. “Okay, it depends on the individual, but, feet apart in a distance that looks congruent and authentic rather than forced. Weight should be evenly balanced on both feet, shoulders pushed down and slightly back. Arms can look ok at sides, but it can be hard to get that right, so look in the mirror to find a way of lightly clasping or touching your hands in front at just below waist height.” Remember kids: just act natural, but perfect it in the mirror first.

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