I’m 5ft 9in. I was tall before most of my tall friends were. Unfortunately, I spent most of my early teenage years trying to be 5ft 5in, trying to be smaller than the boys and trying not to be “lanky”. Tactics ranged from severe shoulder slouching to my head being down at all times, and to my personal favourite - when standing, having my legs entirely crossed at all times.
The first time this was brought to my attention was at university. I worked in a bar pulling pints. We’d all hang around the back of the bar texting, playing snake, and stealing sips of Smirnoff Ice until we were required to do a bit of work. I’d walk forward, in front of my peers, to serve my customer, colleagues observing and critiquing my “patter”. The feedback I got, was, that I looked like I needed the toilet. I realised that my instinct was to walk up to the beer tap and immediately cross my legs, reducing my height by about 4 inches.
I didn’t think deeply about this again until I was being observed facilitating a workshop for a client and my colleague told me that my leg crossing stance made me look nervous, weak and unsure of myself. It was giving a very confusing message as my delivery was very strong and my voice was clear and powerful! This is when I began to notice. This is when I decided to stop crossing my legs.
Everywhere you go you will see this behaviour. The more self-conscious or exposed we are the more we do it - when we have to address a group, stand on a train platform amidst a sea of men in suits, or introduce ourselves at an event. *Women everywhere are making themselves smaller and lowering their status.
Now, I know it can feel comfortable and it’s something some of us have been doing for years. But, and it’s a big but, it makes you look nervous when you are not, and it’s creating a physical barrier between you and your audience, it’s making you wobble. I’m here to tell you it’s taking away your power!
Imagine Michelle Obama or Meryl Streep making themselves look smaller. You can’t, because they don’t do it, more to the point, they refuse to...
They have realised that leg crossing not only decreases their height, it destabilizes them, it weakens the rest of their body, particularly the muscles in their legs and back. This restricts their breathing which of course influences the sound of their voice, and the breath they have to speak with. It takes away their power.
Through my work at #upfront I hear from women every day who want to understand how to be taken seriously, how to be heard, and how to demand respect. The first way to achieve all of these things is to stand with your legs shoulder width apart, hips square, and perfectly stable.
This can feel odd at first, some women have told me they feel like they are standing like a superhero and guess what - you are and this is what you need to get used to! To an audience, you look competent and confident. Yes, it is more culturally acceptable for men to adopt this stance. Firstly, this is often due to necessity but it is also culturally ingrained. This stance is also associated with alpha behaviour which is another reason why some women often avoid it.
Not any longer. Here’s exactly where to start, stand up, yes right now where you are. Root yourself through your toes as if you’re preparing for action - as indeed you are. Be careful not to lock your knees, your knees should feel spongy, bounce up and down a little to find what feels comfortable. Place your feet shoulder width apart, square your hips and relax your shoulders. At the end of this paragraph take your eyes off the words and fix them dead ahead. Don’t be distracted by anything around you, you are now a force to be reckoned with. You are in control.
Practice makes perfect, so practice when you’re brushing your teeth. Practice in front of the mirror. Tell your friends and colleagues about your new commitment so they can hold you accountable. Practice on the train, on the bus, practice everywhere. Practice until you forget how it used to be.
It’s time to stop lowering your status before you’ve even begun to speak.
I’m proud to be 5ft 9 and I love nothing more than standing tall, with my legs apart, in 4 inch heels.