Are women programmed for low self-esteem?

Human nature and behavior has been a topic of interest to me for decades. I’m constantly viewing my actions and those of others to look for patterns that provide growth opportunities for myself and my clients. Long before I was aware of the term power posture, a concept popularized by the social psychologist Amy Cuddy, I suspected at the very least there was a connection between the positioning of our bodies and how we perceive ourselves.

But since becoming aware of Cuddy’s work I find myself examining my own posture even more than before. The other day I was sitting in a bank lobby and I realized that even in jeans, it was my natural tendency to cross my legs. I thought about how while in the Marine Corps it might still not have been natural for me to set with my legs spread apart in the manner common to many men.

That got me thinking about how for centuries women wore dresses and “power postures” were virtually out of the question. Even those of us who go out of our way to “buck the system” have been conditioned to be “lady like”, “proper” or “appropriate”. I have to imagine that even now we are teaching our daughters to sit with their legs together and generally conform to these lower power postures.

I for one love to wear dresses and recognize the importance and practicality of avoiding the Sharon Stone Basic Instinct experience. But does that mean we can’t learn to be more authoritative and powerful in our body language at other times?

I went back to one of Cuddy’s lectures and she shows a couple candid pictures of President Obama with his feet on his desk or knees apart.

Then she shows one of a photo shoot with Michelle where she is leaning on the arm of a settee in a low power posture that Cuddy admits didn’t even fit with our image of the First Lady. I have no doubt it was a setting contrived by the photographer and one that is repeated daily under similar circumstances.

Somehow if we are going to raise our current level of self-esteem and begin viewing ourselves in a more strong and empowered state we’ve got to change both the way we act and teach our daughters to do the same.

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