One of my favorite regular sections in Cosmopolitan and tabloids are the celeb couple body language breakdowns. They'll show a photo of, say, Beyonce and Jay-Z sitting together at a Knicks game and point out how they're leaning 20 degrees toward each other and pronounce the pair partners for life. Then to contrast, you'll see an action shot of maybe Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes walking approximately 2.45 feet apart, and the caption will read something like "that physical space mirrors the emotional gap between TomKat!".
Molly and I actually devoted an episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You to body language because we were curious about whether Cosmo & Co. are really onto something. After all, the claim that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal is batted around frequently, and real-time body language (as opposed to photos) can tell you a lot about how two people feel about each other.
Cosmo's monthly body language page is called "The Real Story," and it stars Lillian Glass, PhD and author of books including Hypnosis for Public Speaking Toxic People and He Says, She Says. For the July edition, Glass is sizing up Reese Witherspoon and her new bf Jim Toth versus her old flame Jake Gyllenhaal...all based on three photos of each coupling. According to Glass, Reese misses the Gyllenspoon days because she and Toth aren't making eye contact in one picture; they're walking a few feet apart in another and she's making a yucky face at something Toth is pointing to in a third.
Give up now, Reese. Look at your face in that last awkwardly timed photo! You're just fooling yourself!
Mirroring, synchronizing movements, handshake firmness, eye contact and playing with hair all communicate different messages about confidence, honesty and attraction. WebMD offers a primer on some of this stuff if you're interested. And let's not forget about the head cant. It's one of the non-verbal signals of sexual interest that scientists refer to as contact-readiness cues. As detailed in TIME magazine, the cross-cultural head cant involves a woman tilting her head toward a man, making solid eye contact and turning away with a slight smile. So yes, body language is a real form of communication. However, Molly and I didn't run across a single study validating the type of information supposedly captured in couple photos.
While I don't think that a lot of people take Cosmo's celebrity body language analysis seriously, it nevertheless fits into a larger pattern that I've noticed about the lady mag: when it comes to interpersonal relationships, Cosmo leaves you to the mercy of signs and signals. Want to attract a man? Dangle a stiletto from your toe while holding eye contact. Want to give him the heave-ho? Walk a few feet from him, avoid his gaze and make plenty of yucky faces at anything he points out.
And reading body language isn't just for the stars, either. Cosmogals are heavily coached to play Dr. Glass and watch out for telltale signs of love and loathing with their own J. Gyllenhaals as well...