Saturday 24 August 2019

Celebrating a man who wiggles his hips when he walks is a step in right direction

The way we walk is a powerful means through which we can express ourselves, writes Sophie Donaldson

Era-defining garment for secretaries everywhere
Era-defining garment for secretaries everywhere
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

What does your walk say about you? That you are confident, perhaps, thanks to that hip-slinging swagger. Uptight, maybe, given your rigid march. Or you might come across as a little bit lazy considering you tend to schlep around the place. There is no doubt our walk says many things about us - but can a certain gait make you more attractive? A senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, England, set out to find the answer and released his findings last week.

Apparently the first of its kind, the study set out to find a correlation between typically 'attractive' female physical traits and the way women walk.

To conduct the research, 37 women with various body types were dressed in the same T-shirt and leggings, with reflective markers placed on body parts including hips, waist, forehead and navel, and filmed while walking on a treadmill. The footage was then digitally altered so only the reflective points and lines between them were visible, resulting in striding neon stick figures. This footage was cut into 10-second clips and watched by 75 people who graded the walking figures on their attractiveness.

"The study aimed to find out if you take away the face, what sort of clues would people use to gauge attractiveness," says Dr Ed Morrison, an evolutionary psychologist at the University who led the study.

"A combination of small waist, rounded hips and bottom, and a slim figure have long been reported to be important in women's attractiveness, but it turns out the way a woman moves is as important," he said, before coming to the rather un-scientific sounding conclusion that "we are more likely to find a woman attractive if she wiggles her hips and takes small steps".

Despite the progressive strides (sorry) women have made in fighting repressive stereotypes, it seems we still like our women to be demure, discreet and unthreatening. We prefer them to titter around the place, sashaying their "rounded hips and bottom", preferably while pouring us a whiskey, neat. While we may think we have moved on from these staid definitions of feminine identity, these findings would indicate otherwise.

Most of the blame can, of course, be laid with the pencil skirt, that era-defining garment that was as much a symbol of working women as it was a tool for repression. Yes, women may have been entering the post-war workforce in numbers never before seen, but the pencil skirt, the unofficial uniform of secretaries the world over, ensured the patriarchy retained some degree of control over their bodies. The knee-length skirt, combined with a narrow hemline, makes it nearly impossible to run, let alone stride. The pencil skirt forces the wearer to walk pretty much exactly as Dr Morrison describes, confirming that we still consider an attractive woman to be a submissive one.

It's little coincidence women were prevented from wearing trousers for so long. In trousers, you can stride, run, gallop, fix a tyre, straddle a motorbike, play sports - all very unfeminine, but all very freeing.

Our walk is a powerful means through which we can express ourselves. It does far more than make us attractive - our walk can be used to bolster a lack of confidence in ourselves; it can be used to intimidate or to silently communicate that we mean business. Depending on our state of mind, our walk is in a constant state of flux.

It can be a physical indication of our mental state; in the same way our voice may become high pitched with shock, our walk can become rigid when we are scared, or languid when we are relaxed.

Whether you lope, stride, shuffle or strut, your walk marks you out as different - no two gaits are the same. Like our side-on profile, we rarely see our own walk and yet it is one of the most identifiable aspects of our physicality.

Dr Morrison is currently applying the same research to men in an effort to gauge whether their walk also determines how attractive they may, or may not, be considered.

While we'll have to wait for the findings to be released, it's safe to assume that any man who wiggles his hips will be landed with a hefty 1 (very unattractive).

Although if we intend dismantling gender stereotypes, then celebrating a man who wiggles when he walks is a step in the right direction.

Sunday Independent

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