That certain something . . . the body language of popular kids

I attended a graduation yesterday and, this being Marin, it was a very ritzy affair.  The boys were nattily attired in suits (with a surprising number of bow ties popping up amongst the newly minted graduates) while the girls were wearing skimpy dresses, many of which obviously cost more than I spend in an entire year on my clothes.  (Of course, since I hate shopping, that’s not saying much.  But they were really, really expensive dresses.)  Kids in this community have clear skin, white teeth, expensive hair cuts, and loving (although often divorced) parents.

What fascinated me was watching the kids walk onto the stage to get their diplomas.  One could tell in an instant, especially with the boys, which were the popular kids.  Their body language was different.  While the other kids looked apologetic for occupying their physical space, the popular kids (and I had someone near me identify them as “popular” so I wasn’t guessing), seemed completely comfortable in their own bodies.  They had a physical assurance about them that was attractive.  Even sitting in the back of a crowded school auditorium, I could see their aura.  And even I, an aged parent, thought, “Wow, that kid looks cool.”

I’ve told my kids over the years not to slouch, and they both have lovely posture.  Looking at these popular kids, though, I could see that more than carriage is involved.  I think it’s innate.  That is, you can’t say to your kids, “Don’t slouch and, of course, carry yourself with relaxed self-assurance so that you’ll look popular and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  Like Clara Bow’s elusive “It,” which was a 1920s euphemism for sex appeal, you either have “It” or you don’t.


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  • Charles Martel

    I can only think of two times I’ve ever turned heads when I walked into a room. The first was when I was a young radical in Los Angeles, very involved in organizing peace marches. One of the biggest names in leftist circles there was Morris Kight, an older homosexual who kept a stable of pretty young men around him and hosted lots of parties. One Friday night, the day before a march, I came to his house to sit down with him and make some final plans. When I entered the house, about 40 pairs of hungry male eyes quickly fixed on me. Fresh meat had arrived?
    Nah. Their gaydar quickly surmised that I was a straight (guilelessly and ironically dressed in his high school letter man’s jacket) and they returned to ogling one another. My charisma had erupted and ebbed in the space of 1.5 seconds.
    The next occasion was when I was Mr. Mom for a couple of years when my son was a toddler. My wife and I had joined a co-op playground where you were expected to help with maintenance, fundraising, and providing an adult presence at designated times. When it came time for the group to plan its annual kiddie fair fundraiser, I decided to offer my skills at publicity. I walked in the door of the home where the organizing meeting was going on and quickly realized that I was the only man among 30 women.
    It was the same as with Morris Kight’s crowd: I was visually quickly taken in by the shocked group and then spat out. Alas, despite my intense and desirable maleness, none of the ladies was intrigued. Even in enlightened Marin County, a man simply did not go into women’s places.

  • Bookworm

    I have never forgotten my one moment of being the focus of every male eye — in a good way.

    I went to Israel the summer after I graduated from high school.  My high school years had been characterized by terminal, possibly life-threatening geekiness and unpopularity.  I wasn’t attractive and I knew it:  small, pale, staggeringly ordinary feaetures, incredibly cheap haircut (and difficult hair), and, to gild that particular lily, I was off-puttingly mouthy.  It wasn’t always easy to see where my head ended and the chip on my shoulder began.  I improved somewhat in my senior year, but by then it was too late — everybody knew me and few liked me.  (And I can’t say I blame them.)

    In Israel, though, no one knew me.  I had splurged on pretty summer clothes (which I needed, because I didn’t own any summer clothes in San Francisco), and I think I must have gotten a decent haircut too.  I was still pale, but in Israel, that was a good thing.

    So there I am on my second day in Israel, walking down a street in Tel Aviv, wearing a flirty little summer outfit, when a bus pulls up along the street next to me, and stops for a red light.  The bus is filled with soldiers, male soldiers, which means they’re all around my age.  And bless their sexist little hearts, when they saw small, blonde me, they all stampeded to the side of the bus that gave them a view of me, and then started wolf-whistling and doing everything short of actually applauding.  (This, more than anything, may explain my fondness for the military, a fondness that survived twenty years of blind liberalism.)

    Looking back, I do not believe there’s been a single day in my life since then when I’ve felt as attractive.

    It’s a nice memory, and I thank you Charles for triggering it.

  • Ymarsakar

    It is and it isn’t innate.
    Body language is not particularly hard to decipher or understand for human watchers (like bird watchers). It’s just esoteric and not easily explained, at least for people who don’t get why society is society.
    It takes intense belief, confidence, to project that kind of body language that draws in other people who are weaker, less confident, and attempting to hitch their wagon to a flying star.
    Narcissists have it, easily. That is a form of innate quality.
    Combat leaders and people who have gained wisdom from life/death, have it, this isn’t innate but based upon hard earned work.
    Outgoing personalities and people with good conversation skills that easily connect to people who would otherwise be sad, mad, angry, stupid, bad, single, social outcasts, also works.
    For high school politics, it is even easier to comprehend (and manipulate). Most high school kiddies are, if not incompetent, at least uncertain of their place in the social hierarchy. Humans, being social cooperative animals, desire… a place, even if it is at the bottom of the totem pole, because they don’t feel secure or right without it. With the exception of some lone wolves, rebels, and crazy sociopath outliers, that is. So people naturally conglomerate towards individuals who make you feel good/valuable when you are around them. Even if it is like feudalism where the lord puts his foot on you all the time, that’s at least a place, a valuable place. One that other people don’t have. When a person naturally believes in the rightness of his cause (rebel leaders and visionary CEOs), and they believe you can be part of their “group” (cause, company), people feel uplifted. They feel drawn. They call that personal magnetism.
    Dictators, serial killers, politicians, magicians, all have it. Like any tool, good or evil may use it freely. You can farm the high school kiddies and make them participate in orgies to provide you free sex, maybe loan them out for party favors to other groups and their alpha leaders. Or you may find yourself a Protector, a Guardian or Knight, who protects the women and weak people in your group. In rare circumstances, your group may abandon you, for any number of reasons. Maybe someone else was better for them and they disliked your tyrannical ways. Or maybe they lost faith in you and weren’t following you but your cause. Maybe they got afraid that they were always supportive of the group when punishing and ostracizing members, in order to cull the group and make it more “enviro friendly small” (Smaller groups are easier for cult leaders to control than larger ones) They became afraid that they would be next, the next one culled from the group, just like the 12 other people they helped eject out of the herd.
    Basically, society and social groups have two ways to make people join and obey. 1. The threat of force or social ostracizement. 2. The threat of removal from the group, thus from resources needed to survive.
    However, the people that society cannot control easily are people who 1. Not afraid of social or violent force and 2. not afraid to live out on their own, with no help whatsoever, from anyone.
    Most of human society problems come from the opposite. Where people are too afraid, they are too reliant, but they don’t have a group to rely on. Or that group is incompetent or lazy or powerless. Rarely does the human species, and social/evolutionary progress, ever produce an alpha lone wolf who is alone because he wants to be alone. Rather than exiled.

  • Ymarsakar

    One of the highest goals in human civilization is to produce/train/give birth to a leader of leaders.
    Someone who inspires even the popular kids and leaders of their community.
    Someone, who in the old days, was called King of Kings.
    A person who is so confident, so resourceful, so magnetic, and so charismatic and competent, that he is able to do to human leaders, what human leaders do to their underlings.
    Draw them in. Patch up the holes in their souls. Give them what they desire. Give them what they need. Even a human leader of 50 or 100 is flawed and has doubts, worries, fears. A King of Kings addresses those fears. Gives answers to problems. Not the problems of the little guy at the bottom, but the problem of the King.
    In such a fashion, rule can be generated over millions, tens of millions, even billions of humans. But it cannot be maintained unless the King of Kings exists and holds the Throne. The Empire will vanish the moment the human dies.

  • Beth

    I’m with you, Bookworm, in teaching my children to stand up straight.  I also include direct eye contact–with everyone: your mother, father, siblings, the bus driver, the cashier, the teacher, the mailman, the road construction worker–everyone.  I do think that it not only shows and receives an amount of respect, it makes you keep your head up, too.

  • Ron19

    About 20 years ago, my daughter’s then boyfriend went off to West Point, and I eventually got to see the first two summer videos for that class.
    Going into West Point, lined up to go in and register, the video team handed a wireless microphone to the first kid in line.  With a lot of confidence and skill, and no arrogance or obnoxiousness, he introduced himself and gave a 30 second summary of what he accomplished in high school, and then passed the microphone to the next kid in line.  This went on for about 20 of them before the video cut away to something else, no hesitation or shyness.  All of these would have been the popular kids in high school.
    Bookworm, you talk glowingly of the Navy and Marine Corps personnel you meet and spend time with on Navy Day, etc.  These soon-to-be cadets are like that, going into the military.  I know some people who have gone to the US Military Academies.  The summer videos are no fluke.
    In the second summer video, you can watch their competence and leadership in action.  These are some awesome people who had become even more awesome by the end of their first year at the Academy.

  • 11B40

    I’ve always slouched. The primary factors were probably being a Bronx boy and the eternal vigilance capabilities of the good Sisters of Mercy.  Later on, as I came into my growth, being surrounded by midgets completed the evolution.
    But on me, slouching looks cool.

  • Danny Lemieux

    If you keep your kids in the martial arts and competitive sports, Book, you will one day notice that they project a je-ne-sais-quoi aura of assurance that has been ingrained into their characters. It’s hard to explain.
    You will likely notice, being in the martial arts yourself, that you are much more prone to typecast people as either self-assured “soldiers” or victims. A “leader” projects strength and assurance.
    I believe that much in nature is signalled by very slightly detectable, even subliminal, body signals. One factor of assurance may even be body odor (dogs sense humans emotions by their smells). Watch dogs interact with each other and you can see the very slight signals for dominance versus submissiveness. I believe people are the same, no matter how we blind ourselves to those facts with “logic”.
    One story – one day, during a summer downpour, we had to pull off the Illinois Toll Way in a very bad part of town to gas up the car. While gassing, another driver (a confident-looking fellow) and I noticed a nervous and ill-clothed young man hesitatingly working his way to the station. He was concealing something under his shirt. The other driver and I just stopped what we were doing and looked him square in the eyes. I saw the young man’s confidence melt and he turned away into the storm. To this day, I believe that we were looking at the early stages of a car jacking that was avoided when the perp realized that he was not dealing with victims. The other guy with me that day felt the same way.
    The first step is for your kids not to project victimhood. The final step is for them to project leadership. That will come.


    I had “it”. I didn’t know I had “it” but friends were nice enough to tell me years later that I had “it” after I lost “it”.