Commentary... Speaking without a word
Last updated 9/14/2022 at Noon
Body language, physical appearance, and use of space are all ways to speak without a word. Often, I’m not aware of what my body is saying nonverbally to those around me. When I cross my arms, I’m protecting myself. When I cover my stomach at the doctor’s office, I’m feeling vulnerable.
I was taught by a mentor that if I enter a room with a person who I feel uncomfortable around, the best thing to do is walk up, put my hand on their shoulder and smile. The action can be disarming. I tried it and it worked. Acting friendly when I actually felt intimidated reset our negative dynamics and gave us an opportunity to begin again.
My face speaks a language without my consent. Age has made my nonverbal voice even louder. When I don’t realize what my face is saying, expressions are misinterpreted. At a meeting, I had a friend look at me and say, “What?!” I didn’t know what he was talking about and said so. He told me I looked like I was mad. I wasn’t; I was just concentrating on what was being said around the table.
That was the first time I realized my face didn’t always reflect my thoughts. All those deepening lines and crow’s feet have created exclamations, and sometimes they subvert my true feelings. Knowing that fact will hopefully help me avoid misunderstandings in the future. It also explains some situations where body language miscues created uncertainty and unnecessary confrontations.
When I see a confused look, I just assume I need to tell them not to believe what my face is saying. It’s strange when my vision of what I look like is so different from the truth. I don’t spend a lot of time perusing my aging face. I only look in the mirror to pencil in eyebrow lines and cover up a few spots. I avoid looking at my hair or any other obvious signs of being in the latter half of my life. When I do take a closer look, I worry that the creased, vertical lines between my faint eyebrows say I’m overly concerned. Do I appear angry because of the furrowed lines pointing down at the corners of my mouth?
I’ve learned that smiling is my best antidote. It pulls all the lines in a direction that’s easier to translate and less concerning for those looking at me. I see surly looks on other people’s faces and wonder if I’m misreading them. Are they really judging me? Are they concerned or just letting the flesh on their face rest? I remember a dear woman from my childhood named Patty who often pooched her lips together in a little pout. As she aged, the wrinkles from her favorite facial expression became permanent. When I saw her mouth, I thought of the face she made when she was amused or pondering something. I loved her and her wrinkles and the memories they evoked.
I hope the people who know me will give me the benefit of the doubt. And if I’m blessed with grandchildren, I hope they will know my face, with its extra chins, rosacea, and receding hairline is reflecting the intensely deep love I have for them and their mother and father. If I see their little faces tighten in concern, I’ll know it’s time for a hug or an explanation about grandma’s wrinkly old face. I hope I get to have that chat someday. It’ll make the wrinkles and furrows worth all the emotions felt to put them there.