Any woman who has ever been professionally photographed will know the feeling of dread when a photographer suggests you put your hands on your hips. Or gently nuzzle your head against your clasped hands. Or fluff up your hair.
Or – in businesswoman Harriet Green’s case in the UK Times last week– stand in a smart dress with sweatbands on your wrists and a huge weight between your legs.
Green, who recently resigned as chief executive of UK tour operator Thomas Cook, appeared on the front page in exactly that position:
The front page tweeted by Nick Sutton.
It looks like the idea is to show off her passion for exercise (gym weight and sweatbands) combined with her business skill (smart black dress and heels). But it doesn’t quite work. Her reputation for being a serious businesswoman is lost in the gimmicky pose, where you wonder why on earth this former CEO has been asked to stand over a weight.
Green, who is a professional businesswoman and not a model, probably just trusted the photographer’s judgment and went along with the shoot. In hindsight, she may wish she’d stood her ground and pushed for a pose that a male peer of hers would do - you know like arms crossed in a suit, or pictured at his desk?
I can relate to Green. I’d never been photographed professionally until I did some publicity for my debut novel. I was asked to put my hands on my hips and pose with a smile. It did not feel natural, and I felt pretty stupid. But I trusted the photographer, and was relieved when the final image focused on my face and cropped out the awkward pose.
Not every woman is so lucky. These women – all of whom have high-profile, very successful careers – have all been asked to pose in a number of stereotypically ‘female’ ways. Chances are no man has ever been asked to do what any of these women are doing in the following images:
The founder of news website Huffington Post is doing one of the most common ‘female’ poses – the Chin Resting On Clasped Hands.
It crops up again and again in varying forms and I can’t imagine any man ever being asked to put his hands together and smile up at the camera.
In a shoot that resembles Harriet Green's in its power woman-hobby hybrid, Julia Gillard appeared in the Australian Women's Weekly in June 2013, knitting a woollen toy kangaroo, balls of yarn tossed whimsically in the foreground. She later adopted the Chin Resting On Clasped Hands pose as detailed above for her memoir 'My Story':
Appearing in an article where she said women should be empowered by character, not looks, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick was pictured leaning forward, hair flicked back, mouth slightly ajar.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Tilt Your Head Back And Laugh pose. Because even the most formidable women should appear friendly and approachable, amiright?
Women lounging casually across sofas, day beds, perched on desks or sitting backwards on chairs are reoccuring themes. It's difficult to image Barak Obama being asked to pose the same way as Michelle, isn't it?
The British cyclist has also fallen prey to the Chin On Hands pose but unlike Huffington’s it has a slightly different angle, and manages to show off her engagement ring at the same time.
This photo of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appeared in Harper's Bazaar. You can just hear the photographer telling her to lean in, rest her head on her hand and look straight into the camera.
The head of Imperial Tobacco is not known for being a girly girl - she famously smokes cigars and drinks Guinness. But here she's not just pictured against a pink background, she's asked to get out her arms (I'm noticing a pattern here) and lean them against a diagonal wall.
She would have been better off standing with a pint in her hand.
The dream pose
And, in case you were wondering what a decent gender-neutral pose is, look at Tom Albanese, former CEO of mining giant Rio Tinto. Any woman would be better off posing like that - in her workplace, standing up straight with arms crossed - rather than tangling herself up by putting her hands on her hips. And if the photographer suggests you grab some knitting needles, giggle or flick your hair, start backing toward the door immediately.
- with UK Telegraph