body language women use
July 31, 2007 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Explain the body language so many women use: crossed arms under the breasts

I have gone thrugh all the body language search items for this site but find they mostly are about flirting. I notice that nearly all women, standing in place, will coross their arms (elbow to elbow) under the breasts. This seems a protective stance though hardly protecting anything, and it does not seem a signal to anyone but merely a stance often taken. Men do not (or seldom) take this position), so I assume it has to do with the breasts. But what is the purpose, the goal, the reason?
posted by Postroad to Society & Culture (52 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Me and most my female friends do it when we're cold. Which is often. I also do it when I feel awkward with my hands hanging by my side. I had read that it gives the impression of being "closed-off" so I'm trying to rid myself of that tactic.
posted by liquorice at 8:06 AM on July 31, 2007

I know a lot of women do this, but I can't agree that men don't do it as well. I'm female and my boyfriend and male coworkers do it quite often.

I try not to in office situations because I've also been told it's a "protective" stance and wish to seem more open by keeping my arms at my side.

I find keeping my arms crossed keeps my fidgety hands calm.
posted by Constant Reader at 8:06 AM on July 31, 2007

"I think my stomach looks fat in this midriff-baring shirt and these low-cut pants."

"I'm cold."

"I don't have anything better to do with my hands right now."

"Stop looking at my tits."
posted by bink at 8:07 AM on July 31, 2007 [7 favorites]

I see a fair number of emo boys doing it, too, usually accompanied by horrible posture.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:10 AM on July 31, 2007

Repeating what has already been said...

In an office, especially - I'm cold.
I fidget a lot, and I shouldn't.
Because of above, I also don't like to let my arms hang and do nothing... So I cross the arms.

When I was younger and uncomfortable with my body, I did it so the girls wouldn't bounce around so much as I walked.

95% of the time, it is not a sign of defensiveness when I do it.
posted by at 8:16 AM on July 31, 2007

If you have bad posture and a bad bra, your breasts might sag. Crossing your arms under them could help hold 'em up.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:16 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by pieoverdone at 8:18 AM on July 31, 2007

I just do it because it's more comfortable to stand that way. I try not to because I know people see it as a sign of standoffishness (yay for made up words), but there ya go.
posted by AlisonM at 8:19 AM on July 31, 2007

'Course if a woman adds "The Look" to the crossed arms, that pretty much means "You are in sooooooo much trouble, Buster."
posted by elendil71 at 8:22 AM on July 31, 2007

80% of the time: Cold.
20% of the time: Self-conscious about how the lower half of my shirt looks.
posted by scission at 8:22 AM on July 31, 2007

regarding the open arms vs closed arms, not only are open arms more, er, "open", but it is a much more powerful stance. Those of you who may have watched "Prime Suspect" know of Helen Mirren. She has talked about getting professional help in preparing for that role and one of the key things is to keep your arms from crossing.

As to why people cross their arms, it tends to be defensive and raises a barrier. As to why the arms are crossed under the breasts as opposed to over, that may just well be physiologically more comfortable.
posted by edgeways at 8:23 AM on July 31, 2007

I'm cold. Temperature-wise, not emotion-wise.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:23 AM on July 31, 2007

it's perceived as standoffish but it's usually not unless added with the tilt of the body, the legs more than shoulder width apart, chewing gum in mouth, and the rolling of eyes when you ask a question. If the girl goes "whatever", that's a good sign she's standoffish.

Otherwise, she's just cold.
posted by Stynxno at 8:24 AM on July 31, 2007

Also, I don't cross my arms under my breasts. I am blessed with large breasts and to cross my arms under them would make me look like I'm holding them up, which would make me look weird. I cross my arms over my breasts.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:24 AM on July 31, 2007

Arms crossed is a defensive posture common to both sexes, but to give you a proper answer we'd need more information on context and setting.

It's easy to read too much into body language though, and chances are she's just cold or finds it comfier to stand like that.
posted by Nugget at 8:29 AM on July 31, 2007

I always cross my arms when I'm trying to focus on what the people I'm with are talking about--I find it helps me concentrate. When my arms are free, I get distracted.
posted by gsh at 8:31 AM on July 31, 2007

i have never noticed this about women

of course, my office is a friendly place, and is usually on the warm side temperature wise
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:34 AM on July 31, 2007

Nthing the cold idea. I always cross my arms when I'm cold, which is from about October until May.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:37 AM on July 31, 2007

For this shy girl, it's kinda like a security blanket. It is a closing off posture (arms over the breats) and makes me feel like I've disappeared (well, at least the bouncy bits).
posted by whitneykitty at 8:38 AM on July 31, 2007

The fact that my arms cross under my breasts is determined by the length of my arms and where my elbows are (ie where my arms bend). If I'm going to cross my arms for whatever reason, that's where they'll be!
posted by nelvana at 8:41 AM on July 31, 2007

Since I have lost a lot of weight I have found myself doing this alot and I have realized it is because I am now cold a lot more than when I was really fat.
posted by govtdrone at 8:45 AM on July 31, 2007

For some reason, I find the arms-crossed pose comforting and consoling, in addition to being more comfortable than putting the arms on cold desk or hanging down awkward sides. Something self-huggy about it, perhaps. Like gsh, I also find it helps me focus, and as an added benefit, makes me look more serious and less like an office monkey.
posted by bluenausea at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2007

Girl pants tend not to have pockets (or if they do, they're seldom hand-sized). When I do have pockets, hands go in there. No pockets, my first reaction is to do hands-on-hips, but I think that looks too aggressive (especially when I'm standing in front of someone's desk and they're sitting), so I cross my arms instead.
posted by olinerd at 9:11 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

For me it's either because I'm cold, or because I'm sitting and worrying about how my tummy looks. If I'm at my desk, it's also about the only comfortable position for my arms to be in when I'm not typing/mousing, as resting my hands on the keyboard tray has become painful over the years.

While standing up, I do it because it feels awkward to let my arms just hang at my sides. If I have something to carry, I'm fine - whether it's a beverage, notebook, purse, or whatever. Hands in the pockets or (god forbid) hooked by the thumbs through the belt loops looks funny, to me, so crossed arms is the only other option.
posted by vytae at 9:17 AM on July 31, 2007

I'm male, and I do this.

Sometimes it's just comfortable.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:25 AM on July 31, 2007

An old Polsih / Italian joke book had a picture of a woman in this stance with the caption "Polish brassiere".
posted by sagwalla at 9:29 AM on July 31, 2007

People are always looking for ways to hide their lumpy midsection or minimize their terrible posture. The equivalent for guys is hands in pockets and/or clasped hands.
posted by nixerman at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2007

I'm with bluenausea and olinerd. It's comforting, and it's where my arms go automatically when I'm feeling antsy or insecure.
If I'm cold, I'll usually hold both arms rather than loosely cross one arm over the other.
posted by bassjump at 9:42 AM on July 31, 2007

For me right now, the answer is: am pregnant, have few other places to put arms; do not want to adopt classic/precious pose with hands fondling belly.

But, normally, it's a "Hmm. I'm thinking" stance here.
posted by kmennie at 9:54 AM on July 31, 2007

I'm going to nth the "feeling insecure about the way my clothes fit" suggestion. If it's a hot summer day and someone is doing this, they are more likely feeling insecure about -something- or nervous or defensive. Or not, depends on the context. I tend to not do this when in meetings or when I really like someone because I've read crossed arms gives off 'closed-off' or negative vibes.
posted by np312 at 9:55 AM on July 31, 2007

But what is the purpose, the goal, the reason?

you're making an assumption that a certain way of standing has a universal purpose among all women. I think it's less exciting than that. People cross their arms (men and women, in my experience) as a result of all sorts of different factors, and in the vast majority of the cases, they have no conscious purpose, goal or reason. They rarely even have an unconscious purpose, goal or reason - it's more likely to be a vague conglomerate of tendencies, preferences, interests, habits, and so forth. These include enjoying the touch of one's own arms against the body (the "self-hug" mentioned above - being aware of your own breath); for the sake of body heat; for comfort, & a sense of security; to have a stable place to rest the arms, and for women, to support the breasts; or for mental comfort by blocking oneself off from others...

I wonder if for some people it's kinda like a less rude way to sit with your hand in your pants - it is slightly intimate and self-comforting, but not in a sexual way, as it's just a hug, rather than touching yr crotch.
posted by mdn at 10:01 AM on July 31, 2007

Sometimes applying pressure to your upper abdomen will stave off/slightly relive cramps and such.
posted by casarkos at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2007

It's comfy, but then again I also do the hands in pockets thing because it's comfy too.

Sometimes it's because I'm cold, sometimes it's about my tummy. Rarely is it defensive, but I try to avoid doing it because of what I've also read about appearing closed off.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:17 AM on July 31, 2007

I do it when I'm cold, or because I don't know what else to do with my arms/hands. Also, because I'm tall and have long arms, it helps keep me from elbowing people as I would if I had my hands on my hips, which in some ways is more of a natural stance for me. (Broadly -- haha -- speaking, I think women tend to be more concerned about not invading other people's space in public then men tend to be. Watch how some men put their elbows out and spread their legs in order to take up an extra half-seat on the bus or subway to see what I mean.)
posted by scody at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2007

I do this a lot, mainly because having my arms dangling at my side makes me feel awkward and vulnerable. I am fairly introverted/negative, tend to be on the defensive in life though.

Odd coincidence though cuz I was just observing this on a colleague this morning and thinking "ah so I'm not the only one." (and she's a lot more "open" than me)

Interesting how many people here say they do it because they're cold. My "I'm cold" way of crossing my arms is very different from my "normal" way.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:10 AM on July 31, 2007

An old Polsih / Italian joke book had a picture of a woman in this stance with the caption "Polish brassiere".

posted by sagwalla at 11:29 AM on July 31 [+] [!]


FWIW, I do this, usually when I'm feeling defensive. But I'm male. I suspect that this isn't just constrained to women.
posted by dismas at 11:16 AM on July 31, 2007

I notice that nearly all women, standing in place, will coross their arms

I don't do this much myself, and have not noticed other women doing it much. Maybe it's a reaction to something you are doing?
posted by yohko at 11:21 AM on July 31, 2007

I read it thusly:

Under the breasts: I got no pockets.
Across the breasts: Quit looking at my tits.

A less smart-assy response: Read the face. Motivation is all there.
posted by Ookseer at 11:51 AM on July 31, 2007

The normal analysis of crossed arms is along the lines of
No, I don't agree with you
often found in the context of one person trying to tell another what to do.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:57 AM on July 31, 2007

Your question makes it seem like you think it would make more sense for women to cross their arms across their breasts? I've been trying that for the last five minutes, and the only way I can even begin to make it anatomically possible ends up squeezing my bust so much that it really hurts.

I mean, when you cross your arms, don't they end up below your pecs?

If your simply asking why women cross their arms, then I'm guessing they do it for all the same reason men do, with the added causes of trying to take up less space (as scody mentions) and, in young women, of trying to hide their bodies (which are actually variants on the same theme, I think).

There is also the fact that women often have purses on one or the other shoulder and get used to trying to keep that shoulder higher, so the strap doesn't fall off. I think it may be easier to do that when your arms are crossed.
posted by occhiblu at 12:51 PM on July 31, 2007

Note on my posted question: the "pose" hs nothing to do with me or my "look." I note this crossed arm position on elevators, in places where i have no eye contact with women, so that it is not some bodily reaction to my presence. I believe men will do this as almost a gesture of defiance, but do not do it nearly as often as do women. I see women in this pose on the beach and here note men, with no pockets in bathing suits, do not do this.
posted by Postroad at 1:01 PM on July 31, 2007

I remember that in my high school years (long before the backpack era), the girls carried their books cradled in their arms in front of their body, covering their breasts. This is the crossed arms position described here, except with books. We boys carried our books under our arm and usually carried fewer books and smaller notebooks. We never carried them like the girls. We had no name for geeks or nerds at the time, who carried briefcases, which were a hazard for knees in a crowded hallway. but hinted at a potentially higher gross salary in the future. I generally carried no books. This gave me an advantage when encountering bullies.

I've always considered crossed arms under the breasts to be an understandably protective position. But the posts here don't indicate that this is true. Since women's clothing often has no hip pockets, one must solve the problem of what to do with one's hands while free standing. Clasping them behind the back accentuates the breasts, so folding the arms across the front is the best option, I'd guess. However, if they turned down the air conditioning, would the folded arms be unnecessary?
posted by partner at 1:26 PM on July 31, 2007

However, if they turned down the air conditioning, would the folded arms be unnecessary?

I'm actually sitting here in a sweatshirt in an overheated room, and as I'm reading I'm keeping my arms crossed. It's just a comfortable position in which to sit in which my arms don't keep sliding around and having to be readjusted.
posted by occhiblu at 1:30 PM on July 31, 2007

As for the under the breasts part: that's the part of our torso that our elbows line up with. Putting our arms over our breasts would force you to hunch up in a really weird and awkward way.
posted by Kololo at 1:36 PM on July 31, 2007

I think it's pretty common for people to feel awkward with their hands dangling at their sides. Me, I usually look for an interesting object to hold/play with. More people will hang around my desk if I have a disassembled valve or something as a paperweight. Even a baseball or something.

If I don't have anything to do with my hands, I only have a few choices left - pockets, hands on hips, crossed arms, parade rest (only more relaxed), or sit on the corner of the desk or somewhere convenient, hands on lap. Or leave.

In white uniforms, pockets and hands on hips is not good for keeping them white. Even not in white uniforms, I practice not doing that for when I am wearing white. Parade rest makes me feel like a little boy asking permission for something from mom. Some people don't have anywhere convenient to sit, or I just want to be there a minute and don't want to seem like I'm camping out in their office. (or, maybe I do, as a psychological thing.)

Point is, sometimes crossed arms is just the most comfortable option. I think the whole body language thing is overrated. Just like poker tells, it could mean what it's "supposed to" mean, or it could mean that the person is intentionally trying to give you some impression, or it could mean nothing. And you don't know which, without knowing that person for a while.
posted by ctmf at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2007

Well, Robert Jordan seems to think it's because they're angry.

But I, as a man, do it sometimes and will assume women do it for similar reasons. They want to put their hands somewhere (and maybe don't have pockets they can put their hands in) or their cold. I may sometimes do it as a defensive posture which can give me a little more confidence than having my hands in my pockets.
posted by Green With You at 1:47 PM on July 31, 2007

OK, I have just started to do a lot of instructing and I found that

a) I twist my arms when I am talking and thinking about what I am saying/going to say next - which I am trying to stop as I become aware of it - it does look kind of silly.

b) I cross my arms under my breasts and almost hug myself when I am listening to what the group is saying and thinking about the reply I am going to give - especially when I am leaning with my back against a wall (when listening).

The feedback I receive is that people perceive me as calm and confident in my sessions so I don't see any need to stop the latter.

So no - not defensive or stand-offish but merely concentrating in this case.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2007

The first several pages of Google hits for "body language women arms crossed" that are not sleazy dating sites are advice for women not to cross their arms because it looks defensive. Which would indicate that women don't automatically realize that it looks defensive, and aren't therefore consciously trying to defend themselves.
posted by occhiblu at 1:56 PM on July 31, 2007

More generally: comfort, insecurity, self-protection.

More particularly: I didn't have time to put on a bra before answering the door.
posted by granted at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2007

Under my boobs? Obviously my back hurts from the massive amount of sexy I'm carrying around. (Or, if you are French, consider "des bloblos")

Over my boobs is for protection, whether physical or emotional.
posted by RobotHeart at 3:53 PM on July 31, 2007

It's not comfortable for me to leave my hands dangling, so I tend to put hands on hips or hook my thumbs into my waistband/pockets/belt. If I'm not wearing a suitable outfit, I tend to either cross my arms under my breasts or across my lower back, because .. well, it's comfortable.

... Most of my male friends do it too.
posted by ysabet at 4:49 PM on July 31, 2007

I often stand like this when I am listening to people, either in a conversation or when I lead discussions in class. I have to put my hands somewhere, and it's a change from hands in pockets. Also in class I can hold the marker in one hand in case I need to note something down on the board (or to point at hapless students)

I occasionally think how it is taken as a stereotypic way of female passive-aggressiveness / protectiveness / defensiveness or whatever, but really the fact that I'm nodding and making agreement sounds should make it obvious that I am not.
posted by mummimamma at 2:22 AM on August 1, 2007

« Older Any good Tattoo shops in RI?   |   Found a hidden webcam at work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.