Body language is the way people communicate nonverbally, through facial expressions, different gestures, pacifying movements, and vocal characteristics such as the tone and pitch of the voice, David Stephens, a senior mentor at the Body Language Academy by Joe Navarro, once told mbg.
Reading people's cues can help you understand whether someone is comfortable, uncomfortable, nervous, angry, or even attracted to you. While people of all genders tend to have similar behaviors overall, there can be some subtle nuances more common among women. Here's how body language experts break them down.
Can body language be gendered?
There are certainly some body language cues that might be more common among women than men and vice versa. Though whether body language is inherently gendered is more complex. Many of the nuances in male-versus-female behaviors can often be boiled down to socialization, culture, and environment, though some may be hardwired in us, behavioral adviser Anne-Maartje Oud, tells mbg.
One of the most common myths is that only women are fidgeting, playing with hair, or adjusting their outfits. People often think of these behaviors as being stereotypically "female," Oud says, but that's not the case. As humans, we engage in a lot of the same general actions, but how people execute those actions may vary.
"When we look at body language, it's about human body language," Oud says.
That said, some studies have found gender affects body language reading1; that is, your gender might affect how accurately you can read other people's body language. Some research has found women are generally better at recognizing emotions in facial expressions, whereas other studies have found women to be better at recognizing negative emotions like anger and men can pick up on emotions like happiness with more ease.
Physical signs a woman might be interested:
Exposing their neck.
Because the neck contains the jugular vein, it's a vulnerable part of the body. In an attempt to protect themselves, a person may be inclined to reach for their neck in discomfort. When they're feeling comfortable and safe though, they might expose their necks. To do this, they could brush their hair to the side or tilt one shoulder forward and down, body language expert Blanca Cobb, M.S., tells mbg.
Playing with jewelry.
While grabbing for the neck is generally a sign of discomfort, if a woman reaches for her necklace, she may be sending the opposite signal. If the movement is slower, sensual, and more of a caress, Cobb says that can be a sign of flirting. Fidgeting with rings, however, could be a sign of discomfort and nervousness.
When eating at a restaurant or sitting across from someone, a woman might move objects out of the way. This could be a sign she wants to be closer to the other person, Oud explains, particularly if it's followed by physical touch. This tends to be a sign of affection among all genders.
Showing facial expressions.
The feedback loop in conversation tends to be more visible in women than men. Nodding of the head, arching the eyebrows, smiling, or saying things like ‘oh, really?’ may be signs of flirtation or interest, Oud explains. While men do this too, women may be generally more obvious in their flirty facial expressions.
Playing with hair.
When a woman plays with or twirls her hair around her finger, that can be a sign of flirtation, especially when showing the inside of her wrist.
According to Cobb, women will generally pull a strand from the back or side of their head when flirting. "When they're readjusting with the front, like a bang, that's more nervousness," she explains.
Biting or licking the lips.
Biting the lip can be a sign of nervousness and flirtation—sometimes both at the same time, Cobb explains. "Some women might lick their lips," she adds. In some cases, this is done to draw attention to the lips or to moisten them before kissing.
Turning their palms upward.
While clenched hands can be a sign of withdrawal or discomfort, open hands with palms facing upward can signal trust and openness.
When interested in someone, a woman might engage in some kind of physical touch. This could be a brush of the hand, a tap on the shoulder or the knee, or something more obvious like a hug or hand-holding. "Men do the same in reverse," Cobb says. However, a man's intent might be more to see how the woman will react and whether she's comfortable enough.
Changing their voice pitch.
When a woman is excited or interested, her voice may become faster and slightly higher. But, depending on where a person lives, they may actually draw out their words and speak a bit more slowly to flirt. While the latter helps the other person hear what you have to say, it could also draw attention to the lips, Cobb explains.
Tilting their head.
"The more interested you are in somebody, the more attention you're going to give them," Cobb says. One way to show that attention is by tilting the head as someone talks or nodding for them to continue. On a more sensual note, a woman might tilt her chin down slightly, then slowly look up. "Particularly when you have the smolder look with it, that can be very captivating," she says.
The bottom line.
Nonverbal cues and verbal cues play equal roles in communication, but without explicit confirmation, it can be difficult to understand exactly what someone is trying to say.
"If you're a guy and you're looking for a date, you'll look to see how a woman is acting toward you. That's very fair," Cobb says. Still, avoid making assumptions and always keep the context in mind. "Just because someone smiles at you doesn't necessarily mean they like you," she adds. Instead of taking one body language cue as a sign that someone's interested, you should look for a cluster of clues that happen around the same time.
Even if some women demonstrate flirting in a specific way, there are always outliers, Cobb adds. When we stop taking into account people's unique tendencies, that's where stereotypes come into play.
Gender aside, Oud recommends anyone thinking about what their body language might be conveying to consider: Who am I, what are my behaviors and nonverbal communications, and is that effective for what I want to achieve?
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.