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Meaning of the 'hands on hips' body language gesture

This is perhaps the most common body language gesture that we come across in our day to day lives and I’m pretty sure that most people, at least intuitively, know what it means.

But the certainty of conscious knowledge is better than intuition because the former makes it less likely for you to ignore a gesture the next time you notice it.

This gesture is taken up by a person who is 'ready for action', typically an assertive action. We only take assertive action when we feel the need to assert ourselves and we only feel the need to assert ourselves when our rights have been violated or we encounter an unpleasant situation that requires us to set things straight. 

So it can be said that the person who assumes this gesture is angry or irritated.

By resting the hands on the hips and sometimes opening up the feet to take a wider stance, we try to appear bigger by taking up more space. 

In an earlier post about rubbing the neck, I mentioned that animals try to appear bigger during a fight as their fur stands on its end near the skin. The whole purpose of trying to appear bigger is to intimidate the other person whom you're ready to attack.

When you see two people arguing, the person who takes up this gesture is the one who feels more offended and is more likely to be the one who strikes the first blow in case the altercation turns physical. 

Now this action may not always be an assertive one. For example, this gesture is also observed when an athlete is waiting for an event to begin or when a boxer is waiting for a round to start. But most of the time this gesture has something to do with being assertive in one way or the other.

If you recall the images of action heroes like Batman or Superman you’ll often see them in the hands-on-the-hips gesture because they're always 'ready for action', always ready to defeat the ‘evil guys’ in an assertive manner. 

A policeman on duty often assumes this gesture, signaling the attitude of "I'm-going-to bust-any-crook-who-messes-around".

superman and policeman

Sometimes this gesture is taken up by a person simply because he’s too tired to rest his arms on his sides without support. You may notice this in runners when they are tired after a long run. So keep the context in mind when you interpret this gesture.

Assertive + hostile

If a person who assumes the hands-on-hips gesture has his hands clenched in a fist-like position, then it also signals hostility besides assertiveness. It can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to placate this person. 

It is as if the person is ready to punch you with his closed fists. If you irritate this person even a tad more, you might have to face drastic consequences. 

It is a good idea to give this person something to hold, like a pen or a phone, because that will force him to unclench their fist and consequently break the hostile attitude.

angry woman

Assertive + inquisitive

Sometimes a person can be ready for action but doesn’t quite know yet what the heck's going on. For instance, if you see your friend arguing with someone you might immediately rush to defend him without actually knowing what’s happening. This inquisitiveness may get reflected in your body language.

inquisitive man

Your hands will rest on your hips vertically instead of the conventional position. This gesture indicates an assertive but also curious attitude and is done by a person when he wants to do something but doesn’t know what’s going on or isn't sure what exactly he should be doing.

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