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5.2: Categories of Nonverbal Communication

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    Learning Outcomes
    1. Know the subcategories of nonverbal communication influencing interpersonal communication.
    2. Understand how the categories of nonverbal communication influence perception.
    3. Understand research findings associated with the categories of nonverbal communication.

    In addition to the functions of nonverbal communication, there are categories of nonverbal communication. This chapter will address several categories of nonverbal communication that are of particular importance in interpersonal relationships. These categories include haptics (touch), vocalics (voice), kinesics (body movement and gestures), oculesics/facial expressions (eye and face behavior), and physical appearance. Each of these categories influences interpersonal communication and may have an impact on the success of interpersonal interactions.


    Haptics is the study of touch as a form of nonverbal communication. Touch is used in many ways in our daily lives, such as greeting, comfort, affection, task accomplishment, and control. You may have engaged in a few or all of these behaviors today. If you shook hands with someone, hugged a friend, kissed your romantic partner, then you used touch to greet and give affection. If you visited a salon to have your hair cut, then you were touched with the purpose of task accomplishment. You may have encountered a friend who was upset and patted the friend to ease the pain and provide comfort. Finally, you may recall your parents or guardians putting an arm around your shoulder to help you walk faster if there was a need to hurry you along. In this case, your parent/guardian was using touch for control.

    Several factors impact how touch is perceived. These factors are duration, frequency, and intensity. Duration is how long touch endures. Frequency is how often touch is used, and intensity is the amount of pressure applied. These factors influence how individuals are evaluated in social interactions. For example, researchers state, “a handshake preceding social interactions positively influenced the way individuals evaluated the social interaction partners and their interest in further interactions while reversing the impact of negative impressions.”7 This research demonstrates that individuals must understand when it is appropriate to shake hands and that there are negative consequences for failing to do so. Importantly, an appropriately timed handshake can erase the negative effects of any mistakes one might make in an initial interaction!

    Touch is a form of communication that can be used to initiate, regulate, and maintain relationships. It is a very powerful form of communication that can be used to communicate messages ranging from comfort to power. Duration, frequency, and intensity of touch can be used to convey liking, attraction, or dominance. Touch can be helpful or harmful and must be used appropriately to have effective relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. Consider that inappropriate touch can convey romantic intentions where no romance exists. Conversely, fear can be instilled through touch. Touch is a powerful interpersonal tool along with voice and body movement.

    It’s also essential to understand the importance of touch on someone’s psychological wellbeing. Narissra Punyanunt-Carter and Jason Wrench created the touch deprivation scale to examine the lack of haptic communication in an individual’s life (Table 5.2.1).8

    Table 5.2.1 Touch Deprivation Scale
    Absence of Touch Longing for Touch Sex for Touch
    1 I do not receive as much touch in my life as normal people. 0.79 0.08 -0.12
    2 I receive a normal, healthy amount of touch from people. -0.77 -0.22 -0.05
    3 Human touch is not a daily occurrence in my life. 0.73 0.03 0.09
    4 Touch from other people is a very common and natural part of my daily life. -0.72 0.07 0.02
    5 I often go for days without being touched by someone. 0.71 0.20 -0.19
    6 I often feel like I'm untouchable because of the lack of touch from others in my life. 0.67 0.18 0.25
    7 I receive a variety of forms of touch from a variety of different people. -0.64 -0.16 0.16
    8 I can go long periods of time without being touched by another person. 0.55 -0.02 -0.33
    9 There are days when I would do anything just to be touched by someone. 0.14 0.86 0.06
    10 I have longed for the touch of another person, any person. 0.04 0.83 -0.09
    11 Some days I long to be held, but have no one to hold me. 0.31 0.75 -0.05
    12 I often wish I could get more hugs from others. -0.05 0.55 0.33
    13 I've engaged in sexual behaviors for the pure purpose of being touched by someone. 0.01 0.18 0.76
    14 I would never engage in sex with someone, just to be touched. 0.03 0.03 -0.71
    15 I receive more touch than the average person. -0.35 -0.18 -0.49
    16 Even if someone hits me, at least I'm receiving human touch. 0.27 0.25 0.32

    As you can see, Punyanunt-Carter and Wrench found that there are three different factors related to touch deprivation: the absence of touch, longing for touch, and sexual intimacy for touch. First, the absence of touch is the degree to which an individual perceives that touch is not a normal part of their day-to-day interactions. Many people can go days or even weeks without physically having contact with another person. People may surround them on a day-to-day basis at work, but this doesn’t mean that they can engage in physical contact with other people.

    Second, there is the longing for touch. It’s one thing to realize that touch is not a normal part of your day-to-day interactions, but it’s something completely different not to have that touch and desire that touch. For some people, the lack of touch can be psychologically straining because humans inherently have a desire for physical contact. For some people, this lack of physical contact with other humans can be satisfied by having a pet.

    Lastly, some people desire touch so much that they’ll engage in sexual activity just as a way to get touched by another human being. Obviously, these types of situations can be risky because they involve sexual contact outside of an intimate relationship. In fact, “hooking up” can be detrimental to someone’s psychological wellbeing.9

    In the Punyanunt-Carter and Wrench study, the researchers found that there was a positive relationship between touch deprivation and depression and a negative relationship between touch deprivation and self-esteem. The study also found that those individuals who felt that they did not receive enough touch growing up (tactile nurturance) also reported higher levels of touch deprivation as adults. This is just a further indication of how important touch is for children and adolescents.


    In this section, we are going to discuss vocalics, that is, vocal utterances, other than words, that serve as a form of communication. Our discussion will begin with vocal characteristics, including timbre, pitch, tempo, rhythm, and intensity.


    According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, timbre refers to the “quality given to a sound by its overtones: such as the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound.” ( accessed on November 25, 2018.) Pitch refers to the frequency range between high and low. Pitch is not generally thought of much unless an individual’s pitch stands out. For example, if a female’s vocal pitch is low, meaning might be assigned to the low pitch, just as meaning might be attached to a male voice with a high pitch. Also, pitch that is at a higher or lower end of a range will be noticed if there is a momentary or situational change to an individual’s pitch that will trigger an assignment of meaning. For example, when children become excited or scared, they may be described as “squealing.” The situation will determine whether squealing children are thought to be excited or scared.


    Tempo refers to the rate at which one speaks. Changes in tempo can reflect emotions such as excitement or anger, physical wellbeing, or energy level. One of the author’s aunts is a brittle diabetic. When talking to her aunt, the author can detect whether the aunt’s blood sugar is too low if her aunt is speaking extremely slow. Rhythm refers to the pattern used when speaking. Unusual speaking rhythms are often imitated. Consider the speaking rhythm of a “surfer dude” or a “valley girl.” One of the most well-known forms of rhythm used in a speech was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech. More recently, the speaking rhythm of President’s Obama and Trump are easily identifiable and often imitated by comedians.


    Finally, intensity refers to how loudly or softly an individual speaks. Intensity can be tied to emotion. When individuals speak loudly, the increased volume may be used to convey anger, emotional distress, happiness, or heightened excitement. When individuals speak at a lower volume, the decreased volume may be an effort to diffuse an emotionally intense conversation. Lower volume could also be the result of sharing bad news, discussing taboo or sensitive topics (i.e., when people whisper “sex” or “she died”), or conveying private information.

    Other Vocal Features


    Paralanguage is another term for vocalics and refers to “extra-linguistic” features involved in speaking, such as the characteristics of speech just discussed, pauses and silences, and nonverbal vocalizations.

    Pauses and Silences

    Pauses and silences are an important part of creating meaning during an interaction. Pauses draw attention to important parts of messages. The “pregnant pause” is an extra-long pause that precedes particularly weighty information. Pauses are a type of silence that are brief in nature, but prolonged silence such as minutes, hours, or even days can be used to convey meaning as well. Consider a conversation in which the other person does not respond to you. What meaning is conveyed? Is the individual thinking? Is the individual hurt, angry, or too shocked to speak? Myriad meanings of silence help emphasize the significance of silence and that it is as impactful as verbal communication, if not more so.

    Dysfluencies, Vocal Fillers, or Verbal Surrogates

    Dysfluencies, vocal fillers, or verbal surrogates are sounds that we make as we attempt to fill dead air while we are thinking of what to say next. In the United States, “um” or “uh” are the most commonly used dysfluencies. In conversation, these dysfluencies may pass unnoticed by both the sender or receiver, but consider how the recognition of dysfluencies increases when listening to a speaker who says “uh” or “um” during a speech. When giving a presentation, the speaker may even call attention to dysfluencies by speaking of them directly, and audience members may become distracted by dysfluencies. One of the author’s classmates used to count the number of “ums” used by a particular professor who was known to frequently use “um” when teaching. Though focusing on dysfluencies may be common, it is best for the speaker to attempt to reduce an excessive amount of dysfluencies and for listeners to focus on the meaning rather than the “ums” and “uhs.”


    Kinesics, first coined by Ray Birdwhistell, is the study of how gestures, facial expression, and eye behavior communicate. Gestures can generally be considered any visible movement of the body. These movements “stimulate meaning” in the minds of others.

    Facial Expressions

    Facial expressions are another form of kinesics. Paul Eckman and Wallace V. Friesen asserted that facial expressions are likely to communicate “affect” or liking. 10 Eckman and Freisen present seven emotions that are recognized throughout the world. These emotions are often referred to by the acronym S.A.D.F.I.S.H. and include surprise, anger, disgust, fear, interest, sadness, and happiness. Facial expressions are especially useful in communicating emotion. Although not all facial expression is “universally” recognized, people are generally able to interpret facial expressions within a context. We generally consider happiness is indicated by a smile. Smiling might, however, also communicate politeness, a desire to be pleasing, and even fear. If an individual attempts to use a smile to diffuse a volatile interaction where the individual fears being attacked verbally or physically, then the smile may be an indication of fear. In this case, the smile cannot be accurately interpreted outside of the context.

    In a study investigating preferences for facial expressions in relation to the Big Five personality traits, it was found that most participants showed the strongest preferences for faces communicating high levels of agreeableness and extraversion. Individuals who are high in openness preferred a display of all facially-communicated Big Five personality traits. In relation to females who report being highly neurotic, they preferred male faces displaying agreeableness and female faces communicating disagreeableness. Male faces communicating openness were preferred by males who were higher in neuroticism. Interestingly, males reporting higher levels of neuroticism had a lower preference for female faces communicating openness. 11 This study underscores the importance of facial expressions in determining who we prefer.


    Oculesics is the study of how individuals communicate through eye behavior. Eye contact is generally the first form of communication for interactants. Consider when a stranger speaks to you in a grocery store from behind you with a question such as, “Can you reach the Frosted Flakes for me?” When a general question such as this is asked with no eye contact, you may not be aware that the question was meant for you.

    Often when discussing eye behavior, researchers refer to “gaze.” Research consistently demonstrates that females gaze at interaction partners more frequently than males. 12,13,14 Also, gaze has been studied concerning deception. Early research determined the significance of eye contact in the interpretation behavior. When people gaze too long or for too little, there is likely to be a negative interpretation of this behavior.15 However, later researchers acknowledge that there is a much greater range of acceptable “gazing” as influenced by verbal communication.


    Kinesics serve multiple functions when communicating—such as emblems, illustrators, affect displays, and regulators.


    Many gestures are emblems. You may recall from earlier in the chapter that gestures are clear and unambiguous and have a verbal equivalent in a given culture. 16 Only a handful of emblematic gestures seem to be universal, for example, a shrug of the shoulders to indicate “I don’t know.” Most emblems are culturally determined, and they can get you into difficulty if you use them in other countries. In the United States, some emblematic gestures are the thumb-up-and-out hitchhiking sign, the circled thumb and index finger Ok sign, and the “V” for victory sign. However, be careful of using these gestures outside the United States. The thumb-up sign in Iran, for example, is an obscene gesture, and our Ok sign has sexual connotations in Ethiopia and Mexico. 17


    While emblems can be used as direct substitutions for words, illustrators help emphasize or explain a word. Recall the Smashmouth lyric in All Star: “She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an L on her forehead.” The “L” gesture is often used to illustrate “loser.”

    Affect Displays

    Affect displays show feelings and emotions. Consider how music and sports fans show enthusiasm. It is not uncommon to see grown men and women jumping up and down at sports events during a particularly exciting moment in a game. However, there are different norms depending on the sport. It would simply be inappropriate to demonstrate the same nonverbal gestures at a golf or tennis game as a football game.


    Regulators, as discussed earlier, are gestures that help coordinate the flow of conversation, such as when you shrug your shoulders or wink. Head nods, eye contact/aversion, hand movements, and changes in posture are considered to be turn-taking cues in conversation. Individuals may sit back when listening but shift forward to indicate a desire to speak. Eye contact shifts frequently during a conversation to indicate listening or a desire to speak. Head nods are used as a sign of listening and often indicate that the speaker should continue speaking.


    Proxemics is the study of communication through space. Space as communication was heavily studied by Edward T. Hall, 18 and he famously categorized space into four “distances. These distances represent how space is used and by whom (Figure 5.2.1).

    Hall’s first distance is referred to as intimate space and is often referred to as our “personal bubble.” This bubble ranges from 0 to 18 inches from the body. This space is reserved for those with whom we have close personal relationships.

    The next distance is referred to as personal space and ranges from 18 inches to 4 feet. You will notice that, as the distances move further away from the body, the intimacy of interactions decreases. Personal space is used for conversations with friends or family. If you meet a friend at the local coffee shop to catch up on life, it is likely that you will sit between 18 inches and four feet from your friend.

    The next distance is “social” distance, ranging from 4 feet to 12 feet. This space is meant for acquaintances.

    Finally, the greatest distance is referred to as “public” distance, ranging from 12 feet to 25 feet. In an uncrowded public space, we would not likely approach a stranger any closer than 12 feet. Consider an empty movie theatre. If you enter a theatre with only one other customer, you will not likely sit in the seat directly behind, beside, or in front of this individual. In all likelihood, you would sit further than 12 feet from this individual. However, as the theatre begins to fill, individuals will be forced to sit in Hall’s distances that represent more intimate relationships. How awkward do you feel if you have to sit directly next to a stranger in a theatre?

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Edward T. Hall’s Four Spaces


    Artifacts are items with which we adorn our bodies or which we carry with us. Artifacts include glasses, jewelry, canes, shoes, clothing, or any object associated with our body that communicates meaning. One very famous artifact that most everyone can recognize is the glasses of Harry Potter. Harry Potter’s style of glasses has taken on their own meaning. What does his style of eyewear communicate when donned by others? Clothing also stimulates meaning. Do you recall Barney Stinson’s famous line “suit up” in How I Met Your Mother? Why was it necessary to suit up? Recently, Snoop Dogg was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Snoop Dogg was wearing a beautiful, classic camel hair overcoat. In contrast, he was wearing large bulky jewelry. What do these two types of artifacts communicate? One of the authors is a big fan. The author interpreted the classic overcoat as Snoop having excellent taste and the jewelry as strength and wealth. Together the artifacts were interpreted as power.


    Chronemics, as explained by Thomas J. Bruneau,19 is the use of time to communicate. The use of time is considered to be culturally bound, with some cultures using monochronic time and others using polychronic time. Cultures using monochronic time engage in one task at a time. Cultures using polychronic time engage in multiple tasks at the same time. This use of time involves fluidity with individuals feeling free to work on multiple tasks simultaneously rather than completing a task before moving to the next task, as in the monochronic use of time. When considering how time is used, it is necessary to consider individual preferences as well as cultural preferences. Traditionally, the U.S. is a monochronic culture along with Canada or Northern Europe. Korea is an example of a polychronic culture along with Latin America, the Arab part of the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, one can live in each of these cultures and express the opposite orientation toward time. One of the authors is admittedly uptight when it comes to time. She is highly monochronic. This author went to a conference in Puerto Rico, which represents a polychronic orientation toward time. Buses usually run 30 minutes late, if not longer. Time is a bit more fluid rather than incremental in polychronic cultures. Unfortunately, the author failed to take this into account and nearly missed a presentation. This resulted in stress that could have been avoided had she remembered to pay more attention to the time orientation of those around her.


    Finally, olfactics generally refers to the influence of scent on perceptions. Scent can draw others in or repel them, and the same scent can have different impacts on different people. According to statistica. com, the global estimated sales value of the fragrances worldwide in 2016 was $47 billion U.S. dollars. This is in addition to $39 billion U.S. dollars in shower and bath products and another $20.5 billion in deodorants. The total spending in these categories was $106.5 billion U.S. dollars. These figures underscore the importance of “smelling good” across the globe. Consider the impact of failing to manage one’s natural scent in the workplace. Countless articles in the popular media address how to deal with a “smelly coworker.” Thus, it is crucial to be aware of one’s scent, including the ones we wear in an effort not to offend those around us. Although smelling “bad” may end a relationship or at least create distance, an attractive scent may help individuals begin a new relationship. Have you ever purchased a new scent before a first date? If so, you are aware of the power of scent to attract a mate. Although we regularly try to cover our scent, we also attempt to control the scent of our environments. The air freshener market in 2016 was valued at $1.62 billion U.S. dollars. Go to your local grocery store and investigate the number of products available to enhance environmental scents. Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time to take in the many products to keep our environments “fresh.”20

    The amount of money spent on fragrances for the body and home highlights the meaning of scent to humans. Ask yourself the following questions:

    1. What meaning do you associate with a floral scent vs. a spicy scent?
    2. When comparing men’s fragrances to women’s fragrances, what differences do you notice?
    3. Are there scents that immediately transport you back in time, such as the smell of honeysuckle or freshly baked cookies?

    Regardless of the scent you prefer, when using scent to communicate positively with others, do not make the mistake of believing the scent you like is loved by those around you!

    Physical Appearance

    Although not one of the traditional categories of nonverbal communication, we really should discuss physical appearance as a nonverbal message. Whether we like it or not, our physical appearance has an impact on how people relate to us and view us. Someone’s physical appearance is often one of the first reasons people decide to interact with each other in the first place.

    Dany Ivy and Sean Wahl argue that physical appearance is a very important factor in nonverbal communication:

    The connection between physical appearance and nonverbal communication needs to be made for two important reasons: (1) The decisions we make to maintain or alter our physical appearance reveal a great deal about who we are, and (2) the physical appearance of other people impacts our perception of them, how we communicate with them, how approachable they are, how attractive or unattractive they are, and so on.21

    In fact, people ascribe all kinds of meanings based on their perceptions of how we physically appear to them. Everything from your height, skin tone, smile, weight, and hair (color, style, lack of, etc.) can communicate meanings to other people. To start our discussion, we’re going to look at the three somatotypes.


    In the 1940s, psychologist and physician William Herbert Sheldon introduced the idea of somatotypes.22 In Sheldon’s theory, there were three overarching body types: the ectomorph, the endomorph, and the mesomorph. To figure out where you probably fit within Sheldon’s theory, complete Table 5.2.2, the Somatotyping Scale.

    Table 5.2.2 Somatotyping Scale
    1. If you attempt to encircle your right wrist with your left thumb and forefinger:
      A) the two fingers do not touch
      B) the two fingers meet
      C) the two fingers overlap
    2. My body:
      A) carries too much fat
      B) is lean and muscular
      C) is very skinny
    3. I would say that I am:
      A) chubby
      B) average
      C) very thin
    4. I tend to be:
      A) very inactive (sedentary)
      B) fairly active
      C) hyperactive
    5. I tend to:
      A) overeat
      B) eat a normal amount
      C) eat anything I want and no gain weight
    6. When I go to a gym:
      A) I am heavier than the people there
      B) I look like the people there
      C) I am much smaller than the people there
    7. With regards to gaining weight:
      A) I am always trying to lose weight
      B) I can gain and lose weight, but tend to stay around the same weight
      C) I can’t gain weight
    8. Strangers have told me that I should:
      A) lose weight
      B) stay the same, I look good
      C) gain weight
    9. I think my metabolism is:
      A) too slow
      B) just right
      C) too fast
    10. My bone structure is:
      A) very large
      B) large to medium
      C) small to frail

    Each letter corresponds with a specific somatotype. Add the number of times you answered each letter below.
    (A) Endomorphy
    (B) Mesomorphy
    (C) Ectomorphy

    Now, the Somatotyping Scale is based on the general traits that the three different somatotypes possess. Most people are more familiar with their physical looks (Figure 5.2.2). Now, you may be wondering to yourself, where did these three terms come from in the first place? Well, Sheldon created these terms from the three germ layers (three primary cell layers) of embryonic development:

    • Endoderm (inner layer) – develops into the gastrointestinal tract
    • Mesoderm (middle layer) – develops into the cardiovascular and muscular systems
    • Ectoderm (outer layer) – develops into the skin and the nervous systems
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Sheldon’s Somatotypes

    In Sheldon’s original theory, the different somatotypes also possessed unique personality traits. Table 5.2.3 contains the Somatotype Perception Scale. Take a second to complete the measure.

    Table 5.2.3 Somatotype Perception Scale
    Instructions: For each row of personality descriptors, select the adjective that you think most represents you as a person.
    Quiet Strong Best friend
    Worrisome Fights Kind
    Lonely Cheats Happy
    Sneaky Argues Helps others
    Afraid Gets teased Polite
    Sad Sick Brave
    Tired Lazy Good looking
    Weak Sloppy Extraverted
    Kind Naughty Brave
    Nervous Mean Assumes leadership
    Low pain tolerance Dirty Aggressive Aggressive
    Introverted Tired Athletic
    Intelligent Lies High pain threshold
    Caring Poor athlete Immodest
    Tense Humorous Energetic
    Add the number of personality descriptors circled in each column separately.
    Ectomorphy Endomorphy Mesomorphy

    The Somatotype Perception Scale is just that, stereotypes that some people have associated with the three different body types.23 However, the media often still portrays these stereotypes in television and movies. As such, many people still have these stereotypes.

    Physical Appearance and Society

    Unfortunately, someone’s physical appearance has been shown to impact their lives in a number of different ways:

    • Physically attractive students are viewed as more popular by their peers.
    • Physically attractive people are seen as smarter.
    • Physically attractive job applicants are more likely to get hired.
    • Physically attractive people make more money.
    • Physically attractive journalists are seen as more likable and credible.
    • Physically attractive defendants in a court case were less likely to be convicted, and if they were convicted, the juries recommended less harsh sentences.
    • Taller people are perceived as more credible.
    • People who are overweight are less likely to get job interviews or promotions.

    Now, this list is far from perfect and doesn’t necessarily take every possible scenario into account. Furthermore, there are some differences between females and males in how they perceive attraction and how they are influenced by attraction. Moreover, culture can play a large part in how physical attractiveness impacts peoples’ perceptions. For example, the classic example of how culture determines what is considered physically attractive stems from the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), who is famous for his use of full-figured women as a depiction of physical ideals (see Figure 5.2.3).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): The Rubenesque Woman

    In the United States today, most females and males that are portrayed in leading roles fall into the mesomorphic somatotype. There are examples of ectomorphic and endomorphic leading players, but the majority of people on television shows and in films are played by people who are mesomorphic body types. In fact, these trends tend to be seen in all of our major media in the United States (e.g., news, magazines, comic books, live theatre).

    Body Positivity

    There are groups in the United States that are attempting to help break down these walls within our society. For example, in the past few years, there has been a movement known as body positivity. In reality, the idea of body positivity isn’t that new. In 1996, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott founded The Body Positive. In her 2014 book, embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (And Quiet that Critical Voice), Connie Sobczak defined body positive as “a way of living that gives you permission to love, care for, and take pleasure in your body throughout your lifespan. Struggles will inevitably occur, especially during times of transition or imbalance.”24 Sobczak goes on to note that practicing body positivity “allows you to find what you need to live with as much self-love and balanced selfcare as possible. Experiences of conflict and suffering become opportunities to learn what is required to further your growth so you can find greater contentment and peace.” 25 The Body Positive has created a basic model for body positivity that consists of five basic competencies: reclaim health, practice intuitive self-care, cultivate self-love, declare your authentic beauty, and build community (Figure 5.2.4).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Five Competencies of the Be Body Positive Model

    Reclaim Health

    The first competency of the Be Body Positive Model is reclaiming one’s health. For too long, the health care industry has consistently used someone’s body mass index as an indication of someone’s physical health. However, there is ample research that “measurements of physical activity and metabolic fitness, such as blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar levels, are far better indicators of physical health than body size.” 26 As such, reclaiming one’s health is realizing that the weight loss and diet industry is a profit-making machine that isn’t very effective. The weight loss and diet industry is estimated to be worth $245.51 billion by 2022.27 People spend a ton of money here even though the long-term effects of dieting are abysmal, with most people gaining back the weight they lost and adding some.28,29

    Now, this is not to say that people who are unhealthy should relish their ill-health. Instead, body positivity is about understanding that health isn’t a number. One number that is often used to declare someone’s “health” is their body mass index. You can calculate your own BMI using this calculator from the National Institute of Health. Here are the general categories associated with explaining someone’s BMI:

    • Underweight = <18.5
    • Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
    • Overweight = 25–29.9
    • Obesity = 30-39
    • Morbid Obesity = 40+

    In reality, BMI doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle, so many elite bodybuilders have BMIs that say they’re obese when they have little to no body fat. It’s even possible to have metabolically healthy obesity. According to Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor of Harvard Health, metabolically healthy obesity includes the following factors:

    • a waist size of no more than 40 inches for a man or 35 inches for a woman
    • normal blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar
    • normal sensitivity to insulin
    • good physical fitness 30

    As such, the focus of reclaiming health isn’t about a number on a scale, but about being healthy. Unfortunately, many people still have the stereotype in society associating fatness with sickness, which modern medicine knows isn’t the case.

    Practice Intuitive Self-Care

    Intuitive care is learning to trust our bodies regarding both eating and exercise. It’s about being attuned to our body and realizing what our body needs. It’s not about limiting yourself to 800 calories a day or exercising for nine hours every day. Instead, it’s about learning to listen to our bodies mindfully. Intuitive self-care is realizing that our bodies need food and exercise, so we need to listen to them and provide them what they need. At the same time, intuitive self-care realizes that this is going to look different for everyone. In other words, there is no perfect diet or exercise routine that will be beneficial for everyone. Some people get a “runners high,” and others will never experience that euphoric feeling runners discuss. Other people can easily pack on muscle, while others can spend hours and hours in the gym and simply not see the type of growth they desire. Basically, our bodies are different and have inherent limitations on what they achieve. When people have unrealistic expectations for their body can (and should) look like and what their body can achieve, they are considered to have body dysmorphia. Before progressing further, take a moment and complete Figure 5.2.5 (The Body Dysmorphia Short Form).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): The Body Dysmorphia Short Form

    As we’ve discussed with mindfulness throughout this text, one of the problems many people face is an overly critical brain that seems to run non-stop. Cultivating self-love is about learning to make life-affirming choices and not listening to the non-stop vulture sitting on our shoulders. A lot of the practices we’ve discussed with mindfulness are in line with this idea of cultivating self-love.

    Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty

    Everyone is beautiful. Yet, we live in a society that places premiums on certain types of physical attributes that get labeled “physically attractive” or “beautiful.” Declaring your own authentic beauty is about:

    choosing to see and express ourselves just as we are—internal and external qualities combined. Exploring beauty through a body positive lens teaches us to have a dynamic, engaged relationship with the world around us. We honor our bodies as we pass through each developmental stage of life, which leads to true self-care because we don’t confuse it with a desire to transform our physical selves to meet someone else’s definition of beauty. 31

    Now, we do not deny that we are bombarded by messages in our society that dictate beauty standards, and it’s hard to avoid these images and not let them impact how we evaluate our physical appearance. Learning to declare your authentic beauty is a process and not a process that’s going to happen overnight. Instead, it’s important to point out those vulture statements when we see them and label them for what they are. The more we start recognizing these vulture statements, the easier it will be to acknowledge our beauty.

    Build Community

    The last competency in the Be Body Positive Model is building a community of likeminded people who seek to build each other up instead of taking each other down. Many colleges and universities even have Be Body Positive groups on campus to help support each other as we all learn to be more body positive.

    Mindfulness Activity

    Mindfulness Activity.PNGFor this activity, we want you to think through the Be Body Positive Model within your own life. Answer the following questions:

    1. How has the health care system failed you with regards to reclaiming your health? How can you take control and reclaim your health? What obstacles do you have in front of you? How can you overcome them?
    2. How can you approach food and exercise from a position of self-care? Do you think you do this now? Why? If not, what is preventing you from thinking about food and exercise from this approach?
    3. When was the last time you had a critical thought about your physical appearance? How did you respond to that thought? Was it from a position of self-love? If not, how could you have cultivated self-love in that moment?
    4. What are five things that make you beautiful?
    5. Do you have a group of people in your life that celebrate being body positive? If not, how could you go about creating this circle for yourself?

    The Matching Hypothesis

    One obvious area where physical appearance plays a huge part in our day-to-day lives is in our romantic relationships. Elaine Walster and her colleagues coined the “matching hypothesis” back in the 1960s.32,33 The basic premise of the matching hypothesis is that the idea of “opposites attracting” really doesn’t pertain to physical attraction. When all else is equal, people are more likely to find themselves in romantic relationships with people who are perceived as similarly physically attractive.

    In a classic study conducted by Shepherd and Ellis, the researchers took pictures of married couples and mixed up the images of the husbands and wives.34 The researchers then had groups of female and male college students sort the images based on physical attraction. Not surprisingly, there was a positive relationship between the physical attractiveness of the husbands and the physical attractiveness of the wives.

    Other physical appearance variables beyond just basic physical attractiveness have also been examined with regards to the matching hypothesis. A group of researchers led by Julie Carmalt found that matching also explained the dating habits of young people.35 In their study, Carmalt et al. found that individuals who were overweight were less likely to date someone who was physically attractive.

    Overall, research generally supports the matching hypothesis, but physical attractiveness is not the only variable that can impact romantic partners (e.g., socioeconomic status, education, career prospects). However, the matching hypothesis is a factor that impacts many people’s ultimate dating selection ability.

    Research Spotlight

    Research Spotlight.PNGIn a series of different studies, Shaw Taylor et al. tested the matching hypothesis. In one of the studies, the researchers collected the data for 60 females and 60 males on online dating platforms (we’ll refer to these 120 people as the initiators). They then used the site activity logs to collect information about who the initiators matched with on the dating website and whether those people responded. Based on this contact information, the researchers also collected the pictures of those people who were contacted, so the researchers collected 966 photos (527 female, 439 male). The physical attractiveness of the group of photos was evaluated on a scale of very unattractive (-3) to very attractive (+3) by people within the authors’ department.

    Matching behavior (or swiping right) was not based on the initiator’s physical appearance. So, people often matched with others who were physically more attractive than them. However, people only tended to respond to initiators when their physical attractiveness was similar.

    Shaw Taylor, L., Fiore, A. T., Mendelsohn, G. A., & Cheshire, C. (2011). “Out of my league”: A realworld test of the matching hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(7), 942–954.

    Key Takeaways
    • Communication is multifaceted with the combination of verbal and nonverbal cues culminating in a richer communication experience.
    • Vocal cues such as rate, pitch, and volume have an impact on whether communication is effective.
    • Facial expressions and body movements enhance communication, but may detract from the effectiveness of communication.
    • List and define the categories of nonverbal communication. For each category, make a list of corresponding nonverbal behaviors that are discussed in this chapter and add to this list from your own experiences.
    • Recall a situation in which you interacted with someone whose nonverbal behaviors stood out for positive reasons. Describe the situation and nonverbal behaviors. Why do you consider nonverbal behaviors to be positive?
    • Recall a situation in which you interacted with an individual whose nonverbal behaviors detracted from the individual’s ability to communicate effectively. Describe these nonverbal behaviors and suggest what the individual could do differently.

    This page titled 5.2: Categories of Nonverbal Communication is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jason S. Wrench, Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter & Katherine S. Thweatt (OpenSUNY) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.