Body language in pandemic times

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By Kira Huberman

If there is something that is imprinted in human DNA, it’s that the first expressions of life and understanding of the external environment that surrounds us have to do with experience, contact, and how people express themselves in relation to the society that surrounds them. Humanity has always subsisted by forming clans and leading a cooperative life, however, the COVID 19 pandemic came to snatch away the most powerful base of our communication in an instant: the language of the body and its expression in society.

First of all, it’s good to internalize that each individual faces the world behind a personal mask, one that each one builds according to how they want to be seen by others. You comb your hair in one way or another, you dress in a certain way, or you adapt your face and gestures depending on the occasion. We all have our meeting face, our funeral face or our face to go unnoticed. Most of the time we behave very differently when in public compared to when we are alone.

Your posture changes if you have a work meeting in which you will close a business deal or you are having a few drinks with your friends in the afternoon. With this I want to show you that your body speaks constantly, just like your words, with the only difference that your body doesn’t know how to lie when expressing itself and it always has an intention.

According to Ekman, most of our emotionality is transmitted through facial expressions. So what happens to our emotional communication if we have half our face covered by a mask?

Clearly, our possibilities of communication and expression are limited. In oriental countries, this non-verbal communication is well known, and women cover a large part of their face so as not to reveal their true emotions. The same was done in ancient times through the use of plaster masks and fans that concealed female smiles. Strictly speaking, the face is a form of personalization and what gives us a difference with others.

Just as we talk about the face, our body has a great impact on the action of communication. The body expresses gestures, emotions, sensations and signs, which speak louder than the words themselves. What is interesting about this is that each person has their own form of expression.

Flora Davis, in her book «The language of the body», says that body language was always the most conscious and primitive form of human communication. Only when words appeared did we stop being aware of our movements. According to her ethology studies, she affirms that human beings have a non-verbal behavior very similar to that of orangutans, both they and we use movements that allow good socialization and relationship with peers, such as hugs, kisses, caresses, handshakes and back pats, among many others.

As we well know, this pandemic caused physical contact to be restricted and promoted social distance between people. How can social distancing affect communications and human relationships?

According to ethologists, the greeting ceremony between animals is a sign of appeasement that shows that there are no aggressive or confrontational intentions. If not, just imagine what would happen if you just stop greeting your loved ones for a few days. Lowering the head in an act of submission exists in many cultures, offering the palm of the hand or embracing. Clearly, limiting the human being of basic expressions existing from its most primitive origin could cause irritation, misunderstandings, confrontations and confusions.

Surely the sanitary measures aim to take care of health in the face of this situation, however, how will we take care of human relations and our forms of communication?

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