Terence Blacker: What your feet say about you

At a basic, romantic level of human interaction, reading feet can be useful

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The resident psychologist on the Big Brother series has been looking into the secret language of feet. Professor Geoffrey Beattie, whose work among the nutters and inadequates who appear on reality TV must have given him a particularly good grounding in such matters, claims that, while the rest of our faces and bodies can be controlled to convey certain messages, it is our feet which truly reveal our character, how we feel or who we desire.

At first glance, these findings would seem to be a statement of the blindingly obvious. There is something distinctive and individual about the way a person walks and stands. Beattie, though, is going further. Having looked at psychological studies from around the world, he believes that interpreting the shuffles, taps and jiggles of a person's feet can reveal an essential truth about his or her emotional and psychological state.

So at a basic, romantic level of human interaction, foot-reading can be useful. A woman whose feet are crossed or tucked under her body is expressing sexual indifference towards the person she is speaking to. On the other hand if, to quote a report, she "moves her feet while laughing to adopt a more wide-legged stance, she is attracted to her suitor".

How could we have missed this down the years? These indicators are positively chimp-like; they are so obvious as to border on the indelicate. Perhaps, to help us in the future, we need illustrations of foot language from public life.

Peter Mandelson, for instance, exemplifies what could be called the Mandelson Stillfoot gesture. According to the survey, a sure sign of those not telling the entire truth is that they keep their feet completely motionless.

Prince Charles, in contrast, wears the heavy brogues popular among upper-middle-class males who like to conceal the revealing emotional language of the foot. The Prince of Wales is in fact a twinkle-toed, scampering country boy, but he has learnt over time that it is wise to conceal his true character. The Beattie analysis of a man tapping his foot on the ground is that he is uncomfortable with the situation in which he finds himself.

A sign of attraction, according to the new findings, is that a person's feet move instinctively closer to the object of desire. This movement has become known as the Ulrika Shuffle, after a well-known TV presenter whose yearning for publicity drew her closer to any camera or microphone which happened to be nearby.

Then there are the more emotionally complex pedal gestures. The Fry Two-Step, named after the famous TV intellectual, involves one foot splaying invitingly wide while the other seems to close in on the body in a strange pigeon-footed movement. What is being expressed is both a yearning for public love and a distaste for it. The same foot gestures can be found among some politicians, notably Gordon Brown.

Foot-watchers should beware of misreading of signals however. Many of those noticing the restless, limbering movements of Tess Daly, the hostess of Strictly Come Dancing, have assumed that she longs the be on the dancefloor herself. In fact, her feet are merely expressing an urgent desire to get away from Bruce Forsyth's jokes.


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