More than meets the eye
On July 18, 2020, Queen Elizabeth II will have been queen for 25,000 days, which is longer than any other monarch in British history. To mark that occasion, we asked body language expert Patti Wood to analyze these iconic photos of the Queen, taken over her lifetime—and you might be surprised to learn what’s really going on in them. Wood holds advanced degrees in body language and nonverbal communication, and is the author of several books on the topic, including SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, & Charisma.
The future foretold
Over the course of her nearly 70-year reign, the much loved and highly respected Queen has become one of the most recognisable people on the face of the planet. Yet her first ten years were spent enjoying the life of a “minor” royal—one with no expectation of ever becoming the monarch. As Princess Elizabeth of York, she expected one day to be the niece of the next monarch and a first cousin of the next monarch after that.
All that changed in 1936, when King George V died, leaving the throne to King Edward VIII, who abdicated less than a year later, effectively moving the line of succession to Elizabeth’s father and his heirs. By October 1940, when this photo was taken of Elizabeth and her four-years-younger sister, Princess Margaret—addressing the children of what was then the British Empire by radio during World War II—both Elizabeth and Margaret appear well aware of Elizabeth’s future as queen, Wood tells Reader’s Digest. She notes how Elizabeth is focusing intently and fully on her script, her face is set in serious attention, and her mouth has that slight downward curl we’ve come to associate with her. By contrast, Margaret’s gaze is soft and ethereal, and her body is relaxed. Clearly, the elder sister is there to do important state businesses, while the other sister simply enjoys the ride.
The famous purse
In this photo, which dates back to the early- to mid-1930s, Wood sees the young Elizabeth’s purse as an expression of young Elizabeth’s femininity and fashion sense, as well as a desire to be a “big girl.” Nowadays, Queen Elizabeth is known for carrying her purse everywhere she goes, which some see as evidence she uses it as a communications tool with her staff. What Wood sees as significant, however, is that in a world familiar with celebrities tossing their purses and coats to their staff, Queen Elizabeth’s holding onto her own suggests she wants the world to see her as self-sufficient and capable of taking care of herself.