Strike a Pose? Oh, There's Definitely Something to It

By Suzanne D'Amato
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 22, 2009

Her bag: a custom-bedazzled Swarovski clutch. Her earrings: Neil Lane's swingy, sparkly shoulder-dusters.

But come Oscar night, the ultimate accessory can't be bought, borrowed or whisked over from the back room at Jimmy Choo. It is the pose, and it is an art, and you either know how to nail one or you don't.

Posing correctly is "very, very important," says Jeanne Yang, a Los Angeles-based stylist who has worked with Katie Holmes, Salma Hayek and Cameron Diaz. "This is an actress's image, the way people see her outside that movie. Those pictures will live forever."

Which is why some A-listers start practicing theirs, often with guidance from their stylists, weeks or even months in advance. What your mother told you about standing up straight? Strictly for amateurs. The red-carpet pose is about a carefully calibrated illusion -- contorting a three-dimensional body, with all of its curves and angles, into a vision of two-dimensional perfection.

The cardinal rule is, never face the camera straight-on -- unless you want your hips compared to Kevin James's in the next issue of Us Weekly. Instead, actresses are advised to stand at a slight angle, placing one foot in front of the other to create a lean but curvy line. The upper arms are supposed to remain close to the body but not touch it ("That's how you get the sausage look," Yang says). Hands go on the hips, allowing a star to tense her biceps ever so slightly, showing off the results of all those personal training sessions.

This is the classic pose, but most actresses fine-tune theirs as they get fitted for their frocks in the weeks leading up to Oscar night. While the gown is nipped and tucked, the celebrity's stylist may play the part of a paparazzo, photographing the look from every conceivable angle, often using a few different cameras (with flash and without) to mimic the game-day scenario.

Together, star and stylist scrutinize the evidence. "Everybody's looking at photos of themselves or other people, and critiquing," says Rebecca Resnick, a bicoastal stylist who has dressed Lindsay Lohan and Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

The seemingly innocent combination of, say, a fitted sheath dress and ever so slightly rounded shoulders could spell disaster: From the side view, the belly may appear to protrude an extra millimeter, sparking weeks of is-she-or-isn't-she chatter. Or perhaps the bosom looks droopy, leading to whispers of just how far a certain actress's pendulums have swung from those perky starlet days. No one wants to be the girl in the pose that launched a thousand quips.

Still, practice doesn't guarantee perfection. As with faking an accent or sporting a prosthetic nose, some actresses are simply more convincing posers than others. And even the natural talents in the field can lose form as the countdown to the ceremony wears on -- 45 minutes into the pose, and Hugh Jackman won't start jabbering for another two hours yet!

"It's a process that can be learned if one understands that it's a performance; that what looks good in a photo is a completely uncomfortable position," says Mac Folkes, a New York-based movement instructor who works with new models at several top agencies. "The best pose is someone who appears to feel natural in her own skin."

As natural as anyone can feel wearing six-inch stilettos, half a pound of makeup and $5 million worth of diamonds at 4:30 in the afternoon.

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