Patti Wood is a sage. She's a savant, a scholar, a seer. Patti Wood is the perfect expert for our age. She is God's gift -- or maybe academia's gift -- to America's cheesy magazine industry.
As readers of US Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Seventeen, YM, Twist and the Star already know, Patti Wood is a body language expert. In fact, Patti Wood is the Babe Ruth of body language experts, the gold standard of body language experts, the capo di tutti capi of body language experts.
But don't take my word for it. Run out and buy the June issue of Cosmopolitan -- you know, the one with the cover that touts "10 Sex Tricks" and "9 Freaky but True Sex Findings." Now, turn to Page 66 and check out the story titled "Celeb Couples: Whose Love Will Last?"
The article consists entirely of paparazzi photos of celebrity couples -- Demi & Ashton and Beyonce & Jay-Z, among others -- and analysis by Wood, who possesses the ability, Cosmo reports, to "distinguish a smitten duo from a pair of fakers."
Wood reveals that Demi & Ashton are a smitten duo: "The way their bodies overlap . . . indicates extreme closeness." But Beyonce & Jay-Z are, alas, a pair of fakers: "The way Beyonce's hands fall helplessly at her sides indicates that she's ill at ease."
And that's not all! There's much, much more!
In a sidebar story, Wood reveals "How to tell a star is preggers before her belly shows." And if you turn to the "What's Sexy This Second" column, you'll learn that "Lounging Seductively" is sexy this second, and Patti Wood reveals how to do it: "If you're perched on a sofa, cross your legs, put one arm behind you, and lean on it, so that your chest opens up."
Wow! Three heaping helpings of Patti Wood's wisdom in one issue of Cosmo! What other expert can match that feat?
And it's not just Cosmo that clamors for Wood's wisdom. Everybody loves Patti. For Seventeen, she discoursed on friendship. For ESPN: The Magazine, she analyzed the facial grimaces of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden. For the Star, she probed the body language of "Survivor" survivors. For a magazine called First for Women, she analyzed photos of celeb moms and daughters. For a teen mag called J-14, she dissected celebrity kisses. For another teen mag, Twist, she answered the question: "What Does True Love Look Like?"
Just in case you missed that issue of Twist, true love looks like photos of Brad Pitt & Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey. Who'da thunk it?
But the magazine that brings us more Patti Wood more often is US Weekly, the cheesy celeb mag. US has published much of the finest work in Wood's oeuvre. It was in US that Wood revealed the meaning of Britney's knuckle-cracking: It "suggests aggression." In US, she decoded the secret message conveyed by P. Diddy's lip-licking: "I'm a sexual, nasty boy." In US, she revealed why Ben kept grabbing J-Lo's butt: "It said to others, 'I can do this and you can't!' "
"Patti is great!" says Lori Majewski, US's executive editor.
US was the first mag to use Wood regularly, Majewski says. The rest were copycats. "What started out as a cute US Weekly thing has grown into a publishing phenomenon."
Of course, Patti Wood is not the only expert quoted in the kind of magazines that quote Patti Wood. They also frequently cite astrologers, psychologists, sexologists and the authors of self-help books with zippy titles. People magazine recently quoted the author of "The Coward's Guide to Conflict." A men's mag called Ramp quoted the author of "The Flirt Coach's Guide to Finding the Love You Want." And Cosmo quoted the author of "How to Make Someone Love You Forever in 90 Minutes or Less."
But those experts merely give a patina of respectability to otherwise idiotic articles. Patti Wood fills a deeper need in the cheesy magazine community: These mags are inundated with paparazzi pix of the stars, but most of the stars won't talk to them most of the time. So the editors e-mail the pix to Patti Wood and she reveals what the stars' bodies are saying. It's perfect! In fact, it's so perfect that it has spawned countless imitators.
"Lots of body language experts have come out of the woodwork since Patti Wood made body language famous," says Majewski.
But who is Patti Wood anyway? And how did she get so ubiquitous?
"Twenty years of hard work," she says.
Wood, 45, is an Atlanta-based professional speaker and corporate communications trainer. She earned a bachelor's degree in communication from Florida State and a master's degree in speech communication from Auburn. Now, all she needs for a PhD from FSU is a thesis.
She tried to use her body language book, "Success Signals," as a thesis but the stodgy profs at FSU wouldn't accept it. "They wanted me to do original research," she says.
The nerve of them! I'll bet those nerds have never been quoted in Cosmo!!
Her big break as a quotable body language expert came in 2001 when radio shows asked her to analyze Gary Condit's body language in his TV interview with Connie Chung.
"Condit's eyes, head, voice and hands leak cues of deception and aggression," she revealed.
After that, US Weekly came calling, asking her to analyze photos of Tom & Nicole. And the rest is history.
She isn't paid for her work. "I do it because it's really fun," she says, "and it helps with the business."
Recently her magazine fame led to gigs doing research and promotion for Wrigley's Spearmint gum and Benadryl, the allergy medicine. For Wrigley's, she developed a "Chew IQ" quiz to analyze chewing behavior. For Benadryl, she created the "Achoo IQ Quiz," which revealed several varieties of sneezing styles -- the "Big Bad Wolf Sneeze," the "Spray Gun," and so on.
Her work for Benadryl also yielded an unexpected linguistic breakthrough: Wood devised a non-religious alternative to saying "God bless you" to a sneezer. "If you're an atheist," she wrote, "you could say, 'May humanity bring benefits to you.' "
These days, Wood's fame has kept her so busy that she sometimes has no time to analyze celebrity photos for magazines. Once, her pals at US had to entrust some important Ben & J-Lo analysis to Mary Dawne Arden, who was identified as a "body language guru."
Which raises the question: What's the difference between a body language expert and a body language guru?
"I have no idea," says Wood.
"I don't know," says Majewski. "Maybe we only had space for four letters."