How the dazzler in the dock signalled credibility

2011-05-07 00:00

CONVICTED international drug smuggler Sheryl Cwele has been amazing spectators in the gallery with the frequent updates to her wardrobe and grooming during her trial in the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

The Witne ss asked Pietermaritzburg ­psychologist Akashni Maharaj what she thinks is was behind the fashionista’s ­changing appearance.

Maharaj says a distinct difference in Cwele’s day-to-day appearance in court is obvious. “What is important to note here is that her grooming seems to be impeccable most of the times she has appeared in court.”

Non-verbal clues such as grooming, dress, jewellery, facial expressions and gestures play a part in signalling one’s credibility, and this would be important to Cwele, Maharaj says.

People generally make a judgment on what people wear, and clothing hints at a type of personality.

“What a person wears says a lot about them, how they feel and how confident they are. A well-dressed individual transmits the message that she is confident, competent, and responsible and a pillar of society.”

Cwele frequently changed her hairstyle which, according to Maharaj, is an attempt to redefine herself every time she enters the public sphere. “She leaves people with the question as to what her true personality is. This is a psychological technique to confuse the course of the court proceedings, where the prosecutors, judge and public are taken on a rollercoaster ride as to ‘who Sheryl Cwele really is’ and ‘is she capable of such a crime’ etc.”

And what to make of the days when it seemed Cwele had made no effort, appearing with almost no make-up or jewellery?

Maharaj says: “All-round grooming is an essential part of appearing healthy and vibrant. But being overgroomed on the other hand can send a message that the groomer is nervous. This can clearly indicate internal anxiety and anguish.

“Maintaining a powerful outer appearance gives the impression that the groomer is in control, but in actual fact she might really be fearful and full of uncertainty. The days that there is a lapse of judgment in dressing shows her internal anxiety to the outside world.”

She added that the image Cwele projected may have depended on how the hearings were proceeding. If Cwele felt that proceedings were in her favour, she may have wanted to maintain her dominating stance in court, but if not, her need to appear vulnerable could have been portrayed through an unkempt appearance or lack of detail in her grooming.

Maharaj adds, “Ultimately the message that is being sent to society is that she is a woman of mystery.”

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