Oscar: What his body language tells us

By admin
04 March 2014

Dr Denise Björkman, a local body language expert, takes a look at what Oscar’s body language reveals.

Dr Denise Björkman, a local body language expert, has analysed  leading terrorist and criminal cases for more than 30 years and has been used by the mass media to analyse elections and candidates in the UK and the US. She takes a look at the first day of Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial and what Oscar, the legal teams and the first witness, Michelle Burger’s, body language reveals.


For an accurate body language assessment of Oscar Pistorius at the trial I like to compare past behaviour with that of the present as this will tell the reader more.  If there is a deviation from a normal pattern which tends to be idiosyncratic that would arouse interest.

Then I break this down into body language messages which appear to be deliberate and those that are unconscious.  I am therefore able to compare the Oscar before and after the alleged crime – the 14th February 2013 to now providing revealing insight into his thinking and or agendas. It is not easy to control involuntary behaviour and it is from this that we can get a significant volume of information.  

Oscar controls his image

It is to be expected that Oscar will control his image for the benefit of his various audiences. To become a world class athlete, a sportsman like Oscar needs to know how to perform under high stress situations. He needs powerful personal control. He is fighting for his life here.

The spectator wants to see if he is performing for the benefit of the crowd. In front of huge Olympic crowds and millions watching on television he was completely in charge of his emotions, his mind and his movement despite the stress of the moment.  He has been a man of focus capable of analysing his own behaviour to change his performance.

The only time this shifted was when he believed a competitor had the advantage with larger blades. He liked to be in charge.

Sometimes people make bad choices of dress in court. Oscar’s appearance is funereal and I wonder if he is trying to convey an image of extreme grief, which he has claimed he experiences constantly. Oscar wore a black suit and tie to court. PHOTO: Herman Verwey/Media24 Oscar wore a black suit and tie to court. PHOTO: Herman Verwey/Media24 His conservative black suit and tie is over the top and inappropriate in his suggestion of grieving. Its unsuitability is further supported by the pall bearer or hearse driver look it cultivates. Is this a Freudian slip?

'His conservative black suit and tie is over the top and inappropriate in his suggestion of grieving'

On the first court day Oscar clearly paid high attention to the cross examination. The court does expect good grooming. What we have seen with the build-up of the Shrien Dewani ‘extradition’ court appearances suggests his slovenly and disheveled appearance is disrespectful of the court. It belies the carefully manicured hands. He comes from wealthy stock that can pay for more formal clothing worthy of the high court. 

Signature style

Celebrities love signature styles. Oscar’s signature look has always been to his advantage. This ‘signature’ is his closely shaved head, which gives him a boyish innocent image and a slightly visible beard or five o’clock shadow.

Oscar's signature look PHOTO: Herman Verwey/Media24 Oscar's signature look is closely shaved head and 5 o'clock shadow. PHOTO: Herman Verwey/Media24

There appears to be a conscious attempt to project an image of humility, innocence, boyishness and respect for the dignity of the court. The boyish look has clearly been ‘worked’ because of the sudden cleanly shaved face – not his usual suave and sexy style.

He would have been advised by his defence to wear conservative solid citizen clothes. He has avoided his trademark court ‘blue’, which research in other countries has shown to positively influence a jury and judge globally.

It could work to his advantage in the court as innocence is a look which he must pursue whether innocent or guilty. This paradox of a boyish look contrasted against his aggressive style on the track in the past has always endeared him to the crowd.

Remember his fashionable short beard that he normally sports is gone, suggesting he wishes to woo the court, creating an image of someone incapable of violence – a traditionalist.

His history of achievement will prevent him showing up his disability as clearly his prosthetic legs were no disadvantage to his extraordinary sports record. Oscar as a man capable of keeping his cool could be using this skill as a double-edged sword. His cool caused him to tell the security guards there was nothing wrong – a bad judgment but it gave him time. His cool demonstrated by keeping his face inscrutable and by not making eye contact in court can work for him but this very ‘cool image’ can be his nemesis. It could confirm a calculating character.

'He will score more by looking down and humble'

The judge will be looking for leakages knowing that he is a master of facial control. First impressions can often be lasting impressions. He will score more by looking down and humble. If he shows emotion there will be media frenzy with diverse interpretations.

He is clearly using the control for which he is so famous.  Trying to be inscrutable will prevent prejudgment from the crowds.

Instruments of power belong to body language

Men of achievement also have signature behavioural projections or use objects to send message consciously and unconsciously. This traditionally can be demonstrated by what they acquire – things they want but don’t necessarily need.

In this case there are standard visible instruments of power: fast cars, a number of guns in the pipeline, trophy women, fortune and add Oscar’s prosthetic famous limbs and the number of his cellphones he owned.

Here the limbs are instruments of achievement despite disability and not weakness. Why when today’s technology allows the owner to determine exactly who is phoning and control resides with the phone user? He also had friends in high places who could help to make cases go away it seems from the media reporting.

The face and honesty

Oscar cannot control all his emotions despite his expertise in previous appearances.  He is human. Whether Oscar is innocent or guilty of the state’s charge. Honesty is largely displayed by the eyes and facial muscles.  This is clear from the natural ease with which someone makes direct contact and free movement of facial muscles. Oscar deliberately avoids eye contact but remember this can also be attempted to convey humility to the court.  His facial muscles are largely frozen.

Today Oscar needs to look squeaky clean, humble and grieving. This will be hard contrasted at his fun seeking leisure behaviour after the 14th February murder – not exactly bereft with grief.

Oscar managed to crack a smile on day one. PHOTO: Herman Verwey/Media24 Oscar managed to crack a smile on day one. PHOTO: Herman Verwey/Media24

He already outsmarted the media by entering the court room from a side entry so his facial expressions could not be broadcast. His facial features as he walks towards the court room are deadpan. It would be inappropriate for him to use his charming smile.  He avoids eye making eye contact astutely.

Tension is shown in the occasional involuntary clenching of the jaw, which was also a classic give away in the OJ Simpson trial. The bent head could also be a controlled suggestion to the court that he is depressed and grieving. The manhood protection signal – see below (cupped hands over the lower anatomy) witnessed in previous court appearances was a give-away. When Oscar looks up there is clear anxiety in his eyes.

His life and leisure behaviour outside does not equal the broken image he chooses to use in court.

With the OJ Simpson trial, which I analysed and lecture on throughout the world, his blink rate, jaw clenching, short breathing and idiosyncratic facial jerk was his giveaway. He felt at the mercy of the court. There was profound change in his respiration after the verdict was read out by the foreman of the jury: a forced expulsion of air in sequence. Protecting his manhood Notice how Oscar protected his ‘manhood’ with his cupped hands where he first appeared in court at the time of Reeva’s death.  This is unconscious and involuntary body language. In the court this classic hand position could be a leakage of powerlessness. This is one place where he has to submit to the power of the court and it is a leakage of his need to protect his manhood.

'Men of achievement do not overtly protect their manhood'
A contrast of individuals comfortable with power is that of the Duke of Edinburgh who traditionally holds his hands behind his back.  Men of achievement do not overtly protect their manhood. How a person responds to places and objects in a room is also significant. In psychological language it is called ‘field dependence’. Compare the style of Oscar on the track or his ‘field’ – arms out and open where he is in control and elated about his achievements. He commanded his space. In his court ‘field’ he occupies as little space as possible. This suggests contrasting powerlessness.

Dr Denise Björkman also looks at what the body language of State prosecutor Gerrie Nel and Oscar’s lawyer, Barry Roux, and first witness Michelle Burger, reveals. 

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