Posture, not surprisingly, is one of the first things people notice about you. Are you standing tall, following Rita’s directions in this week’s Pure Fiction? Or are you hunched over, trying not to draw attention to yourself? When your mother “nagged” you to stand up and sit up, she did so because she knew good posture is critical to good health, makes you look more confident and can even make you look 10 pounds slimmer!
In the 17th and 18th Centuries in Western Europe, good posture represented the precise manners and body discipline the middle and upper classes aspired to. Corsets, stiff clothing and rigid furniture helped people maintain their posture without much thought, as this exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art illustrates.
With the advent of looser clothing and more relaxed furniture in the early 20th Century, that all changed. An American Posture League was formed and posture became a hot topic for doctors and schools. Vassar, among others, tested the posture of all entrants and included mandatory courses in posture training.
It was apparently at this time that the practice of learning to walk with a book balanced on one’s head took hold. If the book slid off, that meant your upper body was not correctly aligned.
These days, people are more likely to take a Yoga class or consult YouTube for help improving their posture. But being able to walk and balance a book on your head is still a good test. As you can see in this video, it’s not as easy as it looks: