When people are asked what quality they find most attractive in others they often glibly reply “confidence”. It’s an ‘I’m-not-shallow’ get out of jail free response. But confidence is as much about our physicality as it is about our personality, and research increasingly indicates that the way we stand in the world has a direct correlation with how we feel, not just how other people perceive us. I was reminded of this when reading an interview with Caroline Polachek, style icon and musician, for Refinery29. Asked what her secret style weapon was she said simply “Good posture”. I can speak to this first hand.
Tales from the back row:
I’ve always been a tall girl. In Primary school my friends were short, cute and tanned while I stood a head taller than every boy in my class. And while growth spurts left me worryingly bony (in year 4, a teacher took me aside to gently ask if I was eating lunch) I never thought of myself as a long and lean. All that registered in my child’s mind was that I was “big” compared to other children my age.
And while no amount of slouching would release me from the indignity of being the only girl in the back row in school photos, that didn’t mean I couldn’t try. I sought solace in bad posture. Photos of me as a kid show me hunched over as if I was hoping to fold up like a skeletal camping chair into a slightly more manageable size.
By late high school, I had made my way to the middle row. Many of my girlfriends and almost all of my male friends had caught up and to my enormous relief, my height settled at a high-average 173cm.
But old habits die hard. Growing up slouching meant the rest of my body’s growth had been misdirected. My spine and hips were rotated, muscles that were meant to be strong were underdeveloped and muscles that were meant to be relaxed were in hypertension (something that resulted in no less than four knee dislocations). Masseuses and physios alike met my body with the same puzzled sighs and gasps, as if they were encountering a particularly confounding Rubik’s cube rather than a reasonably normal-looking girl.
When I finally committed to straightening out my posture with Pilates (the only antidote to the chronic migraines I was experiencing), I grew two centimetres. In my mind, I imagine my poor, crunched spine uncoiling like a spring.
I can only imagine my twelve-year-old horror at those extra 2cm, however, after years of chronic pain and blinding headaches I’ll happily take them.
The Power of Posture:
Amy Cuddy, a well known Ted Talker, is convinced that two minutes of large postural movements can change your life. She believes good posture falls into the category of “body language” or “non-verbal behaviour” that form predictors for success whether in business or dating (no matter how good your posture, don’t conflate the two). She strongly believes that not only does non-verbal behaviour reassure others of our stable emotional state, but it can diffuse anxiety and self-criticism.
That’s right, straightening your back could be the solution to silencing the internal critics in your head. She recommends taking a Y stance for two minutes if you’re feeling nervous before a meeting, referring to studies that indicate this posture can shift your mental state in a matter of seconds.
Unfortunately, we lead lives conducive to poor-posture. Sitting in office chairs, or crouched over laptops working remote, we have less time for exercise than ever. So what’s the solution?
As someone chronically prone to lop-sidedness a combination of yoga and Pilates has helped me to straighten my body. Pilates strengthens the core (the muscles that wrap around your lower abdominals) which make standing tall a hell of a lot easier. Yoga focuses on spinal mobility, something most desk jockeys don’t get to exercise throughout the day. The combination of these two has worked wonders for me but there are other solutions and add ons.
Upright has created a posture trainer that makes it easy to be aware of how you’re standing throughout the day. The tracker adheres to your back and reminds you to stand straight with gentle vibrations throughout the day. It also syncs this information with an app that allows you to observe your postural improvement over time. Upright reports that 8 out of 10 users reported an 82% improvement in their posture over two weeks. I found wearing the device helped me remain aware of how I was sitting at my desk throughout the day.