I expect nearly every mother in this world has said to her child, “Stand up straight!”
My mother warned me about my bad posture at the beginning of seventh grade. Back then, I had no excuse. Today, I’d be off the hook by blaming my cell phone or computer.
Not only do I still slouch, but when in front of a keyboard, I stick my neck out like a giraffe.
Perhaps I first rounded my shoulders because I was the tallest girl in my class. While my friends didn’t seem to notice, their mothers did. “You’re growing like a weed,” they’d say. What girl age thirteen wants to look like a dandelion? I wanted to be mistaken for a shorter flower. By the time I realized my height put me at an advantage in many ways, my shoulders had already made the downward journey.
Maintaining good posture takes work, hard work. And most days it doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort.
“New Yorker” writer Patricia Marx also thinks about posture. In the March 19, 2021 issue, she reports on all the different devices we can use to pull back our shoulders and whether they work. She used a whole army of equipment testers to try out what she calls, “restrictive braces, harnesses, shirts and bras…or small electronic gizmos, the size of brownies, that ping or vibrate at the inkling of a slump.”
Her personal researchers didn’t come to a conclusion about which tool worked best for improving posture, because by the end of the day their backs hurt and they gave up their devices.
Are there good reasons not to slump? Marx quotes a professor from the University of Pennsylvania who says, “In the early nineteen hundreds, hunching over was said to cause ‘sinking organs.'” While that information might not lead to behavior changes in contemporary bi-peds, I believe posture still makes a difference in how you’re judged in job interviews (though not Zoom interviews) or by potential dates. Besides, Royals always had good posture, so if becoming a Royal is on your wish list, you know what you have to do.
For almost two years, I’ve been undergoing physical therapy for a rotator cuff tear. One reason it’s taken so long was that months of PT were done during Covid-isolation via the phone, making it harder to picture my homework: “We’ll start with shoulder external rotation and scapular retraction with resistance before moving into standing bilateral low shoulder row with anchored resistance.”
Recently, I figured out that all the exercises I’m doing to reduce shoulder pain are actually changing my posture. I’ve reached the point where I can do a quick shoulder roll and my shoulders stay back, at least for a while.
The volunteer researchers were right. My shoulder pain is lessening only to be replaced by upper back pain. Changing your posture hurts, whether it’s from using the “upper-back brace, or the padded panel that pushes a metal plate against your lower back,” or the physical therapist’s tools of hand weights and rubber tubing.
But I’m not giving up, even without a mother to nag me. I love looking sideways in the mirror and seeing that my neck and shoulders would not remind anyone of a Great Blue Heron. And perhaps my sinking organs also are grateful.