Flowers with more or less drooping heads

My maternal grandmother was so paranoid about having a poor posture that she put a bamboo pole behind her back, and rested her wrists over the top of each side. The idea was to keep a straight back into old age. She did well to worry, as her sister, my Great Aunt, had osteoporosis. Of course, no amount of posture-correcting exercise is going to help you if your bones start crumbling.

This article in TIME is interesting in that it problematising the history of the posture-correcting ‘industry’ (for want of a better term). TL;DR: there’s no single, correct posture. Thank goodness for that.

By the mid 20th century, poor posture came to be seen as the culprit for rising rates of low back pain, even though little hard evidence existed to prove such claims of causality. President John F. Kennedy, who had repeated back surgeries and chronic pain, hired his own personal posture guru, Hans Kraus, a man who would go on to create one of the most well-known posture and fitness tests administered to hundreds of thousands public school children throughout the Cold War. It was in this cultural and political context of containment that uprightness became a symbol of patriotism, heterosexual propriety, and individualist strength, all virtues believed to be needed in order to defeat the threat of communism.


On the face of it, posture improvement campaigns may seem rather innocuous. What is the harm, after all, of engaging in posture exercise programs? Of buying chairs, shoes, and devices that help to encourage it?

On an individual level, it is entirely possible that an enhanced sense of wellness can come from taking up yoga or purchasing an ergonomic chair. But when looking at the long history of posture improvement campaigns from an historical and structural standpoint, it becomes evident how value-laden they are, and how they can perpetuate sexism, ableism, and racism.


A recent study published by physical therapists working in Qatar, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom speaks to the urgent need of the profession to dispel the medicalized myth that poor posture leads to bad health. “People come in different shapes and sizes,” they write, “with natural variation in spinal curvatures.”

In short, there is no single, correct posture. Nor does posture correction necessarily ensure future health. Maybe it’s ok to slouch from time to time, after all.

Source: TIME