“You’re sticking your bottom out!” a yoga teacher once shouted at me. We’d been asked to stand up straight but I, apparently, was creating an ‘S’ shape instead, by pushing out my bottom and chest. It was the moment I discovered I didn’t really know what ‘good posture’ meant – no wonder I was struggling.
Most of us make an effort not to slouch when we’re the centre of attention – at an interview, for instance – because we learn early on that good posture creates a positive impression. We’re taught that sitting and standing up straight makes us appear more confident, powerful and attractive. But in recent years, a number of studies have looked at how good posture might actually send signals to the brain to give us a psychological boost as well.
In one such study, researchers in Ohio asked seventy-one students to write down either three negative or three positive personal traits relating to their ability to do a job. Half did it while slumped over the desk, while the other half were sitting up straight. Afterwards the students rated how well they thought they would do if they actually got the job. The results were impressive: those sitting up straight were significantly more likely to rate themselves in line with the statements they had just written. In other words, we believe in our own thoughts much more when sitting up straight compared to when we’re slouching.
What’s the issue?
Sitting and standing being fairly basic things, why do so many of us end up doing it wrong? “Most people don’t know how to hold themselves properly,” says Osteopath, Diana Widows who runs a private practice in North London. She says we’re not helped by the types of jobs we do: “More and more of my clients are coming in with issues that have been aggravated by spending lots of time hunched at the computer,” she says. “I talk to them about the importance of posture and recommend things like Pilates and yoga.”
What does good posture look like?
Having good posture is great in theory but, as I discovered in my yoga lesson, it’s much more difficult in practice. In fact, it’s almost hard to picture what good posture actually looks like. “You need to think about being up and open,” says Marcia Levan-Harris, who has been a Pilates teacher for ten years. According to Marcia, lots of us use our ‘movement muscles’ to maintain posture, when we should be concentrating on our ‘stabilising muscles’. She says: “Over time our bodies learn to cheat and we lose strength in the muscles whose purpose it is to keep us sitting and standing properly. People think Pilates is just about developing core strength but it actually focuses on the whole body.”
So, in a world where we expect instant results, is there any quick fix to great posture and giving ourselves a confidence boost? Sadly not, it appears that, along with taking up Pilates to teach us how to use our bodies properly, a key ingredient is maintaining awareness of our posture at all times so that we can correct it. But we’re not completely helpless – what we wear can also make a big difference.
A key group of women who struggle with posture are those with larger busts. Natalie Jacobs is Director of specialist bra fitters, Bosom Buddy, for women who wear a DD-KK cup size. She says: “When clients come to me, they often have bad posture and sometimes back pain. Some of it is due to wearing the wrong bra size; some of it is having spent most of their lives feeling self-conscious. They roll their shoulders forward which makes them look and feel unconfident.” Natalie believes that being professionally fitted can create a dramatic difference. “As the bust is supported properly, the woman’s whole posture changes and she naturally stands up taller – it encourages her to hold herself properly and often gives a really different shape, revealing the waist which again boosts confidence.”
Clothes and accessories
Underwear isn’t the only item of clothing that makes a difference. Stylist Penny Bennett believes there’s a strong link between posture, confidence and what we wear: “Clients often think that working with a stylist is going to be difficult experience,” she says. “But finding styles that complement your shape and actually fit properly not only makes you feel better about how you look, but encourages you to take a more confident, upright posture.”
When trying on clothes in front of a mirror, we all naturally stand up tall, so Penny encourages her clients to take a mental note of how their bodies feel in that position so that they can replicate it when away from the safety of the dressing room. Another tip is to make sure you choose the right fabrics – a tight pencil skirt might look great when standing, but if it doesn’t have any ‘give’, it will affect your posture if you’re sitting behind a desk all day.
Penny’s clients often work with her to boost their confidence. So, what’s the key piece of advice she gives them? “I tell them to learn to love the skin they’re in,” she says. And, whether you’re sitting in the office, going to an interview or just meeting a new group of people for the first time, learning the art of good posture could be a big part of doing just that.
Posture tips from the experts:
From the Osteopath: Whether you’re walking or sitting, imagine you have a piece of string attached to your head that is constantly pulling you up.
From the Pilates teacher: When standing, make sure you’re not locking your knees and that your weight is evenly distributed, not concentrated on the balls of your feet.
From the Bra fitter: Bodies change – if you’ve a bigger chest, you should get a proper bra fitting every six months to a year to make sure you’re getting the right support.
From the Stylist: Lots of shoe designers are now catching on to the fact that women want comfort as well as style. Look for shoes that have been designed to absorb some of the shock and distribute the weight between the heal and the ball of the foot.
By Katherine Bruce