The History of Posture

Some of you at one point may have Googled…


The perfect posture?
How can I improve my posture?
Exercises for better posture?


This idea of a perfect posture always made me wonder, how did we get here today?


Our capability for movement is infinite yet we are caught up on a single static pose, why?


Why is everybody obsessed with the pursuit of “perfect posture?”


We will get into what posture is in the next article.


I first want to delve into how we got where we are today.


Our whole lives many of us have been told to stand up straight. If you disobeyed you were corrected on the spot.


The obsessive concern with posture began as a way to teach soldiers how to handle their weapons, but slowly evolved into a way to mold a civilian into a soldier, transforming a person into someone different by the adaptation of taking on a static position. Posture was used to enforce discipline and, if your posture was less than ideal, you would be reprimanded.


Kind of sounds like my grade school experience where I was told to “Sit down, sit up straight, sit still, & don’t you dare make noise.”


Puritans gave us the idea that rigid posture implies moral righteousness and strength of character. Postural laziness was seen as a great moral failing in the eyes of Puritans, which is still ingrained in modern civilization with people exaggerating the value of “good posture” for this reason, mostly unconsciously.


Posture soon became associated with health & wellness. This is a bad posture, this is a good posture. This posture means this, this posture means that.


We started to see people spending money on how to achieve perfect posture. We saw and still see a marketplace flooded with “posture correctors.”


As you can see it’s still a very viable market:
The 7 Best Posture Correctors of 2023, Tested and Reviewed


Posture became a way of life & as we evolved to be a little bit more relaxed we saw this in the way people would sit & stand. People started to slouch & hunch forward. Because it required less energy. Plus it was comfortable.


Yet instead of viewing this as a normal thing the body does, people fought to protect posture traditions. Anything other than perfect posture was seen as lazy & undisciplined.


In order to counterattack this posture counter-culture, we saw a big push from medical and religious groups. Their marketing plan was to go after nervous & concerned parents who were worried about their child’s health as it related to posture. This was the beginning of the rise in postural medical diagnosis.


In response, the American Posture League was formed, yes I promise it’s a thing. They combined science & business to promote the pursuit of the perfect posture and came out with the book The Posture of School Children, to help educators correct poor posture on the spot.


It swept across all levels of school in our country, even leading to a college scandal at a well known ivy league school.


We literally saw a war on posture.


Beth Linker, an Associate Professor at Penn, states that “what was seen as poor posture was a non-contagious epidemic that our country suffered from…The medical industries were permeating our culture…Setting the standard for what was normal and what was not…”


Poor posture became subjective and how you felt wasn’t taken into account.


You were told something was wrong even if you didn’t feel like there was.


There was a war in the schools and we also saw one develop in medical professions. They knew posture was important to people and to keep their profession alive they had to cater to the needs of the patients.


For example, chiropractors ran a Miss Perfect Spine contest for marketing when they were starting out as a profession.


While the concern over posture was well-intentioned, it completely missed the mark as the real issue was the decrease in physical activity & labor as jobs became more sedentary.


Stay tuned next week for our blog on what posture is & how we use it.


Further Reading:
Stand up Straight: A history of posture
The Rise and Fall of American posture
Examining 20th Century America’s obsession with poor posture, a forgotten epidemic