1890s

  • Rise of discussions of sclerosis and other deviations was the genesis of posture issues in children
  • A pediatric dictionary from 1890 claimed that over half of all children (especially girls) suffered from spinal curvatures

1898

  • The American Physical Education Review is founded, which became a leading center for discussion on posture. Early articles focused on the impact of schooling on children’s posture (“He is made to sit still from 3 to 6 hours, with but momentary rests at long intervals”)

1900

  • Emphasis shift: the school becomes a crucial institution to prevent, identify, and remedy children’s deformities
  • Physical education leaders begin to actively diagnose and look for remedies
  • Introduction of detailed methods to detect scoliosis, rounded shoulders, and inadequate chest development
  • Full-length mirrors become a trend with the growing focus on seeing the body

1910

  • Emphasis shift: the focus on measurement and diagnosis persists, but now there is more of a spotlight on teaching good posture and enforcing appropriate habits
  • Introduction of the posture expert (detect bad posture and tutor for good posture)
  • Idea that posture measures character (from the Victorian era) resurfaces

1914

  • The American Posture League is founded (included orthopedic physicians, physical education specialists, and efficiency engineers)
  • “Posture had become a matter of good habits and bad posture a sign of poor personal values.” (“The Rise and Fall of American Posture”)
  • Physical education teachers introduce extensive posture programs into American education

1920s 

  • Posture photos are being taken at men’s and women’s elite colleges. The students were photographed nude for posture evaluations
  • “Vassar, Barnard, and the University of Pittsburgh encouraged posture through efficiency tests and awards, even though the Barnard doctor thought that the posture problem warranted no special instruction.” (“The Rise and Fall of American Posture”)
  • Concern about the influx of immigrants spurs the posture obsession. Posture had long been tied to social hierarchy, often with a racial component
  • Posture programs in elite colleges aim to help students distinguish themselves from the rest of society

1930

  • Vassar categorizes physical training as a “liberal art” in order to potentially deny students admission if their posture or other aspects of their physical condition are inadequate for enrollment.
  • Posture programs in part are a reaction to the furniture revolution, more cushiony sofas and chairs (versus rigid woods); this marks the beginning of relaxation culture (activities where asymmetry is the norm)

1932

  • Vassar requires all freshmen to take a Fundamentals course, geared towards posture training. The course taught posture, etiquette, how to get in and out of cars, and picking up luggage.  The class included consultations regarding the students’ posture photos.

1940s 

  • William H. Sheldon revives the posture photos program. He was trying to depict the relationship between three body types (endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic) and corresponding personality types

1943

  • End of the American Posture League

1950s

  • Adolescent rebellion and juvenile delinquents are symbolized by exaggerated leaning of stars, like James Dean.
  • Most posture clinics close
  • Many school programs end

1960s 

  • Shift: virtual disappearance of posture concerns. Growing recognition that body types vary widely, making rigid classifications inappropriate.
  • Ongoing effects of relaxed body standards (such as better bedding) cooled the posture obsession
  • Fundamentals classes end
  • Vassar ends posture pictures
  • “While doctors had contributed mightily to the posture campaign, the bulk of their efforts had always depended on social support, rather than a vital body of medical research. When posture no longer measured character or social worth, doctors has no reason to claim that a majority of people suffered from posture defects.” (“The Rise and Fall of American Posture”)
  • “Posture’s ineradicable association with stiffness underpinned its demise, in an age in which consumer, athletic, and sexual standards favored suppleness and a more open bodily demeanor.” (“The Rise and Fall of American Posture”)

1990s 

  • Nirvana makes the grunge movement popular. The song Pennyroyal Tea includes the lyric, “I’m on my time with everyone, I have very bad posture,” giving a nod to the leaning rebel days of James Dean.
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