I started ballet lessons at age 5. Although I enjoyed learning all the positions and leaping across the room with my leotard-clad classmates, I knew why I was there--to overcome clumsiness. I was "tall for my age" and prone to tripping over my own limbs--or at least that is what I recall overhearing. My only memory of actually feeling awkward in my body was years later when I sprouted hips overnight and kept bruising them on desks and tabletops.
I'm sure my mother was both pleased and vindicated when I eventually earned praise for my posture. She believed this to be a triumph over one of femininity's greatest challenges to tall women. She wanted me to be willowy--simultaneously long and elegant, but still supple enough not to seem intimidating. She had two seemingly contradictory fears--that I would not stand up straight enough to be attractive and that I would stand up for myself and repel men by appearing to lack the essential quality of submission.
Her friend Sally, 5' 10" and slender, was deemed tall enough to wear big hats--an asset. But she ruined it all by standing with a distinct forward bend of the upper back. I have to admit Sally looked a little like a question mark from the side. But I have her to thank for knowing I was among the lucky ones who could manage a wide brim if I wanted to. Otherwise, as far as my mother was concerned, my height was just a source of worry.
I, on the other hand, had a great time being tall. As far as I knew, my posture was just fine. Then, in my early 50's I started getting really serious about Pilates. It is not for nothing Pilates instructors are sometimes known as the "posture police". My Pilates teacher placed a foam roller against my back as I stood and pointed out that my head was nowhere near its correct position. Instead of floating comfortably over my tailbone, my head was out in front of my sternum causing all sorts of problems for my neck and upper back muscles. Thus began my quest for better posture.
To be continued….