Terrible Truth Revealed! Exoskeleton Tells All

Last Christmas my in-laws gave me a dress-form – one of those wire exoskeleton ones that you can shape to your own figure; or rather, have your dearly beloved shape to your figure, as it’s rather hard to achieve from inside the contraption.

crinoline dress form

Once I had been released, and the two halves appropriately wired together, we put it on the stand and took a look. Frankly, I was shocked. All right, I still had a waist, but when did my hips get so big? And my stomach? A look at the back of the form revealed the terrible truth: I was heading toward lordosis.

Not, as the name might suggest, a disease of delusive grandeur, but rather excessive inward curvature of the lower back. Basically, the tummy muscles go, and everything sags forward: stomach, spine, the lot. The opposite of this is kyphosis, where the upper back curves out too much and you get a hump.

Lordosis was all the rage in the Edwardian era – if you didn’t have it naturally, your corset would see to the ‘correction’ of your figure.

Coronet Corset Co

It is worth remembering, however, that this was over a hundred years ago and times have changed. Not only is a pigeon-breast considered unattractive on anything that doesn’t have wings, we also realize that having your lower back sag forward is Bad For You. (And so is being moulded by a corset. These days women are expected to turn their muscles into built-in shapewear.)

But what exactly is good posture?

According to the actress Shelley Long, “head up and shoulders back. Not only does it make you look taller and thinner but it gives you confidence and boosts your self-esteem.”

Presumably this applies to people of all shapes, sizes and genders. (Tall people: please stop slumping; this demographic is already taken.)

Very well then; head up (check!), shoulders back (check!), chest, er, up… and abdomen up and in. (Up where? Where I used to keep my chest?) Lower back flattened (but not flat), hips tilted back (as opposed to sagging forward), knees straight and feet parallel. That’s for standing. Sitting is another whole assortment of body parts.


But how does one achieve all this, without life becoming a ceaseless juggling of anatomical alignments? There’s always the old-fashioned finishing-school task of walking about the house with books balanced on one’s head (I’d advise against the Shorter Oxford unless you feel your neck is too long); or you can ask a helpful friend for the occasional reminder.

Sylvia of Hollywood demonstrates benefit of whacking on poor posture

There are some simpler ways, though. One my mother taught me: grab hold of the hair at the crown of your head and pull firmly upward. It’s amazing how your spine will extend itself to relieve the pressure. And once your body knows the position, it’s easier to slide back into it.

But alas, if the problem is soft and saggy stomach muscles, there’s only one thing for it: exercise them until they’re tough enough to do their job.

Because bad posture isn’t just a bad habit, it’s a sign of problems down the road: back pain, neck pain, sagging here, slumping there… So heed your exoskeleton’s warning and change your posture before the problems come home to roost – or the pigeon breast comes back in.

duct tape form back

NB: If you want your own exoskeleton, there’s a useful tutorial here. Bring duct tape.

How to Exercise and Like It

Or: one more reason to love your library.

You see, motivation is key. You can do very nearly anything if you have sufficient motivation. Since there hasn’t been anyone behind me with a lethal weapon for years now, motivation to move briskly has, I freely admit, been a problem.

Foster Bible Pictures 0083-1 The City of Refuge

Until now. I had an epiphany. All I needed to do was find something that I wanted enough to walk to it – something that was a reasonable distance away, i.e. not the cake tin.

For me, it was the library.
The Hutt City Libraries (may their book-budget never grow less) not only allow you to reserve books from other libraries within the city, they are also part of a scheme which allows you to reserve books from other libraries across the region. And (unless they are usually pay-for items), these reserves are free.

The libraries of the city I used to live in (which shall remain nameless), charged so much to reserve a book even from another library within the city that it was cheaper to get on a bus and go and get it yourself. Here, you just reserve the book online, and they let you know when it has been delivered to your library of choice.


Our local-est library is about 2.25 km away (1.4 miles, imperialists). It was but the work of a moment to decide to have my reserves sent in future to that library, and to walk there to collect them. Last week, I walked there and back twice, the first time for a reserve, the second to return books that were due. By my calculations, that’s 9km (5.6 miles) extra I walked, which isn’t too shabby for the first week.

The lure of the unread book draws me there, and the lure of the couch and cup of tea with book lures me home again. None of this forcing yourself to walk in circles for the sake of it. And if I eventually decide that a walk of 4.5km is a piece of cake, I can always move it up to 7km: to the central library in town and back. Or I could add weights – which is to say, borrow more books. (I’m only doing it for my health!)

That’s the other wonderful thing about the Hutt City Libraries: they don’t have a borrowing limit.

Lewis Hine, Italian woman carrying enormous dry-goods box, New York, 1912

What’s worth walking for to you? And is your local library as good as mine?