Did you know that lower back pain is now such a significant issue for so many, that the Medical Journal of Australia has considered whether it should be added to the list of National Priority Health Areas in this country? Apparently, up to 80% of Australians will suffer from lower back pain in their lifetime, and for a few of them, it causes considerable disability. Even for those whose pain only lasts a short while, it can be considerably debilitating, and costs millions to the community in lost production.
Not to mention, you know, the pain.
After injuring my back about twenty years ago and then managing to do it again every now and then every year or two since, and then having four children in five and a half years, and then having to lift said children in and out of cots, prams, chairs, etc, and THEN sleeping on a bed which had seen better days… well, to say that I was in chronic daily pain was putting it mildly. And it wasn’t unbearable pain (not usually, anyway). It was just there, nagging, stopping me from reaching to get things, or preventing me from being as active as I wanted to be. I could still garden, or clean, or play hide and seek, but I’d always suffer afterwards.
It was time to Do Something.
So I went to my doctor, who referred me to an exercise physiologist. Before I visited her, I had never heard of exercise physiology, but now that I’ve been a couple of times, I’m definitely a convert. The first week, she gave me a few daily exercises to do, which I did not do daily (does anyone?!). But I still found that when I did them, I felt the muscles in my back loosen. It made me more flexible; I had less pain, and I realised after doing them, that my posture changed. Aha, I thought, so this is what it feels like, to stand up straight!
With this in mind, I’ve been trying to consciously address and adapt my posture even when I’m not doing the exercises. Part of my problem is that my ‘core’ muscles are weakened, and standing up straight helps to force them to work, thus giving me more support around my middle, which obviously extends to support my lower back. I tuck my pelvis under, straighten my spine, tighten my tummy muscles, and push my chest out and my shoulders back.
I feel taller, and stronger. But the most interesting realisation was when I began to practise this while walking home from school after dropping off the children. The street is not that busy at that time of day, but there are a few cars and people around, and I began to think about my posture and what this body language communicates to others. By standing up straight and looking ahead, I present as a person who is confident about her body. With my head up, I am more likely to look people in the eye. With my shoulders back, my chest, and my breasts, are more noticeable.
I don’t have a particularly shy personality, in that I’m a confident public speaker, and I’m happy taking responsibility for projects or helping to organise others in a voluntary or employment setting. And as a young person, I had an exuberant fashion sense. I wore outrageously loud clothes, I had my mother patch my torn jeans with every possible coloured fabric. Like many teenagers, I revelled in the idea that I was one of a kind.
I’m not sure when I stopped wanting that, though. Perhaps it was when I got older, in my late 20s, and with my fairly slight frame and youthful visage, I appeared many years my junior. I wanted to be taken seriously, as an adult. I wanted people to think I had important things to say. So I blended in, at least on the outside. And part of blending in, I suppose, was making myself smaller. Looking down, not making eye contact, not drawing attention.
But if I am standing up tall, I will draw attention to myself. I will draw attention to my body. And as I walked down the footpath to my house, I wondered if that is attention I want. People will be able to see *gasp* that I’m a woman! A woman who is not ashamed to present herself in a confident manner, to the world. Can I live up to the image that I’m expressing, here?
At times, I’ve felt like feminism is a battle I’m fighting on somebody else’s behalf, because I have so much: I have a relationship in which I’m an equal partner; I have been able to go to university and argue and discuss and disagree with my male peers; I have had precious few experiences where, as a woman, I have been talked down to, and because of my role models—parents, teachers, work colleagues—I have known that their judgement was wrong, and either proved it so, or simply redirected my energies elsewhere. For the most part, and when it has mattered most, I have experienced equality, especially given the kinds of inequality others endure.
As much as I feel compelled to ensure that my daughters and sons grow up in a world where they can excel to the best of their abilities, not hindered by their sexuality, nationality, race or gender, I’ve also known that here, we do have it comparatively easy. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than elsewhere.
And then, I want to walk home alone, head held high, and I worry about the impression I make.
So, this is my feminist moment. This is when I choose to stand tall, hold my head up high, my shoulders back. I will do this, regardless of whether I will be stared at, regardless of whether passers-by will look at me and wonder who I think I am. I will be proud of this woman’s body, as imperfect as it is, according to what films and shop-front mannequins and magazine pictures say.
And then I can hope that by the time my children are old enough to walk down the street to school by themselves, they will think nothing of a woman, walking towards them, confident in her body. It will be simply the way things are supposed to be.