Book Balancing: A History on Posture

Posted by Bethaney Wallace on 18th Feb 2014

Whether or not we’ve experienced it for ourselves, everyone has a clear-cut image of youngsters balancing a book on their head. In this scenario, a stern headmistress first places the book on her students’ noggins, and then eyes them as they walk – very carefully – as to not let the book drop. Then, for good measure, the teacher holds a yardstick nearby, just to show she means business.

All of this for better posture.

Yet as common as this image may seem, how many really know the history behind walking with a book on one’s head? Unnatural and difficult to perform, it’s not exactly a common occurrence in today’s time. Though it’s still seen, few teachers host this practice in their classroom, and even fewer students have experienced the activity for themselves. After all, it’s heavy and likely to cause a few bruised feet – why not opt for a tactic that’s less risky?

Book Balancing in its Finest

According to several historical references, the practice of book balancing dates back multiple centuries, back to royal figures and a heavily weighted class system. Those of upper status – especially women – were meant to walk gracefully, almost as though they were gliding across the floor. (Paired with a long dress and the women practically floated.) This “gliding” showed they were proper, knew how to behave like a lady, and would make for a respectable wife – at least at the time. Therefore, it was engrained at a young age that book balancing must be mastered.

In order to achieve this “floating” effect, young girls learned to walk when weighted down. First, they would start with one book, and evolve to an ever-growing stack – the larger and heavier the stack, the more difficult the walking. It was then thought that, once the books were removed, they would then be able to walk just as smoothly, but with less weight holding them down. (Hence the “floating”.)

Girls with improper posture or walks were also heavily ridiculed and said to be “like a man,” or even unworthy of a certain social status.

Achieving the Perfect Posture

If you’re wondering why books, there’s not really a rhyme or reason behind this bizarre practice. Because of their weight, which is evenly placed, they were first chosen to test out this posture-training practice. And it stuck.

When “wearing” the book, users are forced to keep both their head and back completely upright. Any slouching or excess bending will cause the book to fall, indicating improper posture. The same goes for a tilted neck or excess hip movement, which was thought to be scandalous at the time.

Today, some etiquette coaches still use this proven technique when teaching posture. However, they are rarely stacked as per their previous accounts.

To achieve the best walking techniques you can also:

  • Walk on the balls of your feet – without transferring weight to the heel, you’ll stay balanced and keep weight steady.
  • Pull back the shoulders – oftentimes this goes hand-in-hand with book walking, as hunched shoulders will also cause balanced books to fall.
  • Aim for mid-sized steps – foot movements that are too big or too small will look unnatural and cause the body to shift from its “gliding” routine.
  • Keeps hips pointed forward – swinging or jutting creates a swinging movement.
  • Align the spine – keep the head, neck, shoulders, and hips all in a straight line to achieve the most graceful of walks. [Dr. Health>]

Whether or not you choose to test out this old fashioned method, walking with a book on one’s head is shown to offer great results with one’s posture. And once mastered, an upright spine can lead to better moods, health, and body language.

For an added boost of confidence, remember to stand straight, no matter how the result is achieved.