When I was probably around eleven or twelve, my mother presented me with a book that would guide me through the rough waters of teenhood with wisdom and style, so that I might emerge one day a mature, outgoing, engaging and sophisticated woman with lots of friends and swirly skirts.
The title of the book was What to Do When – And Why…At School, at Parties, at Home, in Your Growing World. I am quite sure that when it was published in 1975, the authors, Marjabelle Young Stewart and Ann Buchwald, never anticipated how much my sister and I would make fun of it over the coming years.
I’ve also recently come across another book – I think it was among the books at my late mother-in-law’s house and somehow, fortunately, it ended up with me. This one is called Your Manners are Showing, and this one, by Betty Betz (and verses!!! by Anne Clark) was published in 1946. Oh, and the subtitle to this one explains that you hold in your hands "The Handbook of Teen-Age Know-How."
So anyway, since I can’t seem to come up with my own original thoughts lately, I figured I’d start excerpting handy bits of advice from both of these books.
And I have to start with the chapter of the book I learned from first, because it is so near and dear to my heart.
The chapter is called "Sitting Pretty," and for whatever reason, my brain has wrestled with one little section for YEARS now. It still rises up, when I’m not paying attention, and confounds me. Anyway, I’ll get to that in a bit. For now – here you go – learn, and enjoy!
If you’re ever on a stage, in a class play, or anyplace where you want to look cool and poised, here are a few pointers about getting into and out of chairs.
1. To approach: pivot around on the balls of your feet until your back is to the chair and you can feel the edge with the calf of your rear leg.
2. Slide rear foot slightly under the chair, and with your back straight, slowly lower yourself into the chair using your knees and thighs, not the upper part of your body.
3. When you rise, reverse the process. With feet close under your body, one in front of the other, push up with the rear foot using your thigh muscles and quickly straighten your legs. This way you’re developing beautiful thigh muscles, good posture, and a graceful look. Your body rises up in rhythm, instead of plunging forward as though someone had suddenly tipped you out of your chair.
When you sit in a slump you automatically add four inches to the look of your waistline. No one says you have to sit at attention – any more than you have to stand at attention like a soldier – but it’s good to know what to do and not to do:
* Try not to seem self-conscious of your arms and legs when you sit down. Compose yourself.
* Keep your knees together one way or another; cross your ankles, placing the left foot behind and to the right of the right foot. Or slide both feet to the right – a jutting-out foot can trip someone passing by.
* You can cross your legs, of course, especially since you wear pants or jeans most of the time. But do it modestly, not like a cowpoke saying, "Wal, whadda ya have to say fer yerself?" If you are overweight, forget it – crossing your legs emphasizes their size. Also if you’re on a stage or platform and are wearing a dress, don’t take the chance.
(This next bit is the one that I always had trouble with…)
* If you’re nervous, here’s a trick: put both hands, palms up, in your lap and place the thumb of one hand in the palm of the other. It looks natural and relaxed. Besides, it gives you something to hold.
Okay, let’s take a look at those instructions…put both hands, palms up, in your lap. Okay….but when I do that, my thumbs are way to the left and way to the right…hmmm…and then it says to place the thumb of one hand in the palm of the other…okay, so here I go, trying, crossing my arms over each other, trying to put one thumb in the other hand, nope, that looks stupid, try it the other way, you’re right-handed…nope, that looks pretty dumb too…and after much struggling and wondering if I’ve been assembled incorrectly, I read "It looks natural and relaxed." Um….to whom? If these women hadn’t written about it, I doubt I would have ever naturally placed my hands like that in my lap. It’s not the least bit natural, at least not to me. But then, pivoting and rising up in rhythm aren’t my strong suits either.
Oh – and mustn’t forget the last little bits of advice:
Don’ts for sitting
* Don’t fuss, arranging your skirt after you are seated. It’s prissy.
* Don’t let your underclothes show.
* Don’t let your feet be pigeon-toed.
* Don’t let your knees separate.
And there you are. Something to work on over the weekend. I can actually remember practicing some of this stuff. (Except for the hands thing – I gave up on that one.)
Besides the helpful advice, the other best thing about this book is the numerous line drawings of beautiful teenaged girls with flowing tresses tied up with pretty ribbons, their swirly skirts draped gracefully over their beautiful thigh muscles (covered modestly by the unfussed-with skirt, of course), above their daintily crossed ankles. It was so encouraging to me, the ugly duckling that I was, to see that, if I followed the guidelines outlined throughout the book, I would one day have googley eyes, a demure smile, and a strange, slightly slouchy posture too! Plus my hair would look well-managed and I would know how to sit in a chair properly.
Anyway, as I’ve been writing this I have paused, helplessly, to glance at some of the other chapters. I hardly know where to go next…here are some chapter titles to tantalize you with…
Manners Are Not Optional
Some Problems Can’t Be Helped by Band-Aids
Too Fat, Too Thin, Too Short, Too Tall
Learn to Walk the Way Fashion Models Do
Your Voice – How Many Decibels?
Basic Table Manner for Almost Any Occasion
What to Do if Your Family is "Different"
Boys vs. Girls vs. Boys vs. Help!
"I Don’t Have Anything…(deep sigh)…to Do!"
Manners for Boys Only
So here we go. This is my new project. To share with you some of the guidelines that influenced my life and helped transform me from the ugly and socially inept duckling I was into the anti-social and introverted okay-looking duck I am today.