It must have been the nth time in one day I’d seen a Facebook photo of a group of women I know standing in what I think of as that pose. If you are female and between, say, 15 and 55, and if you spend any time on social media, you have no doubt seen something similar: Bodies turned slightly, shoulders toward the camera, front legs bent at the knee, front feet balanced on pointed toes. Sometimes, the women are all turned in the same direction, akin to a chorus line. Sometimes an imaginary line divides the group, with each half turned toward the middle, mirroring one another.
I feigned the posture for a friend from college who is smarter than me, or at least has better recall, and she said, “Oh you mean contrapposto.” She had learned all about it in “Intro to Art History” freshman year. She mentioned Kritios Boy.
I looked up “contrapposto” and learned that it is Italian for “counterpoise.” And there was her Kritios Boy, a nude teen circa 480 BC, carved in marble and apparently the first-ever statue to make use of contrapposto.
“Also makes my butt look good,” my friend emailed, though she used a different word for her derriere. “You can quote me.”
That pose does indeed seem related to contrapposto. But classic examples are just that — classic, subtle, natural —but my friends in group photos look cute at best and like poor substitutes for the Rockettes at worst. Were they trying to be sexy? Or did they all just need to pee?
There’s a good reason so many women adopt that pose: It has a slimming effect.
I have seen prom-bound teenagers in that pose. And I have seen contemporaries at their 30th high school reunions assume the position. How was it that I had never learned it? I’m in the 15-to-55 female demographic. Then again, I also don’t know how to apply foundation. Perhaps I was sick the day these things were covered.
The truth is, I have never been one of the girls. Well, maybe fleetingly. I have women friends whom I love. But we don’t go shopping together or meet up Saturday morning for manicures. The girls in high school who greeted one another by the lockers with squeals and hugs — that always seemed foreign to me.
According to Orit Harpaz, a Sherman Oaks portrait photographer, there’s a good reason so many women adopt that pose: It has a slimming effect. “It’s also more flattering because it creates asymmetry and adds dimension,” she said. But Harpaz isn’t a fan, visually, of lines of women all contrapposto, or any group shot where everyone stands the same way. Too conformist, she says: “It doesn’t show your personality.”
I could certainly benefit from the slimming illusion, the photographic equivalent of control-top pantyhose. But the diminishment feels more than physical, more than size 10 to size 8. There is strength in facing front and center, feet firmly planted on the ground. Besides, I fear I’d look ridiculous pointing my toe like that. I’d certainly feel ridiculous.
I know one group that doesn’t mess with such artifice — men. Men stand together comfortably but individually. They tend to give us their whole selves, not the three-quarters view. They take up significant swaths of real estate.
Maybe I’m just bitter that I’m not part of the contrapposto club. Girls just want to have fun, right? On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that if women want to continue making inroads, into the world’s corner offices and boardrooms and all the other spaces men so squarely occupy, they should start by owning their space, all their space, even in those girls night out iPhone pics.
Leslee Komaiko is a writer who lives in Sherman Oaks.
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