Back-Breaking Work


I learned in an absolutely THRILLING ergonomics presentation at a work seminar recently that office chairs are designed for six foot tall men. This was particularly hilarious for the ergonomist giving the presentation – he himself was 5’11” and so not that far off, but through his work he was well aware that the typical person using an office chair is a 5’4″ woman. Dimensions and proportions are very different throughout the human population, and perhaps most different among roughly 5’4″ women (or, say, women in the 5’2″ to 5’8″ range).

I get to be assessed by this ergonomist to determine the ideal seating arrangement at my new desk. While I’m slightly above average in height, on the five-foot-seven side of five-foot-six, I have stubby legs and a long body with a high waist. This makes no chair fit me whatsoever.

People get amazed when they have to sit in my chair to clean up some sort of problem I created at how low it is. A lot of people don’t follow the wisdom that yes, the height of your chair should be set so your feet touch the ground. I’m also misleadingly average in height because I have a very long body, meaning the backing to the chair needs to be raised as high as it can be. Even still, since most chairs aren’t designed with a woman in mind, the groove built into desk chair backings doesn’t meet the small of my back as I’m also high-waisted. I would love to sit with the feet at the end of my short legs touching the ground, and a two-finger width of space between the edge of the seat and inside of my knee. I like my elbows bent at almost a right angle when typing on my keyboard, with arm rests spaced at their narrowest, most close to the seat. These are all things I’m doing right according to the ergonomist’s presentation. When I’m getting assessed perhaps I should hide my tendency to change positions in monkey-like ways. (Perhaps I’ll get credit for always moving around, which helps alleviate my doomed future as a hunchback.)

Another interesting part of this presentation was the ergonomist describing the right way to pick things up – the way a newly walking toddler does. The toddler’s head is too heavy and back too weak to bend over in the sexualized fashion, and so the toddler intuitively squats with the knees to pick up toys. The ergonomist described this as the way our bodies were “designed” to work, neglecting to acknowledge that nobody “designed” human bodies and rather we evolved with our large heads and a certain kind of spine to support our bipedal posture that together just happen to work best with bending knees. Nobody chose to give us these features, but I digress. Having been taught through 1980s PSA commercials to lift things up with my legs, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing this already and find it far more comfortable – AND FUN!

So to all the commentary spat out about my generation turning back into unerect apes because of the hours we spend in front of a computer – fuck you. There’s been enough advancement in understanding human posture for me to have been taught these things while habits could still freshly form. Typewriters, telephones, and television predate what I was raised on and were just as major contributors to sedentary lifestyles a couple generations before mine. Computers have at least enabled an acceleration in research and awareness pertaining to ergonomics – and older generations are just as bad at sitting in a chair for eight hours as us young’ns. Look in the mirror and call yourself an ape too.


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