Recently I was sitting on a little bitty chair at a café, back hunched over, neck scrunched down. “Why is this table so low it hits my knees?” I squawked. Squishing my lower end around I grumbled, “And why is the back of this chair is so darned uncomfortable?” Then a fear flashed through my mind: “What would happen if my behind got bigger than this tiny seat?”
As I looked around I saw people carefully balancing themselves on their furniture. How could they enjoy their meal sitting on these pencil-thin steel chairs? When did sitting down become so terrifying?
It reminded me of the night a girlfriend and I treated ourselves to a fancy restaurant. When I sat on the love seat, I had to bend over to eat. It caused so much twisting that my neck locked into a giant cramp. “I can’t even put my elbows on the table,” I complained. “I’m almost leaning on the floor.”
Then there was the time I went to a pub with another pal. He kept twitching around — he was having trouble keeping his white shirt from dipping into his soup. “What’s up?” I asked, trying to be tactful. He pointed downwards. His feet were dangling, not reaching the ground. Why did they build the bar so high?” he muttered. He looked like a grown man in a high chair. I covered my mouth so he wouldn’t see me chuckling.
I have a theory about furniture and our culture. The seating in our world reflects a serious problem. It’s unfit for our bodies! Maybe chairs and tables are meant for the five-minute stop that is such a part of our daily lives, but not for real conversation. Keep going, don’t stop, don’t think and don’t feel. Maybe we just don’t have time or we don’t value hanging out or connecting deeply.
Modern furniture is stark and unyielding. Even the cozy couches seem to have a huge space so that when you lean back you disappear into the crevasse. Are we so out of touch with nature that we actually think this furniture is natural? What ever happened to sitting on thrones, or lying back on velvet?
We drive in cars with seats so concave our chins jut out and our backs cave in. (Maybe that’s why yoga is so popular nowadays.) Our furniture seems to be designed like our clothes … tucked in, tiny, cuffed, tippy-toed.
Why is furniture so uncomfortable? Maybe the middle-class is collapsing along with our chairs.
Or perhaps furniture reflects our fears. We’re without a leg to stand on, watching war on the news, shaking at tin tables, trying to balance our drinks. Are we disassociated from ourselves, and each other? Out of touch, wobbly, and disconnected? But, with nerves of steel, we somehow stay on the teeter totter.
No one notices that our furniture is uncomfortable. Have we forgotten that we come in all shapes and sizes and that it would be good if furniture in public places did too?
Wouldn’t it be great to just lie back on a comfy rocking chair or sit up in a nice, wide solid chair? Or maybe eat dinner with both feet on the ground, read a book in a coffee house without twisting our torso? Isn’t relaxing the body helpful for good conversation? Doesn’t it inspire reflection?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a world that not only welcomed all sizes and ages of bodies and invited all our differences as people? How about furniture that encourages comfort, connection and conversation?
For that, I’ll make a stand. As soon my back ache goes away.
Katy Byrne, MFT Psychotherapist in Sonoma, specializing in life transitions, conflict resolution, women’s empowerment and eating disorders. She is the author of “The Courage To Speak Up: Getting Your Hairballs Out.”