WWMAD: On Royal Bearing, Staying Calm and Carrying On

Marie Antoinette runs an honest-to-goodness advice column in this space every Sunday. To benefit from her sage experience, send her an email at whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.

Have you ever seen a queen slouch in a royal portrait?

Your majesty,
I need your opinion. I’m a 20-something young woman and my mother still tells me to sit up straight. This annoys me. It also feels like she’s a little out of touch. Maybe two hundred years ago posture was all a woman could master but I feel like I have a brain and an education and that I have a lot more  to bring to the table than how I’m sitting. Tell me we’ve moved forward from your day.
–Slumping it

Posture and grace are lost arts today. They’re the sort of thing we notice because we see the so rarely. So many women shuffle their feet or slump over their desks and steering wheels, all with that sloppy C-shaped spine that rumples the clothes and stresses the vertebrates.

Posture has almost gone the way of a proper curtsy, the type of bow that communicated respect and intimacy. Such movement does more than communicate rank or standing. To have great posture is to stand tall despite the storm. Women with excellent posture are seem more confident, more intelligent and sometimes, even taller. Now more than ever it’s a simple way to gain an advantage – especially in situations where there seem few advantages to be had.

Even as a hag I sat tall, which was troublesome for my propagandists.

Your mother has lived a long life and knows the power of large things (your education) and small (your presentation). I didn’t have the benefit of the former, but I believe the latter often saved my life. I’ll list a few below and note the powerful women you see in the coming weeks and how many of them are slouching.

Marie Antoinette’s Uses for Royal Bearing

  • I used my composure in 1774, before my husband’s coronation, when I needed to greet the courtiers of Champagne, alone and without my husband. I acted perfectly, greeting some, complimenting others, forgetting no one and finding the right thing to say to everyone.
  • I needed it in 1775, when she attended birth of Comtesse d’Artois’ son, the heir to the Bourbon line that she wasn’t able to produce. The birth weakened my position at court and threatened my survival. Still, I stood strong, even after the raucous market women at the palace harangued me with demands to produce an heir myself.
  • I needed it in 1789 when a mob of protestors came to bring the royal family to Paris, and possibly to assassinate me. After a night of terror, I stood on the balcony with the King not knowing if I’d be shot on sight. I curtseyed that deep curtsy that only I could do – and actually got the protestors to cheer.
  • I needed it on my last day, during the ride to the guillotine in an open cart. The rough sketch drawn by revolutionary propagandist Louis David shows me as a hag — but one who sits like a queen.
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