Front, Back and Sideways

By Lewis L. Lloyd

When I hear the word “posture” I think of Yale and eugenics.

Yale wanted us to be the finest image of what a Yale man should be. We were to be intelligent, even-tempered, morally sound and great achievers. We were also to be physically fit and were required to pass a series of physical tests. The controversial and widely disparaged theory of eugenics — to which Yale ascribed at the time — held that a person’s body, measured and analyzed, could tell much about intelligence and temperament and probable future achievement. So, believe it or not, each of us, as we entered in 1956 as freshman, was photographed naked for Yale’s photo archive: front, back and sideways. Yale was determined to see that her men were manly men.

Similarly, the men of Harvard and some of the other Ivies — as well as the women of Vassar and Smith — were photographed naked: front, back and sideways. There was much speculation during my time at Yale about the location of those posture photos at the Seven Sisters schools (Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Bryn Mawr and Barnard). Where, we wondered, were Jane Fonda’s kept at Vassar?

The good news is that I passed my posture test. The posture pictures, if available, will prove it. Yes, I am there in the great photo archive of naked Yalies, along with George H. W. Bush, his son, and so many others. Other than attending Yale, it’s the only thing I have in common with our 41st and 43rd Presidents.

The bad news is that I flunked my physical workout. We had to pass a series of physical tests. Having just come down from carrying heavy packs down to the Lakes of the Clouds hut near the summit of Mt. Washington all summer, I felt fit and confident. I raced through the chin ups, the sit ups, the rope climb and the running, forgetting that at the end I would have to swim a hundred yards.

We all entered the pool area naked, through a very narrow hallway, about twenty feet long. Filling the center of the narrow entry was a stainless-steel device, shaped like an inverted “V.” Water sprayed out of the top of the ten-foot-long V. We straddled this device naked to reach the pool area.

When I got in the pool I was so bushed that I barely made it to the end of the first lap.

“You need survival training,” the coach said.

So, I went to a survival swimming class.

It was really a class about how to float for hours, assuming you weren’t in iceberg-filled waters. We, the survivalists, floated on our backs, naked, backs arched, toes sticking up through the water while the coaches walked up and down the length of the pool, making rude remarks about us. You get the picture.

My roommate Eugene Scott, soon to be one of Yale’s greatest athletes, flew through his physical workout too. Gene said to me once, “I’ll win more major Ys than anyone since Dink Stover,” Yale’s great and fictional 19th century hero. And Gene did, but he flunked the posture test. It seemed implausible. He was furious. But I don’t think he had to take any remedial course in posture.

As time went on, I noticed that when I bought clothes the tailor would say, while checking my measurements, “My, you do stand up straight. I’ll have to take in the back of your jacket.”

And so it went. I might be short, but my shoulders were back and I stood up straight.