Before you begin shopping for a wedding dress, start shaping up. No, we're not talking about exercise—we're talking about posture. "It really affects how someone looks," says Dr. Steven Weiniger, author of Stand Taller Live Longer: An Anti-Aging Strategy. "You can have a lovely dress, but if you're slumped over when it's being fit to you, the dress will be cut in that shape, and it won't look as good. If your goal is to look tall, strong, and confident on the day of your wedding, you need to be standing correctly when you find your wedding dress."
And it's not just that you'll appear more confident when standing up straight, you'll actually be more confident, Weiniger insists. "One of the most viewed TED Talks is Amy Cuddy's about the importance of posture," he explains. "When you change your posture from slumped forward to standing tall, your hormones change. The stress hormone, cortisol, goes up when you're in a weak posture, which can make you more afraid or nervous, and when you're standing tall, testosterone, which increases confidence, goes up. In terms of looking and feeling good, it starts with posture."
So, how do you break the bad habit? Every day (especially if you sit at a desk at work) Weiniger says to think of your body in four posture zones: the head, the torso (which includes the arms and shoulders), pelvis, and feet. "If you're sitting in a chair, tilt the base of the seat forward a bit—most desk chairs have an adjustment. If you're working at a computer, lean forward, which forces you to put your shoulders back. Arrange the screen so your head can be level—you should be more or less looking straight at the screen. If you're working on a laptop, you can put a few books underneath it, or you can get a desk that moves up and down so you can adjust the height."
Along with taking classes like ballet, yoga, or Pilates, there's a simple daily exercise you can do at home to check and improve your posture. Try the "strong posture wall lean," which Weiniger says involves taking a step away from a wall so that you're standing one foot away from it, and leaning back against the wall so your behind is against the wall, and then so your shoulders are also against the wall. "When you're standing like that, your torso and pelvis will be perfectly straight," he says. Then, with your knees straight, level your head and look straight ahead, and put it back and forth to the wall. "You don't have to touch the wall if you can't, but that stretch is great," he says.
Sleep environment can also affect posture. "Sleeping on your side is best; use enough pillows to keep your head over your shoulders," he says. "For most people, that means one medium-sized pillow; others might need a little more. If your fiancé is sleeping next to you, ask him or her whether your head is on top of your shoulders or cranked from left to right. And if you sleep on your back, make sure you sleep with a pillow underneath your knees."
Since our internal perception of our body is different than reality, Weingier says, taking posture pictures can help you understand what your alignment really looks like. "You want the middle of the ear, the middle of the shoulder, the middle of the hip, and the middle of the ankle to be vertical," he says. The app Posture Zone can also be beneficial to ensure proper posture, which helps to measure body alignment and body symmetry, and you can compare pictures you've taken over time, he says.