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Yes, I Can Walk in These

Gail Becker

The Tyranny of the Purse

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Not long before the holidays, my husband gave me the perfect gift – one that I use frequently, provides an immediate emotional lift, contains long-term health benefits and didn’t cost him a cent. The gift? Freedom from the ‘tyranny of the purse.’

The idea was first born as we headed out for a walk. “What if you weren’t encumbered by that thing?” he inquired, pointing to a slightly large (but rather beautiful) purse slung over my shoulder. “Why don’t you try to free yourself from the tyranny of the purse?”

I was stunned at the obviously simple notion of venturing out without a purse. Slightly offended, though admittedly intrigued, I agreed to try it. I looked inside the bag’s roomy and attractively-lined interior for what any sensible girl scout might deem absolutely necessary. I stuffed my cash and cards in my rear left pocket, my phone in my rear right pocket and took my chances that I wouldn’t need that stray Band-Aid, half-eaten protein bar or well-worn favorite lipstick.

And just like that, we were off and I was… U-N-E-N-C-U-M-B-E-R-E-D.

As much as I hated to admit it, I felt lighter, walked faster and even felt better.

“Some of my colleagues and I call it ‘pretty purse syndrome,’” Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Mount Sinai Hospital, told BuzzFeed Life. He says most women position the bag on top of their trapezius and elevator scapulae muscles [a.k.a. their shoulders], which, combined with poor posture and muscles that are already tired from leaning forward at a computer all day, leads to pain in the shoulders and neck.

A recent survey of British women found that the average bag weighs in at 5.4 pounds filled with all its’ contents – the weight equivalency of a small dog. Business Insider recently added fuel to the fire – or rather bulk to the bag – in a piece detailing “14 Things Every Modern Woman Should Carry in her Purse.” For research purposes, I added up the 14 items and came out with approximately 1.35 pounds of additional ‘just in case’ stuff – items far beyond the necessity of a wallet, keys, phone or anything used on a daily basis.

What is it about women that makes us feel we must be the carriers of all that is ‘just in case?’ Did the image of Mary Poppins pulling out a tall lamp or large plant from her bag indelibly stain our thinking? Perhaps we paid too close attention to the Girl Scout motto: Be Prepared! Though, interestingly, the Boy Scout motto is precisely the same.

Having said that, I’ll admit that being ready for that ‘just in case’ moment can be incredibly rewarding. I fondly recall going to a friend’s house for an al-fresco dinner party where I happened to bring a purse I had brought on vacation a few weeks prior and had not had a moment to clean out. As several guests announced they got bitten by a pack of hungry mosquitos, I leapt out of my seat, dug to the bottom of my bag and pulled out a convenient (aka purse-sized) container of anti-itch cream. Suffice it to say, my accidental ‘preparedness’ had paid off.

To be clear, I have no intention of bidding farewell to my beloved collection of purses, but also realize there are occasions while racing down busy sidewalks, competitive office environments and bustling corridors, we should encourage ourselves – and each other – to shed any unnecessary baggage whenever possible, particularly if paired with an already encumbering high heel. In this New Year, let’s say goodbye to all that may encumber us or weigh us down – metaphorically, or as the case may be, quite literally.

Gail Becker is Edelman’s president of strategic partnerships and global integration.

  • Sandra Shagat

    Gail, this is it. I think I can go laptop-backpack shopping this weekend. If I’m successful, I’ll send a photo.

  • Colette Martinique Luckie

    Free at last…free at last–I’m going to add this to my 2016 resolutions list!!!

  • Ashley May Cannon-Rhea

    As someone who has consistent shoulder pain I never would have thought to look at my purse. I think there is something extremely liberating about this article and that fact that maybe carrying around a purse isn’t really necessary. I think many women use purses as something to show status. Some maybe it’s not that we need a purse but we want one to show off the fact that we can afford Coach.

  • Vania Ahmad

    Women’s clothing suffers from an unfortunate lack of pockets. And when women’s clothes do have pockets, they are (usually) quite a bit smaller than those in men’s clothing. This makes it difficult to carry even the essentials without a purse. However, purses can sometimes become security blankets and agree that letting go of them would be liberating. Letting go of baggage – literally.

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