back to top
Health

Here's What Happened When We Weighed Women's Purses

Totes carrying a newborn.

Posted on

After I started wearing a fanny pack, I became very aware of just how much stuff women are carrying around with them every day. Purses. Gym bags. Work bags. Little bags within big bags. So many bags!

Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed Life

Doctors are very clear on this issue: Heavy bags and purses are bad for your body.

"Some of my colleagues and I call it 'pretty purse syndrome,'" Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells BuzzFeed Life. He says most women position the bag on top of their trapezius and levator scapulae muscles, 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.

"It starts with tight muscles in their neck region and can progress to arthritis of the cervical spine," he says. That neck pain can lead to a headache at the back of your head and trigger migraines.

One morning, I pulled women aside as they came into the BuzzFeed office in New York City and asked them if we could weigh and photograph their purse(s) and bag(s).

I wanted to find out just how much crap they were schlepping around each day. We weighed the hauls from 31 different women.

The Results

- Average weight: 6.09 pounds

- Median weight: 5.5 pounds

- Lightest bag: 1.6 pounds

- Heaviest bag: 15.1 pounds

Here's a look at what some of the women were carrying around...plus their thoughts about the numbers on the scale.

Kaye

What's in her bag: "All my gym stuff (pants, really intense DD-supporting sports bra, shirt, light running sneakers), my lumbar pillow for my slipped disc, my work laptop, and small bottle of lotion for my healing tattoos."Her reaction: "I find if I go back to my apartment before going to the gym there's only like a 50-50 chance I'm going to make it to the gym, but if I bring my stuff and get off at the stop near the gym there's a 100% chance I'll go. Normally I don't have nearly as much stuff, mainly because I like to be free and unencumbered to flee my enemies at any time."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "All my gym stuff (pants, really intense DD-supporting sports bra, shirt, light running sneakers), my lumbar pillow for my slipped disc, my work laptop, and small bottle of lotion for my healing tattoos."

Her reaction: "I find if I go back to my apartment before going to the gym there's only like a 50-50 chance I'm going to make it to the gym, but if I bring my stuff and get off at the stop near the gym there's a 100% chance I'll go. Normally I don't have nearly as much stuff, mainly because I like to be free and unencumbered to flee my enemies at any time."

Tashween

What's in her bag: "A small cross-body purse with some cash and credit cards, laptop, old EW magazine, composition notebook, Moleskine notebook, Godiva chocolate bar, heat-tech shirt to wear under clothes, extra socks, phone charger, two Sharpies, a pen, five colored pencils, a ring I wore five months ago and took off, two mismatched earrings, a sheet of paper explaining 401(k) options, two checkbooks (?), stamps (??), bunch of movie ticket stubs/loose change, two MAC lipsticks, one lip balm, an empty pill bottle for a prescription I've needed to renew for forever, and a table number card that I forgot to give back to Cosi."Her reaction: "7.3 is basically a baby. And BRB, I have a shitload of errands to run."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "A small cross-body purse with some cash and credit cards, laptop, old EW magazine, composition notebook, Moleskine notebook, Godiva chocolate bar, heat-tech shirt to wear under clothes, extra socks, phone charger, two Sharpies, a pen, five colored pencils, a ring I wore five months ago and took off, two mismatched earrings, a sheet of paper explaining 401(k) options, two checkbooks (?), stamps (??), bunch of movie ticket stubs/loose change, two MAC lipsticks, one lip balm, an empty pill bottle for a prescription I've needed to renew for forever, and a table number card that I forgot to give back to Cosi."

Her reaction: "7.3 is basically a baby. And BRB, I have a shitload of errands to run."

Alexis

What's in her bag: "Furry earmuffs (hanging on the strap), a notebook, a pen, wallet with cards and cash, a ticket to a book event at BAM, movie ticket stub, business cards, a Clif bar, a pad, three kinds of lip balm, two kinds of red lipstick, two kinds of lip stain, one lip gloss, keys, and a 'Bad Feminist' pin."Her thoughts: "I only carry around the essentials and have a raging oral fixation, so for me that's a paper and pen, my wallet, my keys, and enough lip products to fill a shelf at Sephora."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Furry earmuffs (hanging on the strap), a notebook, a pen, wallet with cards and cash, a ticket to a book event at BAM, movie ticket stub, business cards, a Clif bar, a pad, three kinds of lip balm, two kinds of red lipstick, two kinds of lip stain, one lip gloss, keys, and a 'Bad Feminist' pin."

Her thoughts: "I only carry around the essentials and have a raging oral fixation, so for me that's a paper and pen, my wallet, my keys, and enough lip products to fill a shelf at Sephora."

Sally

What's in her bag: "Scarf, hat, gloves, migraine prescription meds, iPhone charger, headphones, Quest bar (double chocolate chunk), throat comfort tea, cough drops, Little Hotties hand and foot warmers, hardcover book (Rose Pastor Stokes: The Portrait of a Radical Woman, 1905-1919 — my dad's dissertation from 1984), laptop, glasses, lunch, hummus, a single carrot, and a bracelet."Her reaction: "What's in my bag speaks to one of my greatest neuroses, which is being stranded without things I need to to deal with hunger, boredom, the cold, or an impending migraine. Being a hypervigilant type, I definitely organize a lot of my life around making sure I have what I need in the emergencies I think are most likely to occur or that I'm most afraid of (irrespective of how likely they are to occur). I think a lot about how bad it must be for my back, neck, and shoulders to do a lot of walking with such a heavy bag, but I also don't think I could walk around without all that stuff and feel like my day/life would be OK."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Scarf, hat, gloves, migraine prescription meds, iPhone charger, headphones, Quest bar (double chocolate chunk), throat comfort tea, cough drops, Little Hotties hand and foot warmers, hardcover book (Rose Pastor Stokes: The Portrait of a Radical Woman, 1905-1919 — my dad's dissertation from 1984), laptop, glasses, lunch, hummus, a single carrot, and a bracelet."

Her reaction: "What's in my bag speaks to one of my greatest neuroses, which is being stranded without things I need to to deal with hunger, boredom, the cold, or an impending migraine. Being a hypervigilant type, I definitely organize a lot of my life around making sure I have what I need in the emergencies I think are most likely to occur or that I'm most afraid of (irrespective of how likely they are to occur). I think a lot about how bad it must be for my back, neck, and shoulders to do a lot of walking with such a heavy bag, but I also don't think I could walk around without all that stuff and feel like my day/life would be OK."

Katie

What's in her bag: "Kindle, iPhone, wallet, Kleenex, hair tie, two lip glosses, keys, headphones."Her reaction: "I usually carry a larger bag with more stuff, but I had used this smaller purse over the weekend and kept forgetting to transfer my junk back over. It's been really really nice carrying such a small purse; I felt so free and light. I got this cheapie purse at Old Navy specifically for a vacation to New Orleans I took recently – I knew I'd be doing a lot of walking so I didn't want to schlep around a heavy bag."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Kindle, iPhone, wallet, Kleenex, hair tie, two lip glosses, keys, headphones."

Her reaction: "I usually carry a larger bag with more stuff, but I had used this smaller purse over the weekend and kept forgetting to transfer my junk back over. It's been really really nice carrying such a small purse; I felt so free and light. I got this cheapie purse at Old Navy specifically for a vacation to New Orleans I took recently – I knew I'd be doing a lot of walking so I didn't want to schlep around a heavy bag."

Jenny

What's in her bag: "Packet of gum, pocket mirror, gloves, sunglasses, wallet, phone, card holder, Muli pen, Herbacin Kamille hand cream, iPod Nano, lighter, keys, Softlips lip balm, and Cle de Peau nude lipstick."Her reaction: "I'm actually shocked at how little my bag weighed because it always feels like I'm lugging around a rock. Most of the time, I try to just bring my wallet and phone in a small clutch unless I'm running errands, which then I just stuff everything (groceries, papers, books, etc.) into one ginormous tote. I like to carry as little as possible for a bunch of reasons. Mostly because a) I lose things very easily, b) my irrational fear of getting mugged all the time, and c) my poor efforts to try to improve my awful posture."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Packet of gum, pocket mirror, gloves, sunglasses, wallet, phone, card holder, Muli pen, Herbacin Kamille hand cream, iPod Nano, lighter, keys, Softlips lip balm, and Cle de Peau nude lipstick."

Her reaction: "I'm actually shocked at how little my bag weighed because it always feels like I'm lugging around a rock. Most of the time, I try to just bring my wallet and phone in a small clutch unless I'm running errands, which then I just stuff everything (groceries, papers, books, etc.) into one ginormous tote. I like to carry as little as possible for a bunch of reasons. Mostly because a) I lose things very easily, b) my irrational fear of getting mugged all the time, and c) my poor efforts to try to improve my awful posture."

Jess

What's in her bag: "Eos lip balm, last week's New Yorker, several paint samples in greige, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, three different gloves, two Moleskines, keys, an eyelash curler, three tampons, a 16-inch tape measure, lotion, three bobby pins, two spin-pins, two Band-Aids, tweezers, five pens, a single rogue Sudafed, hotel lotion, keys, phone, wallet, headphones, and sea-salt dark chocolate."Her reaction: "I actually like carrying big bags around in this city because a) I feel like it gives me the right to take up more physical space in the same way men do in public spaces, and b) living and working in different boroughs makes me feel like a constant nomad and I want to have everything I need with me at any given moment in case the big one comes (JK, sort of). I like to think I'm both always prepared, and also never too encumbered to be spontaneous...but those things feel like they're constantly at odds."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Eos lip balm, last week's New Yorker, several paint samples in greige, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, three different gloves, two Moleskines, keys, an eyelash curler, three tampons, a 16-inch tape measure, lotion, three bobby pins, two spin-pins, two Band-Aids, tweezers, five pens, a single rogue Sudafed, hotel lotion, keys, phone, wallet, headphones, and sea-salt dark chocolate."

Her reaction: "I actually like carrying big bags around in this city because a) I feel like it gives me the right to take up more physical space in the same way men do in public spaces, and b) living and working in different boroughs makes me feel like a constant nomad and I want to have everything I need with me at any given moment in case the big one comes (JK, sort of). I like to think I'm both always prepared, and also never too encumbered to be spontaneous...but those things feel like they're constantly at odds."

Alana

What's in her bag: "Converse sneakers, running windbreaker, workout pants, T-shirt, sports bra, 372-page paperback book, copy of New York magazine, complete makeup bag, wallet, keys, assorted bottom-of-bag receipts, large infinity scarf."Her thoughts: "I was surprised by how heavy my bag was because I'm so accustomed to it being kind of a monster. I always have a book, my makeup, and my gym clothes in it, which I think gave it the most heft — which is ridiculous as I barely ever read during my commute and I redo only minimal makeup during the day, so having the whole collection is silly. I could easily lighten the load if I could surrender my belief that I'll become a subway reader some day and that I might actually need to redo my entire face on a regular workday."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Converse sneakers, running windbreaker, workout pants, T-shirt, sports bra, 372-page paperback book, copy of New York magazine, complete makeup bag, wallet, keys, assorted bottom-of-bag receipts, large infinity scarf."

Her thoughts: "I was surprised by how heavy my bag was because I'm so accustomed to it being kind of a monster. I always have a book, my makeup, and my gym clothes in it, which I think gave it the most heft — which is ridiculous as I barely ever read during my commute and I redo only minimal makeup during the day, so having the whole collection is silly. I could easily lighten the load if I could surrender my belief that I'll become a subway reader some day and that I might actually need to redo my entire face on a regular workday."

Mackenzie

What's in her bag: A scarf, running shoes, shower flip-flops, a gym outfit (bra, shirt, socks, running pants), hair curler, water bottle, wallet, lock, and house keys."Her reaction: "I usually carry two bags every day: one gym bag and one purse. I constantly look like I'm about to hop a train out of town, and it's kind of embarrassing when I roll into a restaurant or event with all of it. But when you exercise before work every day (with no option to store in a locker) there is only so much you can do. The best thing about living in L.A. for a month was leaving my gym bag in my trunk. The first day that I did it I literally teared up because it was so beautiful."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: A scarf, running shoes, shower flip-flops, a gym outfit (bra, shirt, socks, running pants), hair curler, water bottle, wallet, lock, and house keys."

Her reaction: "I usually carry two bags every day: one gym bag and one purse. I constantly look like I'm about to hop a train out of town, and it's kind of embarrassing when I roll into a restaurant or event with all of it. But when you exercise before work every day (with no option to store in a locker) there is only so much you can do. The best thing about living in L.A. for a month was leaving my gym bag in my trunk. The first day that I did it I literally teared up because it was so beautiful."

Justine

What's in her bag: "Gloves, iPad Mini, pack of tissues, small mirror, small sketchbook, wallet, keys, tin of Altoids, moleskin, Band-Aids, a couple hand wipes, train ticket and ID holder, Tide-to-go mini stick, Advil, Benadryl, a tampon, several hair ties, one hair clip, extra contact lenses, Pepto-Bismol tablets, more moleskin (it's a necessity!), seven lipsticks, two lip stains, concealer, two eyeliners, six lip liners, three lip balms, blush compact, headphones, and a nail file."Her reaction: "This was an eye-opener in terms of just how much makeup I carry around with me. I kinda don't feel bad about that since you just never know when you'll feel the need for a bright lip! My bag actually weighed less than I thought it would; I have a long commute and I always feel the need to have certain necessities with me in case I get stuck. I have anxiety about blistered feet, allergic reactions, and stomachaches, hence the meds. I used to carry enormous books all the time, so I love my iPad Mini SO MUCH for allowing me to carry them all with me every day!"
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Gloves, iPad Mini, pack of tissues, small mirror, small sketchbook, wallet, keys, tin of Altoids, moleskin, Band-Aids, a couple hand wipes, train ticket and ID holder, Tide-to-go mini stick, Advil, Benadryl, a tampon, several hair ties, one hair clip, extra contact lenses, Pepto-Bismol tablets, more moleskin (it's a necessity!), seven lipsticks, two lip stains, concealer, two eyeliners, six lip liners, three lip balms, blush compact, headphones, and a nail file."

Her reaction: "This was an eye-opener in terms of just how much makeup I carry around with me. I kinda don't feel bad about that since you just never know when you'll feel the need for a bright lip! My bag actually weighed less than I thought it would; I have a long commute and I always feel the need to have certain necessities with me in case I get stuck. I have anxiety about blistered feet, allergic reactions, and stomachaches, hence the meds. I used to carry enormous books all the time, so I love my iPad Mini SO MUCH for allowing me to carry them all with me every day!"

Augusta

What's in her bag: "Two shirts, two pairs of pants, a dress, four pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, three books, Advil, two pens, three lipsticks, one highlighter, a curling iron, and a phone charger."Her reaction: "I was cringing while my bag was being weighed because I didn't want to believe I had 10 pounds on my back, but I also don't usually carry around a bag this verbose. This is my usual overnight (or three nights) bag that I bring to my boyfriend's, so it's a bit heavier than my day-to-day bag."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Two shirts, two pairs of pants, a dress, four pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, three books, Advil, two pens, three lipsticks, one highlighter, a curling iron, and a phone charger."

Her reaction: "I was cringing while my bag was being weighed because I didn't want to believe I had 10 pounds on my back, but I also don't usually carry around a bag this verbose. This is my usual overnight (or three nights) bag that I bring to my boyfriend's, so it's a bit heavier than my day-to-day bag."

Peggy

What's in her bag: "Phone, wallet, keys, MetroCard."Her reaction: "I've stopped carrying a bag because my winter coat is actually enough! I got a new coat this winter with big giant pockets that things don't fall out of, and I love the easy access. I never have to fumble around for my MetroCard or keys. The other issue is that my winter coat is kind of bulky, so any cross-body bag looks like a small side-slung appendage in comparison, and any shoulder bag slides off. I'm livin' a bag-free lifestyle and it is helping me get through this soul-crushing winter."
Photos by Lauren Zaser / Graphics by Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed Life

What's in her bag: "Phone, wallet, keys, MetroCard."

Her reaction: "I've stopped carrying a bag because my winter coat is actually enough! I got a new coat this winter with big giant pockets that things don't fall out of, and I love the easy access. I never have to fumble around for my MetroCard or keys. The other issue is that my winter coat is kind of bulky, so any cross-body bag looks like a small side-slung appendage in comparison, and any shoulder bag slides off. I'm livin' a bag-free lifestyle and it is helping me get through this soul-crushing winter."

5 Ways to Lighten Your Load

1. Make your bag as light as possible. "Empty out your wallet," Danesh says. "Those little papers and extra credit cards add up." And consider emptying your bag completely every day when you get home so you aren't toting around extra junk you don't need.2. Check your posture. "Be as straight as you can," he says. "Shoulders should be back, straight. Shift from shoulder to shoulder to alleviate." You should also take your bag off your shoulder and set it down when possible.3. Consider the type of bag you're carrying. Danesh says anything that is worn with a strap over the chest (like a messenger bag) will help disperse the bag's weight. Backpacks are a good option as long as they are adjusted correctly. (Danesh says the straps shouldn't be too loose or too tight.) But keep in mind that people tend to just fill up backpacks with more items, thus ending up with more weight on their shoulders overall.4. Move your bag from shoulder to shoulder and take it off when possible. Give yourself a break!5. Focus on stretching and strengthening your upper body. Danesh recommends the following yoga poses: Downward-Facing Dog (to strengthen and stretch upper body), Eagle Pose (for pec muscles), Cat Pose and Cow Pose (for chest muscles), and Cobra Pose (for trapezius muscles). Start by doing each pose once daily, and then do more as you gain flexibility. He also says jumping jacks, properly done crunches, and the 100-push-up challenge will improve muscle balance, flexibility, and strength.If that doesn't help, Danesh recommends talking to your health care provider about trigger point injection therapy or acupuncture for the pain.
Lauren Zaser / BuzzFeed Life

1. Make your bag as light as possible. "Empty out your wallet," Danesh says. "Those little papers and extra credit cards add up." And consider emptying your bag completely every day when you get home so you aren't toting around extra junk you don't need.

2. Check your posture. "Be as straight as you can," he says. "Shoulders should be back, straight. Shift from shoulder to shoulder to alleviate." You should also take your bag off your shoulder and set it down when possible.

3. Consider the type of bag you're carrying. Danesh says anything that is worn with a strap over the chest (like a messenger bag) will help disperse the bag's weight. Backpacks are a good option as long as they are adjusted correctly. (Danesh says the straps shouldn't be too loose or too tight.) But keep in mind that people tend to just fill up backpacks with more items, thus ending up with more weight on their shoulders overall.

4. Move your bag from shoulder to shoulder and take it off when possible. Give yourself a break!

5. Focus on stretching and strengthening your upper body. Danesh recommends the following yoga poses: Downward-Facing Dog (to strengthen and stretch upper body), Eagle Pose (for pec muscles), Cat Pose and Cow Pose (for chest muscles), and Cobra Pose (for trapezius muscles). Start by doing each pose once daily, and then do more as you gain flexibility. He also says jumping jacks, properly done crunches, and the 100-push-up challenge will improve muscle balance, flexibility, and strength.

If that doesn't help, Danesh recommends talking to your health care provider about trigger point injection therapy or acupuncture for the pain.

Or, you know, just get yourself a fanny pack.