Friday, January 6, 2012

The Great Stiletto Conspiracy

Is it just me or does anyone else think high heels are a misogynist joke on women?

High-heeled shoes are meant to make women look sexy by jutting out the bum and making you teeter daintily and swing your hips seductively. Dazzling slender heels look especially alluring when worn with a short, tight skirt or skinny jeans. Being clearly impractical as sensible footwear, they subliminally suggest that you are ready to flop backwards on a bed, or possibly lean forward, ready for sex. They also send the message that looking sexy is such a priority you are willing to endure agony with every step.

In this excruciating attempt to look sexy, and some women paradoxically claim high heels make them feel “empowered”, a woman in reality looks helpless and vulnerable and precariously on the brink of toppling over.

Daily Mail columnist William Leigh expresses the male ambivalence to the female form cavorting in high heels. “At four inches, the woman begins to look ferocious as well as vulnerable – she may be cornered, but these heels look like weapons, metaphorically, if not quite literally. She is dressed to kill, a vamp, a creature of the night…even if she is standing in a lunch queue at Pret a Manger. At five inches, this year’s height, something new happens. Instead of the feminine sashay… the woman’s walk begins to look like something else – dressage. She’s like a show pony.”

To my middle-aged eyes, newly arrived in London and keenly observing the street fashion trends, younger women actually look silly, ridiculous and comical on absurdly tall stilettos.

High heels strike me as humiliating. Only a foolish woman would willingly turn herself into a fashion victim. Walking on spikes is a form of oppression on par with willingly shrouding yourself in heavy black robes and veils. We cannot judge other cultures that oppress women when our own western culture promotes instruments of torture for female footwear.

The physiological truth is walking on ‘killer heels’ sends shock waves through the foot reverberating throughout the nervous system, causing pain. Concentrating all the pressure on the ball of the foot, tips you forward and throws out your balance and posture, damages the spine and muscles and adversely impacts every body system.

Apart from chronic pain inflicted through the martyrdom of walking or standing in high heels throughout a busy working day, there is a very real danger of tripping and falling over and injuring yourself as you rush around the city streets, chasing a bargain or trudging through the unglamorous tunnels in the Tube.

High heels are a commercial conspiracy. Clever advertising and marketing whiz kids exploit the female urge to collect objects that are shiny and pretty, drawing on the tribal gatherer instinct. Once a woman has succumbed to buying the latest mesmerising pair of heels, she will quickly tire of them, as the novelty of the new trinket wears off, and will return to buy another pair, and another and another, to add to her glittering collection (the equivalent of collecting pebbles or shells in the wild).

The impractical nature of these shoes ensures planned obsolescence and continual sales. All the while, gullible women are indoctrinated by fashion magazines that convince them that wearing killer heels is ‘normal’. Like other forms of social indoctrination, it is an insidious normalisation process of behaviour that is ridiculous and harmful (like violence and war).

I have a personal gripe with high heels because I have reached that menopausal age where walking long distances in standard heels or even flat shoes causes my feet to over-heat (something to do with the body thermostat being out of whack). My sweet little footsies become all swollen, tender and sore. I once Google searched ‘swollen and tender feet’ to discover a truckload of serious medical knowledge under the heading of this quaint Old Wives term.

Unlike women who get obsessed with pretty shoes, I was obsessed with buying every possible variety of sensible, supportive shoes; spongy slip-ons, cool open sandals and solid exercise footwear, but still my poor feet ended up ‘swollen and tender’; all pink, blistered and throbbing after a few hours on the move; which is very distressing as an avid traveller.

What to do, what to do! It is a perplexing dilemma for women of my age. And then I discovered The Anti-Shoe. I even like the assertive name because it is as cranky and adamant in its rejection of heels as I am. But when I laid eyes on a pair for the first time, I must admit I was shocked. They have big, curved soles. Hmmm…now that IS different!

However when I put on the DVD and started learning about the rationale behind the design, it made perfect sense and the people at this smart company MBT are my new best friends.

The brochure blurb explains all: “The curved sole preserves the foot’s natural rolling movement. By creating a natural instability underfoot, it activates long-neglected muscles and has a positive effect from head to toe.

“The anti-shoe improves gait and posture and relieves stress on your joints and back. It exercises a large number of muscles and supports muscle regeneration, whether you’re walking or standing. It stimulates your metabolism and burns extra calories. It can have a firming effect on abdominal, leg and buttock muscles.”

I like it! I like it! So I bought myself a pair. They are expensive and not for the faint-hearted. But I reckon I will make a saving on random purchases of useless ‘sensible shoes’. And the nice man in the store tells me they will last for four million steps.

Maybe I’m a sucker for well-written advertising copy and convincing diagrams. But my new curved soles can’t possibly look sillier than killer heels. I’m off to try them out with a promise to report on the state of my precious pinkies after pounding the pavement like a menopausal Super Hero in my trusty Anti-Shoes.

So here I am some months later after getting through a winter with my Anti-Shoes and discovering to my dismay that curved sole and slippery icy footpaths simply don’t mix! In fact they became as much a hazard in snowy conditions as the dreaded stilettos. I will keep them for autumn when it’s cold enough, but not wet and slippery, to wear such heavy clodhoppers, and resolved to wear regular flat boots in the snow.

And for summer, I looked up my old friend Scholl online and rediscovered the ecstasy of spiky massage sandals for around the house and contoured, spongy soles for out and about on the Tube.

And in more than two years in London I’ve discovered a thrilling new array of comfort shoes! Oh Bliss. I’m in Sensible Footwear Heaven! There is Life After Death by heels. Give me sole comfort over sole torture any day! I am the new evangelist for walking on clouds! Hallelujah!

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