I suppose it’s safe to say that I’m
somewhat fond borderline obsessed with shoes. Fondness equates 20, 30 pairs, and the absence of raised eyebrows when one picks up a pretty pair on display at the mall. There is neither incoherent sputtering of utter disbelief from spouses nor unbearably loud wails of resistance from children at the sheer prospect of you trying on pair after pair after pair. None of that.
Obsessed, on the other hand, translates into a roomful of shoes with random sightings of stacked shoe boxes throughout the house. Whereat, I propose, there may or may not be daily knocks on the door, signalling the arrival of yet another pair (or four) vis–à–vis the trusty postman. An environment wherein the
afflicted affected household suffers from a chronic condition known only as colour impairment (read: yes, darling, dark red and vermilion and cherry red and crimson and auburn and brick are all different shades of red, I’m not making it up).
Well, I love heels.
I love wearing heels, and I love how I feel when my feet are in heels.
SEXY. POWERFUL. FEMININE.
As someone who thoroughly values her femininity, I’ve often pondered why such footwear (and the higher the heel, the better) should hold me in its thrall. Even when I was pregnant with Eve. And before you cast that first stone, condemning me for traipsing around in heels whilst expecting, I’ll let you know I attempted to wear flats. I really did. And I promptly lost my balance, falling flat on my face (and tummy) at 29 weeks. Never again.
One other interesting thing I’ve noticed is that as my age increases, so too the height of my heels. I kid you not. For the purposes of this post (and also because I’m truly quite befuddled myself), I shall attempt to process how they’ve become so embedded in my personal style narrative that I continue to love and wear them, even when they’ve been proven to cause structural damage to my body and, to some degree, fetishise femininity.
Does it stem from the fact that I like performing femininity (sparkle, lipstick, and high, high heels)? Or perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that the high heel originated from a place of of absolute monarchy and power – the first documented use of the high heel proper was by Queen Elizabeth I. Yes, as in the virgin queen of England who destroyed the Spanish Armada in the late 16th Century. So it stands to reason that the heel is a symbol of power, prestige, confidence.
And whilst it’s true that heels have strutted in and out of fashion (I mean, everything to do with the style world is cyclical), they’ve never strayed too far from popular consciousness. Fascinating, yes, but falling down the rabbit hole of fashion history, while really enlightening, doesn’t quite answer the question of why women want to wear heels today.
OR DOES IT?
The thing about heels is, they’ve always been about power and privilege.
Even when co-opted by pornography in the 1850s, and then co-opted again by Hollywood in the 1900s, ultimately, they were always about power. It’s just that over time, the source of that power became a smidge askew. You see, whereas Elizabeth I wore heels to proclaim her masculine features and assert authority, people today wear heels specifically to emphasize their femininity. One could also surmise that heels today symbolise feminine sexuality and power. Or, perhaps more specifically, power through sexuality. Now now, feminists, stop cussing at me. Read on.
In a highly visual-centric culture such as ours (selfie sticks, Snapchat, Instastories), where femininity, particularly when it comes to physicality, is discussed, dissected, photoshopped, policed, and put on display, the currency of the body is so strong that many of us seek any and all ways to use that advantageously. I mean, we’ve gone so far as to codify that idea in one of the most popular fairy tales of all time, Cinderella. If you’ve ever read the Grimm Brothers’ version, you’ll recall Cinderella’s stepsisters being so desperate to wear the small and dainty glass heel belonging to our heroine that they actually cut chunks off of their own feet in order to put the slipper on and bag the powerful prince. Yup. There’s that.
Celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and the cast of Sex and the City make it very clear that powerful women wear heels. The difference being that their frame of reference comes from the legacy of pornography and not of Elizabeth I. Having said that, the power of heels through the legacy of pornography is naught but a token power ase that power is still policed and controlled.
But does that answer the question of why women want to wear heels?
From a personal perspective, I
think believe the desire to wear heels lies in my earlier observation about wanting to perform femininity. Because my culture’s currency of feminine power is in sexuality and attractiveness, I’ve been exposed to the assumption that performing the act of “femininity” makes you powerful. As in, being a source of attraction makes you feel attractive, or rather, increases the feeling of being attractive, and for the vast majority of us, feeling attractive is the equivalent to feeling powerful.
Commanding attention is a like a hit of Dopamine, and if you don’t believe, me, then I challenge you to count how many times a day you check your Facebook or Instagram notifications after you post a particularly attractive photo of yourself. It’s science, I tell you.
And it’s also biological. After all, mating is pretty much the point of being alive, if we want to get into the theory of natural selection. And the more attractive you are, the more mating opportunities you potentially have (yes, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder so lower those weapons). But it’s also partially (and probably more so) cultural and environmental because we see modelled for us the act of powerful women wearing heels. It has been encoded into our cultural consciousness from a young age.
Honestly? I don’t know if the awareness of the act of performing femininity and what its legacy actually means will ever really dissuade me from wanting to wear heels. I could, as a political act, take them off, be one of those women walking down the red carpet in flats, I suppose, but there’s something seductive about the power of performing attractiveness. And I’m not quite certain it’s something that I, or the legions of us who torture ourselves in pumps, stilettos, and platforms every day, will ever truly give up.
It’s more likely I’ll continue to appropriate and even parody this objectified token “power” through burlesque, by actively taking back the power of the gaze and manipulating it through parody and play.
On that note, allow me to welcome you to the August edition of Project Sister Act and six visual stories of how we (women spanning teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s) thumb up our noses at societal expectations when it comes to the clothes we wear. In this month’s showcase, we take the ubiquitous Simple White Tee (SWT) and interpret it in our own (immensely different) styles. And, why yes, there’s some interesting footwear happening too.
I’m relishing virtually every aspect of Eve’s outfit. From the white tee (which was originally a pajama gown, so she tells me) right down to those brilliantly patterned vintage red fabric brogues. We often see black and white with a pop of red, and I appreciate how her use of that precise same palette isn’t as literal. I love me a good style surprise, don’t you?
Jalisa (the style contour)
Absolutely nothing to not love in Jalisa’s outfit. It’s such a classic combination of figure-flattering white tee with ripped jeans, and a dash of sass coming from those leopard print pumps. I must say that my fave bits are the red lips (I mean, we all know my weakness for a bold red) and that top-knot #hairgoals
In my eyes, Alice’s style is the embodiment of street cool. It’s relaxed and edgy and exudes this “I don’t really care what you think” vibe that I love (and covet, if I am to be completely honest). Everything appears so put together, so effortlessly, so nonchalantly. And those stark white highlights in her hair are the perfect finishing touches.
Me (sheela writes)
From the moment my eyes met this puffy maxi skirt, I knew it was meant to be paired with a simple white tee. To achieve that aesthetic contrast which serves to balance day with OTT glam. I also knew that some measure of leather had to be in the mix. I mean, it wouldn’t be Sheela otherwise, yes? And, of course, the heels.
Debbie (fashion fairy dust)
In ways too many to count, Debbie is my style sister. I doubt it’s an exaggeration when I claim to covet practically everything she owns, never more so than these divine olive joggers. I’ve no idea how she does it but the moment an item of clothing touches her skin, it transforms from the ordinary to the memorable.
Carmen (fashion with compassion)
Seriously, how gorgeous is Carmen? And how unbelievably casual chic does she look? I cannot help but have a smile on my face at her whimsical concoction of white tee with gingham pants as well as brolly. And bow too. Everything about this look is soft and feminine and charming, and ever so flattering.
There you have it, my friends, Project Sister Act for August 2016. Six women in white tees and a vast array of shoe styles.
So, again, why do women wear heels?
In truth, I can’t answer that. What I do know is that it’s a combination of nature and nurture. And I know that I’m doing it with the awareness of the history, culture, and implications of the act. But it’s a personal choice, and I think it’s a question that each individual person needs to answer for themselves.
Why do you wear heels?
Or whatever style of shoe it is you prefer?
Don’t forget to link in and show me some shoe.
Finally made the transition to AV and am now on YouTube as well as Snapchat (sheela.goh), would adore your support through subscribing to my channel/adding my snaps.
p/s my photos are by Sofia Touassa
I link up here.