Friday, October 9, 2009

A Well-Heeled Debate?

Last week the New York Times reported on a study that suggests women who wear "bad" shoes for most of their life are more likely to experience foot pain later in life. 

The researchers found that women who had mainly worn supportive footwear like sneakers or athletic shoes in their early years cut their risk of foot pain later by more than half, compared with women who had worn shoes that gave average support, like hard-soled or rubber-soled ones.

But both of those groups were in a minority. More than 60 percent said that in the past they generally wore high heels, pumps, sandals and slippers, all of which researchers rated as higher risk. Women who wore those were at the most risk of hindfoot, ankle and Achilles’ tendon pain.

Though the study is hardly ground-breaking, it did make me wonder about my own shoe choices.  I am by no means a slave to shoe fashion, but I do own three pairs of pumps, and two pairs of high heeled boots.  In recent years I have gotten rid of most shoes that cause me significant pain, but I am still holding on to one pair of pumps only because they are cute (the damn things kill my feet, and I haven't worn them in years).  Even though my high heeled boots are comfortable while I'm wearing them, I often notice a flare up in back pain the day after.  So, as a sensible law student of progressive hippie parentage, I still fall victim to the fashion constraints put on women.  

I was hoping some of the opinions published in the New York Times yesterday, in response to the study, could help me understand my willingness to suffer for fashion.  Nancy Rexford, a fashion historian, says that heels emphasize thinness and are about power and control.  She concludes that fashion "is no longer obligatory as it was for our grandmothers, and if a woman wears cruel shoes, we can be sure it is by choice."  Really?  The thought that anyone would choose cruel shoes without feeling any obligation to fashion seems a bit far-fetched.  

Tina Sloan, former Guiding Light star, thinks "it is in our DNA as women to want to be peacocks and strut our stuff."  She then admits that her first thought after being asked to play a cougar on television was her shoes!  Anna Marie Fitzgerald, co-editor of fashion blog Pamflet, talks about the tantalizing "Louboutin under-lick of red" and the exquisite torture of pinched toes.....

Okay, so the New York Times doesn't have anything helpful to say, and neither do its contributors in this incredibly trite examination of the allure of heels.  As I read the opinions and began writing this blog, I kept thinking about a reoccurring theme in our feminist legal theory class; this debate is only relevant to people who can afford to care.  Maybe the fact that I have the privilege to choose between several pairs of high heels or several other pairs of more comfortable shoes means I have no right to complain about anything, much less my foot health.


Naomi said...

I read this article after I wrote mine on feminist fashion and both found it informative and interesting. I especially like the note you ended on: we upper middle class women, while realizing that fashion choices may indeed inform others about how we see ourselves as women and how we wish to be viewed by others, male and female both, may in another view be worried over nothing. We do, after all, have the choice to wear these shoes / dresses / etc, while a woman like Josie from "North Country" must wear coveralls and a bandana every day out of necessity. So do we have a right to complain about self-inflicted injury? Or are we stuck in a world that still requires us to be uber-feminine, where we must wear suits and high heels to be respected as law students and lawyers? I think that it is interesting that skirt suits are still considered more "conservative" than pant suits, when pant suits reveal less. Does "conservative" read "what men want to see"? Or am I going too far there? At least we have passed the days when my mother, who lived in Minnesota during college, was required to walk through below-freezing weather in a skirt and knee socks. Societal expectations may be a social construct we can ignore from time to time, and maybe only from time to time, but at least we are not wearing skirts through the snow. And thus society progresses.

AL said...

Thanks for your comment Naomi. I too am still questioning whether we have real "choices" about whether to wear heels, especially as budding lawyers. I also struggle with whether or not, when I choose to wear a skirt suit and heels it is because it makes me feel good, or because it is what is expected of me. I remember being excited to buy my first skirt suit this year, and when I dress up in heels and nylons I do feel confident and powerful. I'd like to think this is based on my own values and desires, but I am not so naive that I believe my "choices" are not guided in many ways by society's expectations. I think this also brings up an interesting point that has been discussed in class; do women dress up for men or for women, and are the pressures to look pretty sometimes more fueled by what women will think of us then what men will think? I personally care more about what my female friends have to say about my clothing choices, maybe because I have a male partner who thinks I look cute in my pajamas (and who has very little in the way of fashion sense). The bottom line is, I want to look cute, but I am grateful to feminism for reminding me to think more deeply about my reasons.