Monthly Archives: November 2012

High heels are not a choice

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High heels. They’re uncomfortable – often painful – difficult to walk in, and incredibly damaging to a surprising extent of the body. Every girl knows this. But there are very few girls out there who will not reach for a pair of heels when they want to dress up.

On my commute home from work every day, I will inevitably see at least one lady tottering in her ridiculous shoes while a row of men in business attire occupy all seats available in the train carriage. “I’ve worked hard all day, I’m tired,” I imagine they’re thinking. “Why should I stand just because some girl decided to wear stupid shoes?”

But is the choice to wear uncomfortable shoes really entirely up to a woman’s own volition? High heels are so pervasive in modern society that the wearing of them is less a fashion option than a dogma which leaves women feeling like they have little other choice. When people think of an attractive, well-dressed woman, they don’t usually imagine her wearing comfy footwear. And this is a bias that women are immediately hit with upon entering a shoe shop. Overwhelmingly, the most decorative, feminine-looking footwear is equipped with a high heel. Anything that isn’t is deliberately designed to be plain, often dowdy – as though women who want to be functional must therefore have rejected any aspirations to beauty.

But, I hear you say, what about ballet flats? Certainly, the recent explosion in the popularity of ballet flats may seem to be an indication that women are increasingly rejecting the heel in favour of more functional footwear. Ballet flats are often intricately decorated, undeniably feminine, and don’t twist and strain the body as high heels do. An improvement, I will admit. Woman-kind has stood up in flat shoes and said “I don’t have to be dowdy to be casual!”. But this is honestly as far as the ballet flat goes. Flat they may certainly be, but functional they are not. The majority of ballet flats have soles so thin as to fail to provide any support for the foot.

Furthermore, the social stigma around flat shoes is such that even highly decorated ballet flats are rarely considered appropriate to replace high heeled shoes for special occasions. They may have replaced the dowdy casual shoe, but they have failed to replace the torturous high heel as an option for formal wear. A woman who wants to look like she has made an effort will inevitably find herself reaching for those heels – no matter how well her fancy, feminine ballet flats might match her dress, they invariably give others the impression that she is ‘dressing down’, and therefore not wearing appropriate attire for the occasion.

Just as heels are still considered the appropriate option for formal wear, they are also considered the most appropriate option for a woman who wants to look sexy – to impress a date, or increase her own self-confidence, perhaps. It is said that high heels visibly define the shape of a woman’s legs and buttocks – and thus increase their sex appeal. In my experience women who look amazing in heels actually look equally amazing without them, but as a society we are determined not to recognise that many women are gorgeous and sexy even without ridiculous footwear.

Of course, there are plenty of women who reject the social pressure to wear high heeled shoes, for various reasons – myself included. But there are still an overwhelming number of women who seem to feel that the social benefits of wearing high heels far outweigh any physical disadvantages. I’m not proposing we burn all high heeled shoes, but I do believe that, as a society, we need to reject the dogma of ‘beauty is pain’. Rather than women putting all of their focus into resigning themselves to suffering through this situation, we need to focus on creating more ways to combine beauty and functionality – and to hold firm to make these functional alternatives socially valid options for any situation.

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How do you feel about footwear options for women? If you have any theories, opinions, or stories you’d like to share, please use the comments section below.

The Conundrum of Love

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It’s the focus of just about every romantic comedy in existence. Two people fall in love. Maybe everything’s rocky for a while, if one or both of them is in denial. But then love is acknowledged, and everything is wonderful. The couple are perfectly matched in personality, and they have a great sex life to boot. It’s what virtually everyone, if they were to stop and be perfectly honest with themselves, desires in a relationship. But it’s not realistic, right?

If the most pervasive stereotype about love we are exposed to in this modern world is unrealistic – what is actually reasonable for each of us to expect when it comes to lasting romance? How do we know if it’s the real thing, or if we should hold out for something better? With divorce rates rising all over the world, many of us stop to wonder if we’re really putting enough thought into our committed relationships. But at the same time, overthinking things seems equally undesirable. Nobody wants to miss their chance at happiness because they were just too goddamn picky.

Thanks to women’s liberation and similar movements, divorce has increasingly become a viable, socially acceptable option for those who find themselves in marriages that just aren’t working. But honestly, this isn’t the only factor at work. Historically, the majority of marriages have been based on some kind of logical benefit. Money, social security, family standing, etc. But increasingly, ‘love’ has become the most considered factor when entering into a committed relationship. And unlike economic and social driving factors, love is highly illogical and unpredictable – particularly to the people who are most concerned.

A large part of what makes love illogical is that there are so many contradicting definitions of the concept. Is having someone who shares your interests and values enough? Or should you hold out for strong physical (chemical) attraction too? Whether you decide to define love as comfortable companionship, or as an irresistible physical attraction, either way most of us are conscious of a perceived risk. On the one hand, if we decide that burning passion is a non-viable basis for a relationship (if it even does exist anyway), we run the risk of finding ourselves trapped in a committed relationship with someone who suits us well enough when we eventually stumble across somebody else who is a perfect match. On the other hand, forever holding out for that one perfect connection can seem like a gamble most people are unlikely to win – with those who lose ending up forever alone.

Too often we may believe that we have found our soulmate, only to break up and, looking back, realise that everything that initially seemed so perfect was an illusion, a trick of our own minds caused by eager willingness to give in to chemical signals of physical attraction. So is every relationship that feels like it is based on some kind of deep connection on a spiritual or physical level necessarily a lie?

We are social creatures, but we are also individuals. The idea of two souls fitting together as one is a lovely image, but in reality we cannot even access the thoughts of another person, let alone connect our own thoughts to theirs. If ever we feel irresistibly drawn to another person, it is a purely physical effect. Chemicals playing with our brain. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that a relationship based on such physical attraction is doomed to fail. The key to every relationship is communication. Even if we feel this strong attraction to another person, we have to remember that a relationship doesn’t turn two people into one being – and we have to make effort to support the flow of communication accordingly. And once communication has been achieved, each of us must give a little, and take a little, and support compromises. It is only when cooperation fails that relationships fall apart.

And as for the original question: What is love? How important is this concept of love as a factor for a successful, committed relationship? And if our happiness is to be shared with another person, how do we know if we’ve found the right person to share it with? Honestly, I’m still confused. I suspect it’s an answer that requires retrospect to be learned. But with all that combined human experience out there, I don’t believe that we should all have to gamble our entire lives just to find out the answer.

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What are your thoughts on the nature of love? Is it like in the movies, or is it actually something much more mellow? And is it really necessary for a happy, successful relationship, or are other factors much more important?

Contribute your theories, opinions, and personal stories in the comments section below. Maybe together we can make some sense  out of love.