Heel of contention
Are you sure you want to clamber onto those sky-high stilettos?brunch Updated: Sep 09, 2017 22:10 IST
I must confess that I was among those astounded to see Melania Trump perched atop a pair of vertiginous stilettos as she departed the White House with her husband, Donald, on a trip to visit those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Was this really the right kind of footwear to wear to a disaster zone, I mused on Twitter.
To be fair to the American First Lady, she ditched the heels in-flight and alighted in Texas wearing a pair of spotless white tennis shoes. But the whole brouhaha about Melania’s footwear, with social media going into meltdown and fashion glossies weighing in with their verdict on her style choices, reminded me yet again that when it comes to women, shoes are rarely simply shoes. They always carry a subliminal message within them, sending out signals with every clack of the heels or thump of the boot.
Five-inch heels don’t just tell the world that you have a high pain threshold, they also indicate that you don’t ever need to use public transport. A sensible kitten heel (like the ones the British Prime Minister Theresa May favours) marks you out as someone who values both comfort and style. A no-nonsense boot with a chunky heel tells you that its owner doesn’t mess about. And flats are the choice of the woman who stands tall in her own estimation, who doesn’t need a few extra inches to boost her self-esteem. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Shoes tell a story. Shoes are an essential part of your self-image, the narrative you are trying to establish about yourself. And the story is not just about who you are but what you want to be; it’s not just about how you project yourself to the world, but also about how the world sees you.
Speaking for myself, I always feel faintly perturbed when I see those all-pervasive images of the Trump women – Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany – always balanced perfectly on those sky-high heels, walking with almost balletic grace, presenting a picture of goddess-like perfection that is impossible for mere mortals like us to achieve. These women are far above us – both literally and metaphorically – as they sway gently along, their feet floating five inches above the ground.
How on earth do they do that? It must be hell on the soles of their feet, their bunions, their knees and their backs. And yet, there they are, day in and day out, walking past the cameras, working those ridiculously high heels, smiling and waving as if their feet weren’t killing them, one step at a time.
And it’s not just the Trump triumvirate either. Who can forget the sight of that stiletto slayer formerly known as Kate Middleton and now styled as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, stomping through Delhi and Mumbai during her State visit to India, her feet forever encased in high heels that seemed to have been grafted on to her soles? It didn’t matter if she was visiting a slum, hanging out with school kids or trying her hand at cricket; whatever she did, wherever she went, the heels stayed on.
As if these images weren’t enough, popular culture is also teeming with women who live their lives in their stilettos.
There’s Téa Leoni in Madam Secretary, flying off to trouble spots all over the world in her high heels. There’s Sofia Vergara in Modern Family, who slips on her stilettos to cook breakfast for the family. And then, there’s our very own Priyanka Chopra who hunts terrorists in Quantico while working a five-inch heel.
In real life, too, I know far too many women who spend their working day balancing on high heels as if their life depended on it. Ask them why and they will explain that they find their heels ‘empowering’. Those extra inches enable them to look their male colleagues and bosses in the eye and give them an extra fillip of confidence. They feel more put together, more in control, more business-like and professional when they are in their heels.
And who knows. Maybe they are right. What does a woman like me, who lives in her ballet flats, know about stuff like that?
But when they start telling me how ‘comfortable’ they are in their five-inch heels, and how they can even run in them, I’m afraid I reach the limits of my credulity. Sorry ladies, but I’m not buying that. Show me a woman who swears that her stilettos don’t leave her in a world of pain at the end of the day, and I will show you a liar. Even the superwoman, Catherine, slips a silicone pad into her shoes to lessen the strain on her soles as she goes through her royal engagements. So, don’t tell me those shoes don’t hurt.
But such is the insidious grip that these objects of torture have on the female imagination that even today among the first rites of passage a young girl goes through is buying her first pair of heels. She teeters around proudly while her mother (who really should know better by now) watches proudly. Her girl is finally blossoming into a woman – and part of being a woman is that your feet hurt all the time.
How I wish someone would take these little girls aside and tell them it doesn’t have to be like that. Dancing in heels may make them feel glamorous and grown-up. But running in flats, that’s what is really empowering.
From HT Brunch, September 10, 2017
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