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Zen of the Stiletto

On Wednesday night I was sitting talking with my friend Michelle at our friend Steve’s monthly Yoga Potluck in his gorgeous Green Home in Santa Monica. The teacher Ted had just given us an hour and a half power calming yoga class and now we were onto the eating and socializing portion of the evening. The topic of our conversation was “shoes.”

Now you might wonder why we would be talking about shoes after a relaxing yoga class where one definitely doesn’t wear shoes. But that’s really the point. As a yoga student and teacher for many years, I have spent so much time being barefoot that I have been feeling a little bit out of it since I don’t know how to wear high heels! (Yes, I am living in the environs of Hollywood now so this subject does come up.)

The truth is – I CAN’T WEAR HIGH HEELS! I get back pain, my ankles feel like they are going to twist and sprain, and my entire foundation feels extremely unstable and like I am going to crash down at any moment. From yoga I know that if your foundation is weak, the rest of the posture is going to have a hard time finding strength and the practitioner will definitely have a hard time opening up. A great life metaphor!

Knowing that wearing heels causes me pain, instability and discomfort, why would I ever want to wear them and why do I even care?

Michelle, who was out visiting me from New York, also expressed a curiosity about wearing heels, but she as well has issues with them. “I feel like I wouldn’t be able to do everything I need to do. I walk a lot and I rush around too much for them,” she said. And then there was an unfolding gleam in Michelle’s eyes and she seemed to be in the midst of an ‘AHA’ moment! “Maybe that is just it,” she said. “You can’t rush around in them. Maybe they get you to slow down. Maybe there is something zen to them!”

We got a big laugh from this and then our friend Mark chimed into the conversation. He told us about a woman from his work who he says, “always wears stilettos.” “She is a very good looking gal, but when she stands up and tries to walk, she can barely move. It is painful to watch her! Everything that she spent on looking beautiful just goes right out the door when she gets up from that desk.”

This was so sad for me to hear about this woman not being able to walk and I doubted that she was wearing her stilettos for zen reasons (although you never know). Michelle seemed like she might be onto something with her epiphany, but I still wonder these things:

1. Why as women are some of us fascinated with high heels/stilettos?

2. Are they empowering? And if so, why? (make us feel taller, sexier, enhance certain aspects of ourselves that we really like?)

3. Are they disempowering (make us unstable, weak, not steady, uncomfortable, and objects to be admired but not comfy?)

4. Why can some women wear stilettos and others not?

5. Are men really attracted to women wearing heels/stilettos. And if yes, why?

6. What would life be like if NO ONE wore stilettos?

To get some of my questions answered I am going to be a guest on the Fashion 411 radio show this Friday hosted by celeb stylist, Barbra Horowitz, and get a chance to dialogue with Tina Aldatz Norris, the creator and president of the super successful business, Foot Petals. Tina created Foot Petals to help those who have a love/hate relationship with sexy shoes! If this is you, check it out!

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Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.

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9 Responses to Zen of the Stiletto

  1. felice rhiannon August 8, 2008 at 8:33 pm #

    i’m with you honey! give me bare feet or flat shoes.
    >
    > but i’m thrilled that you will be on the show. empowerment through
    > shoes??????????????
    > oy vey! we need the Goddess more than ever!
    >

  2. Evelina Giang August 13, 2008 at 6:11 pm #

    I love wearing heels, but of course, if it came down to flats or heels, I would definitely stick with my flats (or better yet, my flip flops). Walking in heels just takes a lot of effort.

    Although sometimes I do think it does make a woman look sexier and more confident (if they can walk in them of course). Heels make me feel taller, and I feel like I have longer legs. They just add to the package!

    keep blogging! I love reading your stories!

  3. Sheri Franklin August 13, 2008 at 6:15 pm #

    Hey Tabby,

    I use foot petals, they are pretty good, although the sticky side
    always ends up on my skin somehow. I totally agree about the heels,
    but I feel too short without them. I also feel that if they are too
    high I can’t move freely, so I just wear the shorter 2″ heels which
    are pretty comfortable and make my legs look sexier and taller.

  4. DC August 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm #

    From the wikipedia entry on high Heels :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_heels

    History

    Raised heels are stated to have been a response to the problem of the
    rider’s foot slipping forward in stirrups while riding. The “rider’s heel,”
    approximately 1-1/2″ high, appeared around 1500. The leading edge was canted
    forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge was canted forward
    to prevent the elongated heel from catching on underbrush or rock while
    backing up, such as in on-foot combat. These features are evident today in
    riding boots, notably cowboy boots.

    The simple riding heel gave way to a more stylized heel over its first three
    decades. Beginning with the French, heel heights among men crept up, often
    becoming higher and thinner, until they were no longer useful while riding,
    but were relegated to “court-only” wear. By the late 1600s men’s heels were
    commonly between three and four inches in height.

    In 1533, the diminutive wife of the Duke of Orleans, Catherine de’ Medici,
    commissioned a cobbler to fashion her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and
    to increase her stature. They were an adaptation of chopines (elevated
    wooden soles with both heel and toe raised not unlike modern platform
    shoes), but unlike chopines the heel was higher than the toe and the
    “platform” was made to bend in the middle with the foot.

    High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious men and women
    of the French court, and spread to pockets of nobility in other countries.
    The term “well-heeled” became synonymous with opulent wealth.[citation
    needed] Both men and women continued wearing heels as a matter of noble
    fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the French
    Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s, the practice of wearing heels fell
    into decline in France due to its associations with wealth and aristocracy.
    Throughout most of the 1800s, flat shoes and sandals were usual for both
    sexes, but the heel resurfaced in fashion during the late 1800s, almost
    exclusively among women.

    ——–

    From the introduction of “Then Signs of Our Time – The Secret Meanings of
    Everyday Life”, a semiotic text by Jack Solomon (
    http://www.amazon.com/Signs-Our-Time-Meanings-Everyday/dp/0060972661)

    “Almost any cultural object can be read a s a sign whose significance can be
    traced to a larger social system. For example, what is the significance of a
    high-heeled shoe? To the women who wear them, they may be merely fashionable
    articles of dress, but to feminist decoders the shoes signify the desire of
    a male-dominated culture to disable its women physically, to keep them
    jacked up on heels that prevent them from running away. A less extreme
    interpretation is that high heels tend to make a woman look as if she were
    trying to attract sexual attention. This fact does, at any rate, point to a
    common gender myth that defines women as sexual objects and requires them to
    appear sexually attractive.”

    ———–

    So Tabby, you ponder why it is that women wear high heels? How should I
    know? I’m a guy who wears butt-ugly sneakers that are really comfortable.
    All I can say is I see similarities in motivations for wearing high heeled
    shoes, foot binding in China, and female genital mutilation.

    ———–

    Foot Binding Wikipedia entry:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding

    “Foot Binding” on Youtube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1gkV38-2uk&fmt=18
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_FYM2Y4AR4&feature=related&fmt=18
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUKzzge1jEg&feature=related&fmt=18

    ———-

    Female genital cutting (a/k/a female genital mutilation or circumcision) on
    wikipedia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_cutting

    Female Genital Mutilation reports on Youtube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMSQPDd1B2g&fmt=18
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9DzLujRIro&fmt=18
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kNMC65pNsg&feature=related&fmt=18

    ————

    DC

  5. Tabby August 14, 2008 at 4:29 pm #

    Wow! You did a lot of research DC! This was so interesting to read and learn about. I guessed about the Chinese foot binding and male domination part, but I did not know the practical reasons that came from the riding boot and that men were the majority of heel wearers back in the 1600s.

    I’m going to go check out some of the YouTube links that you included in your reply.

    Thanks again for sharing DC.

  6. Sheri August 14, 2008 at 4:41 pm #

    Hey Tabby,

    I use foot petals, they are pretty good, although the sticky side
    always ends up on my skin somehow. I totally agree about the heels,
    but I feel too short without them. I also feel that if they are too
    high I can’t move freely, so I just wear the shorter 2″ heels which
    are pretty comfortable and make my legs look sexier and taller than in flats.

  7. Neycha August 23, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    Hi Tabby:
    Thanks for the great expose’ about stilettos for us to ponder. Although your blog and some of the commenters have provided various backgrounds about stilettos, I have to say that I would caution against assigning any real power to these concepts. Accepting that somehow women who choose to wear heels – are doing so because they are complying to some role expected of them or attempting to be sexy FOR MEN is limiting and rather ancient.

    This is the inherent problem with overidentifying with any one movement’s perspective. It oversimplifies and ultimately oppresses those who would seek to move beyond stereotypes and outdated concepts.

    If a woman doesn’t like or feel comfortable in heels, she should be all means skip wearing them. If on the other hand, a woman enjoys wearing heels for whatever reason, she should have the freedom to express it accordingly and WITHOUT being stereotyped.

    Many modes of conduct whose initial practices were inarguably oppressive have evolved over time – especially when the oppressed took ownership of the thing and transformed its meaning. This is what empowerment is all about – choosing for ourselves. One does not have to be defined by the initial origins of something. In the end, it takes a lot more courage to be an individual than adhere to the miscalculations of group think.

    I like Michelle’s AHA moment – “they keep us from rushing”. Now I have one more fabulous way to think about my heels the next time I’m pumping around NYC being gorgeous for myself! LOL

    Keep writing Tabby! Your topics are quite intriguing. I love them.
    And congrats on the radio appearance!

    Cheers,
    Neycha

  8. Rain Frog Apparel August 29, 2008 at 4:58 am #

    I really know what you mean about this one…I am a karate practitioner/teacher, and we do the barefoot dance as well. On top of that, a knee injury and subsequent knee surgery has forced me to wear flats for the past 3+ months, when I ordinarily would often wear at least platforms when outside the dojo. So the question I must ask myself is, what do we get when we cross a knee injury/surgery with flats — a situation where one MUST slow down coupled with a pair of shoes that otherwise would let me glide along, free as a breeze? A paradox, that’s what!! ~Karen

  9. Cindy Arlinsky September 8, 2008 at 3:16 pm #

    I’ve struggled with this for years. I KNOW heels are unhealthy, yet I like the way they look. Most days I just want to put on my MBTs and run out the door. But when I throw on a skirt with “sensible” footwear …. ugh. It doesn’t look “right.” So I get into a philosophical debate with myself: don’t fall into the ego trap, fashion is dictated by the consumer/marketing machine, how I look is not the real me, and a few other things extrapolated from yoga teachings. But then the mini devil on my other shoulder in the form of Billy Crystal doing his Fernando Lamas routine “It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look!” surfaces. Maybe heels are empowering for the same reason people opt for plastic surgery: they think it enhances their looks which in turn gives them confidence.

    So does this mean that us heel-loving gals need to keep working on ourselves so that feelings of confidence, self-worth, self-esteem come from inside? Externals ultimately don’t make us happy ….. or do they?

    I LOVE your question #6 – if no one wore heels the playing field would be completely leveled! Some women would no longer look sexy, and others who perhaps paled in comparison would suddenly look great, and maybe even better than the original heel wearers. In New York, where one gets a daily fashion eyeful, I’ll often “dissect” people I observe on the street, in my mind saying “if her head was shaved there’d be nothing special about her” or “if she replaced that tight top with a baggy one” …. you get my drift. Sounds catty, right? But it’s not about catty, it’s just interesting to me, perhaps because it is something so seemingly superficial as long hair or showing curves or skin. I’ll notice someone who looks hot and try to figure out what it is about her that looks so great — why is she getting oogled and not the next gal?

    Even last night (SEE? it’s ever-present) I was at the movies with a guy (a friend not a date) and I noticed how he checked out a woman who walked into the row in front of us. She had on tight jeans and, well, she dressed in a way that accentuated her assets. My friend was transfixed. If she’d been wearing a loose tunic I doubt she would have grabbed his attention and thus his attention wouldn’t have turned away from me.

    So do we women dress a certain way for “survival?” Obviously I’m not the first to put these thoughts out there …. isn’t this part of what the early feminist movement spoke about?

    And it’s not women anymore. A guy I met at the yoga ranch was telling me how he’s very careful with what he wears because he wants to project a certain image (his words: “look hip, confident cool yet approachable, not uptight but be able to command respect and also convey my counterculture nature”).

    Is our culture now really so different from previous decades and centuries? Fashion has been around for ages.

    And then there’s the difference between style and fashion … When we figure out what works for our bodies and faces isn’t that style? … as opposed to wearing the latest trend regardless of how it suits us.

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