I remember being 15-years-old, it was a Saturday night, and my best girlfriend and I were getting dressed up in my bedroom to head out to a party. When we walked down the staircase and consequently presented ourselves to my parents, my dad intercepted our route and insisted that since it was winter, I change my high-heeled sandals and instead wear winter shoes. My important but simple one sentence response to his protest was: “But I don’t have any other shoes.” The reason this sentence was so important and is etched clearly in my memory, is because it provoked the most frightening response my teenage mind could have possibly imagined. In an instant, my dad stormed up the staircase exclaiming, “YOU HAVE NO OTHER SHOES??!!”. My girlfriend and I followed him into my bedroom as he flung open the doors to my closet and proceeded to throw every shoe he could find (and admittedly, there were mountains of them!) across the room screaming: “This one! This one! This one!” To this day, my girlfriend and I still skip a beat when one of us dares to remind the other one of that humiliating episode. And suffice to say, I wore winter lace-up boots to the party that night.
The very idea of being cold was simply not a reasonable option in my family. Perhaps this is because my father is from Poland and so he genuinely understood the gravity of cold. But regardless, while other girls at my school would wear knee-high socks with their pinafores in the winter (yes, I went to a British-style grammar school), I would be rugged up in thick woollen tights. And without fail, before my brother and I had finished breakfast, my dad would make sure we were each wearing a spencer or singlet beneath our school shirts and sweaters. If we weren’t, he would insist we go back upstairs and put one on. I repeat: being cold was not an option.
I also remember being 14-years-old, having four of my girlfriends over, and getting ready in my bedroom for our first ever rock concert. Alanis Morissette! One girl in our group was particularly good at makeup and so one by one, we sat in her “beauty chair” while she applied eye shadow, mascara, blush, and lipstick to each of our (then) cherubim faces. When we all walked down the staircase and headed to my dad’s car—my dad had been delegated designated chauffeur for the night — he commented: “Don’t you girls realize that each of you look so much more beautiful without all that makeup on.”
I guess where I’m getting at is that in spite of my youthful attempts at conformity and appropriated “femininity” or “sexiness,” I grew up in a culture that valued well being and naturalness over any such role-playing. But it wasn’t that my family didn’t embrace fashion and aesthetics. Quite the opposite. Italian leather shoes are held in the highest esteem to my parents. But such shoes embody class and substance, while goose-bump legs and too much makeup indicate something far less important and much more compromising.
I think it’s about self-worth. My parents were by no means perfect. And I’m sure the crazy shoe episode has left a few of you rolling your eyes. But what they did manage to install in me is a sense of worth that means that I will never value standing outside a night club in a short, tight dress and uncomfortably high-heels at midnight over my own personal comfort and dignity.
A male suitor once told me that he had no idea how big or small my boobs were because I always wore lose or oversized tops and sweaters or even boys shirts. He added that he found that sexy because he had to keep guessing and because it invited his imagination. My response to him was: Good, keep guessing. Because until I decide, they’re none of your business.
Let’s talk about high heels. We can all agree that they’re frickin’ sexy. They make most legs look great and they’re fun to wear when dressing up for an event. But let’s look a little deeper. By their very construction, high heels are a disabling device. They prop the woman up onto her tiptoes and off her heels with only the support of a thin, long stick. This “walking on stilts” concept — but even worse, because in heels the woman is tilted forward as well — balance and fundamental gravitas are derailed. While in men’s classic flat shoes, the foot remains grounded, earthed and supported, in high heels, the woman is immediately at a disadvantage. With every step, she must negotiate her weight distribution with the imminent risk of losing balance and falling over. This shoe, this article of women’s fashion was created by men. So not only does the high heel objectify the woman on a literal “pedestal” (the heels being the pedestal), heels were also created to physically limit and disable the woman. This is not unlike the empirical Chinese tradition of foot binding, whereby young girls of upper class would have their feet tightly bound in order to stunt their growth. The outcome: they couldn’t walk. Without going into the countless health risks associated with repeated high heel wearing, I would argue that high heels impede a woman’s ability to confidently and properly walk also. And sexiness aside, they’re just damn uncomfortable. And often cold.
I’m a feminist and so by no means do I write this article to ridicule or even criticize my cold and uncomfortable sisters. Since they are my sisters—all the girls on this planet—I write this to say think twice. Be aware. Are you placing greater value in appealing to the male gaze than in your own health, comfort, and self worth? As far as I’m aware, wearing big warm cuddly sweaters and woolly socks has never decreased my sex appeal. They’ve only enhanced the challenge. Because what such clothing represents is that I’m self possessed enough to not be cold and uncomfortable; my well being is more important than trying to get a guy hooked on me. And of course, the likely outcome of such an attitude is: they’ll get hooked. But that isn’t what’s important.
In fear of sounding like a tomboy or a butch feminist, it’s important that I note that I’m exceptionally girly and feminine. I LOVE fashion and beautiful things. I also enjoy throwing on lipstick, a cocktail dress, and a pair of stilettos. But when and if I do it, I make damn sure I’m doing it for me. That I’m governed by my own taste, aesthetic, and vibe. And so when I also chose to be enveloped by an oversized plaid flannel shirt and go makeup free, I feel just as wonderful.