Voluntary Foot Binding: The Millennial Edition

Image via Solitice Retouch

After saying I needed another account like I need exposure to Ecoli, I signed up for Pinterest. Call it peer pressure, or my mind’s need to indulge in the very visual after hours of wrestling with words, I’ve been pinning my heart away. My boards (the groupings of images I select) reflect my interests or intended projects: a Yum-o! list of recipes I’d love to try for my well deserving family, a Family Wedding collage of ideas for an upcoming celebration, and a Writing Projects smatter of snapshots of dresses,and  faces (including Robert Downy Jr.) who remind me of my characters. Getting slightly into it, I created a few more: one for research about Laos for an upcoming novel, another with Books Worth Reading in my heaps of free time, and Word! (Sayings I Love) for those times I need to dwell on the positive.

Revealing my Type-A personality, there’s this other board, Random, where I capture things that are interesting but don’t fit any of the others. “Random” for things that don’t On this board, I put a fairly innocuous image but one that stood out to me nonetheless (left).

I was respondent number three after two other women who commented on how much looking at photo itself made their feet hurt. I pulled together the sum of my feminine experiences and threw in a drop of my feminist inclinations: “So bad for you! Modern foot binding anyone?”

Someone said “this makes me dizzy,” which made me laugh, because if you have ever worn shoes like this, it is difficult to balance while walking. Then a male then commented: “Yes but we all know that in the flesh they probably look awesome.” Six people later, one woman said exactly what I was thinking: “Only the man comments that they look good, figures:).”

The deluge of comments that followed was astonishing; I almost left Pinterest because of the volume of notifications that flooded my inbox. Not because everyone took issue with the male, or agreed that his sentiment was why millions of us wore such high heels calling it fashion. There were many, many women who agreed, some who even defended him, that it wasn’t just men’s fault that we wear things regularly that are chipping away at the bones of our hips, legs, and knees.

And not to be left out of the debate, he felt emboldened enough to comment again: I am sorry you think it’s all men’s fault. I guess I must say I don’t really agree. Pintrest is conservatively 80 percent women posters and I would venture to guess that in the women’s fashion section 90 percent of the posters are women… Lots and lots of :3 posts on shoes that seem pretty tall… But yep it’s all because men like them. Ok. My whole gender is screwing up yours. I apologize for the collective. He deserves an award for exhibiting that special ability men have to turn around something that they are implicated in and blame it on women’s complicity.

Which of course we are. As someone else pointed out even later in the chain: “Statistically, for office jobs, a majority of interviewers prefer women in heels to women in flats. (Same for women with make up vs no make up). First World Problem eh?”

As a professional woman living in the Arabian Gulf, I do wear heels, though many around me wouldn’t consider them as heels because they are under the five inch height at which many female nationals use for their everyday wear.  That’s not to say everyone wears them, but Qatari women who don’t wear heels are often thought of different or not interested in fashion. A friend of mine was even told by her boss to wear heels to the office, so entrenched in his mind was the connection between Qatari women and high heels. She carried on in her loafers.

Since the days of working at the national university, where you have to trek between buildings in the hot sun, my everyday wares are more like one or two inches; I draw the line at three (I do have a pair of the size in this photograph, but I last only about ten minutes standing up). I’m in flats as I write this because today I have no one to impress and I want to get where I’m going quickly. But when I dress up? Heels, without a doubt. And I’m short, so in most cases when you see me at home, you’re surprised at my real height.

Even though I know from experience you can’t do any kind of heavy labor, or even walk long distances or stand for long hours in heels (nor squeeze pregnant feet into them), they’re the first thing I dig out if I have an important meeting. So is it okay to pick and choose when we use these prescriptions of beauty?

Can we, as some of the other posters said, wear them because they make us feel sexy, good, dressed up, without participating in the other ideas that restrict women’s movement?

Can we ever escape the cult of beauty? Or is beauty, as someone said on this ever increasing chain, inextricably linked to pain?

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Reader Comments

  1. Kathy Radigan

    Although I did not see this thread on Pininterest last week the news was filled with stories about how bad wearing heels is for your health, not just your bones! I think sometimes these arguments fall into the “what came first the chicken or the egg” category. Do women who wear heels because they like the way they look and the way they make them feel do it for them or because it has been ingrained in our minds that the higher the better. I too do not know. After three kids and well into my forties I no longer can even attempt the height I could do with no problem in my twenties, but I too have a few pairs of heels for “special” occasions. Although I have not worked in an office since my kids were born, if I was to need to look professional I would opt for a small heel. Thanks for making me think about this. One has to wonder just how far we will go in our quest for “beauty” whether it is to please someone else or ourselves. Thanks again. Great to find you through our Triber tribe Blogger Village. I’m now happily following!

    • Mohanalakshmi

      “Pain is beauty” someone responded via Tweet to this blog title. This idea, no matter how fashionable it is to disagree with now, is entrenched in all of us. I’ve no idea how to shake it free!

  2. Maimoona

    It is voluntary foot binding.

    I love heels, though I have never worn them because I am rather tall and they make me giddy. And because my ankle never fully recovered from a fracture that happened a decade ago. Heels scare me. But if I ever overcame that fear and learnt how to control my gait, I’d definitely wear heels to parties and meetings.

    I think we are obsessed with heels not because they make us more appealing to men, but because they make us more appealing to ourselves. It must have been the same in China, where women bound their foot because they found it as beautiful as men did. The question, of course, is who sets these standards of beauty? Men, women, or both?

    • Mohanalakshmi

      Yes, it’s true as many women posted after me, they wear heels for themselves to feel pretty. The more I talk about this, the more I realize I feel pretty wearing them, but not necessarily to myself — to others. As a friend once said when were bridesmaids at a friend’s wedding: “Too bad these skirts are so long no one can see our shoes.” If no one else notices, does it make it less so?

  3. RachelintheOC

    I joke quite a bit about Pradas in my books, but truth is I have two pairs — one has 2-inch “kitten” heels and the other pair are higher but are Mary Jane wedges (both bought on sale :). I also write that, like you, Mohana, I last a few minutes and then sit prettily in them for the rest of the night.

    Where I live, here in Orange County, CA (aka Barbie country), designer heels are de rigueur (sometimes even for school drop off though I don’t get that at all. I’m in flip-flops). Sure, I love a pretty pair of heels just like the next Barbie or Skipper. I just have enough brains not to wear them for long.

    • Mohanalakshmi

      Barbie county sounds very much like life in the GCC: only we all have lasting year round tans :). The key is that we choose what we wear when and are not blindly dictated fashion “sense” by an industry also dominated by men and their preferences.

  4. jaya

    I wear heels almost all the time. Not “sexy” heels, but normal 2″ heels in casual shoes. I’ve never felt the extreme pain that the x-ray picture inspires. I am 5’2″ , so i guess adding 2″ heels gives me a ‘grownup’ stature.

    The whole argument about the way her calf , her derriere, even her toes look so great in a sexy shoe is a non issue to a woman who wants the added height to boost her confidence. Yes, I would wear a good shoe and wear makeup If I was going for a job interivew. Why? It helps me look well-groomed… I have not yet met a pair of flat shoes that made me feel well-groomed. Yes, it is a first-world problem.

    Selecting a pair of shoes is a lengthy process for most women. Almost as bad as selecting a dress. It is an expression of personal style choices, as we try to highlight our best features. Yes, it is okay to select a great pair of shoes because they make you feel more confident. But know that, in the end, they are all just accessories.. the real You will shine through any drab clothes you wear. and the real You will suck the light out of any amazing dress that you wear…. depending on your personality 🙂

    • Mohanalakshmi

      Since putting up this post I’ve worn heels of various heights to work, special events, etc. On Tuesday, one of my knees seized while coming down the stairs. Needless to say, have been in flats ever since.

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