Monday, July 27, 2015

Feminism and Sunday Shoes, II

We can all agree that the practice of foot binding is horrific, inhumane, and barbaric. The very idea that we should deliberately break the toes and footbones of a 5 year old girl in order to reshape the foot into an entirely impractical and artificial form for the purpose of beauty is awful. It’s important to note that foot binding also effectively crippled women, restricting them to upper rooms and sedan chairs. Chinese women who had to work outside used a form of false binding because their families couldn’t afford to lose that labor.
And yet, in the 21st century we have invented our own form of foot binding. We don’t inflict it on unwilling 5 year olds, but it is a sign of sexual maturity, economic prosperity, and a desire to please others at the expense of comfort. Of course I mean high heels. 

High heels are notoriously uncomfortable. Just watch any fashion show and you’ll hear someone say, “Oh, and these heels are actually comfortable.” No one says that about a fleece Snuggie or oversized sweatshirt. And if you’ve ever worn heels, you know this to be true. Why else would so many women wear socks and tennis shoes on their commute, changing into their foot bindings once at the office?

High heels are also extremely bad for your body, specifically your posture and spine. They can cause bunions, hammertoe, plantar fasciitis, and pain. Men’s shoes don’t deform their feet, why should women’s?

High heels are also impractical for walking. Not only do they impair a woman’s balance, they distort her posture by shortening the back calf muscle, thrusting out her buttocks, and shortening the amount of contact her foot has with the ground. Go ahead - Google walking in high heels and you'll find these 2 articles. I really can't decide which one is more insulting! 

There’s a reason we applaud Ginger Rogers for doing everything Fred Astaire did, “backwards and in heels.” Doing anything in heels is difficult. Even models, whose expertise includes walking in heels, fall flat at times!
How does this rant relate to feminism and Sunday shoes? Well, the feminism connection should be obvious. 
Why would we wear shoes that impair our ability to walk to a workplace? 
Why don’t we have enough self-esteem to say, “No, I’m not going to purchase an item that harms me no matter how pretty it is!”?

I have a four year old daughter. And I love to dress her up on Sundays for church. When she was an infant, I adored the classic gowns her grandparents gave her. I dressed her in pastels with lacy ruffled socks and lacy bonnets. I even put useless little Sunday shoes on her tiny feet, little soft black or white Mary Janes with no structure at all. As she started walking, I made sure to buy her a good sturdy pair of every day shoes, spending as much as $50 to make sure her feet were properly supported and there was no risk of blisters, but then I would buy cheap dress shoes. Who can spend $50 on shoes that only get worn once a week?

And now I wonder, what am I teaching her? She’s old enough to know that she wears special shoes on Sunday, shoes that are “dressy” and go with her outfit better. She has learned that shoes transcend function. I have my limits. I don’t buy anything with any kind of heel (and yes, they have heel shoes that would fit a 4 year old). 
The Payless website I just linked to actually states: "For girls, mastering the art of wearing heels is an important part of growing up." 

Excuse me, I have to go barf now.
When will we stop binding our feet? When will we accept that wide toes and long feet are beautiful exactly as they are? 

For now, I'm focused on making sure my daughter knows that her clothes must function well first and foremost. That if she chooses to wear her rainboots on a Sunday, that's OK with me.

So I may not continue to buy her Sunday shoes. Or I might.

But one thing I will do: I will make sure her shoes and her Sunday clothes are appropriate for running, playing, jumping, AND going to church.


  1. I've never been able to walk in high heels so I don't - I live in Doc Martens and New Rock boots! My only concession to summer is a pair of platform sandals or sneakers. I like my feet as they are - I don't want them to end up deformed!

  2. I remember 3 sisters from my church in MA that had the ugliest deformed feet. They all wore low heels, but I couldn't help but wonder what they must have gone through in their youth to fit into small shoes. My recollection was having large feet was awful and we should have tiny little feet, so they were jammed into shoes that were way too small.
    On another note, I know a woman who likes high heels so much she wore them everywhere and could run across campus in them. She still adores them, but wheres much more practical shoes as a mother of 2 toddler boys. She would complain that her legs killed her when she wore flats, so she didn't. I didn't know at the time that her legs killed her because of what she had done to her calf muscles or I definitely would have mentioned it.

  3. Yes, I wore lots of heels in my 20's and I KNOW it contributed to my bunions. Fortunately I stuck to very low wide heels because I needed to be able to walk quickly and carry heavy objects even though I was in an office. I have exactly 1 pair of heels - they are Danskos, very comfortable, and I can only wear them for 3-4 hours once or twice a month!