You know how you look back at styles from previous decades–or, even better, from previous centuries—and wonder what they could have possibly been thinking?
Powdered wigs, for example.
Or those puffy Elizabeth shorts, or knee britches.
Or, for a couple of example from women’s fashions,
or tiny lotus shoes, worn in China after successful foot-binding.
You know that the people partaking in those fashions wanted to be stylish, beautiful, elegant, sexy—or even just normal, average. We generally look at their styles now and think they just look absurd. Thus is fashion, right?
One problem is that women tend to get stuck with the styles that are not just silly but are also painful, even potentially deforming.
Like the women who cinched their sexy little waists until they deformed their ribs and abdominal organs with those corsets.
Or the women (starting with poor little girls, at age 6 or so) who had their feet bound until they were beautiful, delicate, and completely deformed.
We are all part of the culture(s) we inhabit. We are socialized to believe what society around us believes, and that’s often a good thing. (Table manners, anyone?) But sometimes I find I need to take a step back from my surrounding culture and find an answer for myself. I think that’s an integral part of weight loss and general good health, actually–figuring out a way to tune out various messages, images, etc., that influence me to believe unhealthy things . . . whether those things are that people are lazy if they are fat or that people can’t be trusted to figure out what’s good for their bodies without constant supervision from some other force. Being able to step back and see the right answer for me has been an integral, essential part of this journey.
About a year ago now, I started learning how to run. Sometimes people laugh when I phrase it that way (one of my sisters said, “Uh, I’ve known how to run since I was two”), but that is pretty much what happened. I started out walking. I had to get my posture right. I had to learn not to swing my arms across my body as I ran. I had to build up my endurance so I could run one mile, then two, then three.
When I started out the running process (using Couch to 5k), it only took me a week to realize something: I couldn’t wear high heels, or otherwise uncomfortable shoes, and then go home and run. My feet hurt too much; my joints were already too sore. It just wasn’t going to work.
Now, I love the elongating appeal of heels as much as the next girl–maybe more than some, since I’m 5’4″ and, according to American society’s standards, could use a little extra height and leg length. (As a side note, I had to have my husband take my picture when I stood in a line for a restroom during a festival in Japan. I was at least half a head taller than every other woman/girl in the line, which tickled me to death.)
Heels are also sexy, right? There’s just some undefinable thing about them–probably undefinable because it’s culturally defined. There’s nothing innate in us that makes heels so hot. Still, we do think they’re hot.
But . . . I wanted to run. I wanted to prove to myself that I could learn to do something that I had little natural or trained (at that point) ability to do. I wanted to exercise, to develop athleticism. And 2007 was the year I started taking care of myself, and, um, heels hurt. Some of my other shoes hurt, too. I bought them because they were cute, either ignoring that they were uncomfortable or not discovering that they were uncomfortable till I’d worn them 8 hours at a time. Ouch.
I thought about it for a couple of hours—I do tend to make decisions quickly—and then I felt sure. I already knew most of the information contained in this illustrative chart about what high heels do to the body. I knew the right answer was to take care of myself by taking care of my body. The heels and other uncomfortable shoes had to go. In their place, I decided, I would purchase fewer pairs of shoes of higher quality, shoes that were made to support the body—and preferably from companies that tried to keep their ecological footprint in mind as well, like Timberland does. I decided I would never again follow society’s shoe dictates if the shoes weren’t comfortable to me. (“But you have to have one pair of heels for, you know, when occasions dictate it, right?” one of my friends asked, clearly expecting an “Of course.” “Nope,” I responded. “They’re all going.” I can’t think of an example when I would have to wear heels, anyway. You can buy fancy flats or near flats.)
My mind made up, I Freecycled all of my shoes with heels higher than about an inch and any shoes that were otherwise uncomfortable. Can I tell you that it was actually freeing to give those things away to other (thrilled) women and then look in my closet to see my choices narrowed down to 4 or 5 pairs?
To cement my choice, I took all my pants to a tailor and had them hemmed to fit the shorter length of my low-heeled or flat shoes. Then there was no going back—at least until I shrank some, and bought new pants—unless I wanted to be wearing high-water pants with my heels.
And I was, and am, left with lots of cute options, especially in these days of multihued, great loafers, ballet flats, clogs, Mary Janes, sandals, etc. Actually, sometimes a little limitation in choices can help a girl not feel so overwhelmed about making a purchase.
Am I telling you to give up high heels unequivocally, right this second, or implying that if you don’t, you don’t care about yourself? Nope. If you adore high heels and can’t imagine living without them, that’s certainly okay. You can find your own boundaries between you and society’s rules for yourself. (And I think some people find them less uncomfortable than I do.) Am I telling you to give up heels if you think they are contributing to your discomfort, unhappiness, stress, etc.? Well, sure, if it feels right to you. But mainly, I just want you to take time and energy to note what you’re doing without thinking about it (and/or what you’re letting happen) that might just be inhibiting your growth toward a healthy, happy, self-actualized kind of person. Then ask yourself if the trade-off is worth it, and if it’s not, take some action to change it today.