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Monday, 3 November 2008


I am returning to this subject as I read a very good piece in the Guardian G2 today by Hadley Freeman, the generally sensible fashion editor. Come to think of it a Guardian fashion editor who was anything other than sensible would be a contradiction in terms.

Hadley likens five inch heels to Victorian corsets, the kind which shrank women's waists to half the circumference of their hips and broke ribs into the bargain. Thankfully such barbarity died out after the First World War when a wave of women's emancipation flooded across Europe. The corset faded away, though vestiges of the idea reappeared in the 1950s when constricting underwear made a fairly brief appearance. Nowadays, while some underwear claims to improve the silhouette, it's very rare for it to hurt or cause harm.

So why the killer heels, which actually do hurt and cause damage to the feet and back? Why are these terrible things being promoted and why are serious newspapers, with the honourable exception of the Guardian, running articles taking the view that women should actually indulge in this form of self-torture?

Hadley thinks women in killer heels look like "small children make believing at being grown up". I think it's more to do with incapacitating women. "Sexy" is all too often construed as pliant, malleable and ultimately weak. After all there is not much power in being skinny, ie underfed, and dressed in such a way that it's impossible to move freely. In this sense five and six inch heels are the modern corset. I also believe the pressure to diet and be thin can be seen in the same way.

The 64,000 dollar question is, of course, why do so many women go along with what others, society if you prefer that terminology, want for them even when it is manifestly not in their own interests? Women obviously feel pressured to conform to a certain image and behave in certain ways. Some of this image and some of these behaviours are positively detrimental. It would, I believe, be better for all of us if women, and men as well, felt less need to look and act in certain ways and felt freer to pursue their own destinies, as long as they did not harm others in the process.

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