Well Heeled Women
Article by Liz Karter
What are you wearing? A familiar question asked by women fourteen to fifty and beyond when faced with the dilemma of dressing for a prestigious event such as the glamorous Women in Gaming Awards. Delighted to be invited to the awards evening I imagined the challenging sartorial choice facing most of us women would be do we dare a full length gown or the trusty little black dress? Hot media stories this month would lead us to consider carefully our choices in the footwear department. It seems to be all about shoes and the signals they give out about status, power and sexism.
From receptionist sacked from her job at PwC because she refused to wear heels, to the actress Julia Roberts going barefoot across the red carpet in rebellion against the dress code at Canne which included a high heels, women seem to be shunning the stiletto, seeing it as a sexist statement. This on the one hand (or foot..?) is understandable. Images which portray women as sexual objects use high heels as uniform. So are high heels disempowering? To a some degree at least physically so; we cannot run (well) in heels, they get stuck in pavement cracks and with excessive use damage our backs and we pay the price for a Manolo Blahniks in pinched toes and blisters.
So, do we wear our high heels because we masochistic tendencies? Is our self esteem so low that we imagine ourselves unattractive unless our height is enhanced? For the mature, intelligent women gathered at the Women in Gaming Awards, I imagine the answer would be almost certainly not. Can, then, wearing high heels be empowering or a statement of status and power? Many women describe feeling empowered by wearing high heels. The association for such women is with wearing heels and the professional aspect of themselves. They walk tall, with confidence, feel posture is improved and for those, like myself, who are of a diminutive stature heels can make one feel literally more on a level when in meetings with male colleagues. If at work we are strong and capable then being dressed in our professional attire elsewhere gives us positive associations with being able to problem solve and manage the most difficult scenarios. Recently, a successful, professional woman I am treating for her gambling addiction telephoned me in tears, having had a middle of the night relapse. Amongst other therapeutic strategies I advised her most strongly to get up, have a shower, get dressed in her favourite suit and high heeled shoes and go to work and to stay dressed in her work clothes whilst sorting out her damaged bank balance that evening. She contacted me later to say that it had worked like a charm; dressed in a way which she associated with feeling powerful she was able to manage not only a day’s work but felt much more on top of her emotions and irrational thoughts than she would have been had she stayed at home, deeply saddened by her relapse and in her slippers.
Another young woman I am working with at my Level Ground practice was suffering high anxiety and stress. Having worked with me to get her self confidence back and feeling mentally, emotionally and physically a lot fitter she told me she could not wait to put on a dress, her high heels and head to a club to show everyone that she was well and truly back in charge of her life. Her heels were a part of her power statement.
When we think about it, to wear the heel or not to wear the heels may be a very contemporary question, but our fascination with the meaning of footwear goes back decades and is present in fairy tales, stories and myth. The Red Shoes, Cinderella’s glass slippers, the ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz. Powerful song from Nancy Sinatra telling us that “These boots are made for Walkin” and the phrase “kept barefoot and pregnant” being a warning statement for what lies ahead for the woman who allows herself to give away her share of the power balance in a relationship. So what should we choose is we are to walk the path of happiness through life? Years of experience of listening to what makes women happy has taught me that being barefoot or in killer boots can either make us happy or very unhappy. What makes the difference is whether we feel that we have truly made our free and authentic choice. Within my practice I currently have two seemingly very different women. One is a stay at home married mum of three, the other a single career woman. Each is in therapy for their gambling addiction because, despite their very different lives, they have the same problems. Each is feeling stressed and depressed at having succumbed to their life circumstance because of family and social pressures. The secret heart’s desire of the stay at home mum is to put on her heels and go out into the world of work and build a career. The unspoken longing of the single career woman is to have a husband and stay at home; she would give up all she has to be barefoot and pregnant.
So ladies, I would say we should not listen to what we are told about what we should or should not wear on our feet. If your heels make you happy and you feel empowered then go girl! If you are happier at home in your slippers, then all power to you. After all, nothing is as emancipating, attractive and empowering as being our authentic self.