Throughout history, men have enjoyed a societal permission to celebrate their strength. Women, on the other hand, have long been encouraged not only to subjugate themselves in overt or subtle ways to the dominance of men, but also to compromise their already meagre remaining power through certain “fashionable” customs that you have to figure were invented by some guy.
Foot binding that literally crippled women’s feet, corsets that restricted women’s breathing and other bodily functions, burkas that effectively obliterate a woman’s very identity—these culturally encouraged habits (irony intended) all interfere with women’s ability to fully capitalize on their (non-sexualized) physicality.
Even after having our gender consciousness raised in recent decades, I fear that we really haven’t come very far in granting women an equal claim to power, at least if what I observed in the current issue of Time Out New York represents currently held notions of masculine and feminine ideals. The main feature in this issue, a spread identifying around 60 of the “most stylish New Yorkers,” includes photos of all the men and women the magazine considers exemplars of current style.
As an Alexander teacher, whose days are filled with helping people to recognize and change habits that interfere with their potential, I was horrified to note the consistent manner in which the women were portrayed in variously crippling postures. (The men, on the other hand, had adopted relatively more powerful stances.)
Of the 16 men whose legs are visible in their photos, all but one are shown in a supportive, wide-footed stance, with their weight more or less balanced between both legs. (The one exception had his feet so close together that they were touching, but he was still balanced between both legs.)
Of the 18 women whose legs we can see, 13 are shown either in an exaggeratedly pigeon-toed stance or with their feet crossed one over the other. Both of these stances interfere with the working of the hip, knee, and ankle joints and weaken one’s ability to balance or to move quickly or powerfully. Engaged in habitually, these stances can create permanent imbalance throughout the body, resulting in pain and joint damage. Shall we at least take heart in those 4 photos in which the women’s feet were wider apart and not pigeon-toed? Not really, because in all of them, the women had on crippling high heels in heights from ouch to insane. (If you’re keeping track, you will realize that one photo is still unaccounted for: the one of the woman balancing on one four-inch high heel while kicking up her other leg coquettishly behind her.)
It would be interesting to know whether these men and women were art-directed into these poses, or if they chose them on their own. Either way, it’s a depressing message that comes across when we take off our rose-colored fashion glasses. These women don’t look “cute” or “hot” or “stylish”; they look and are deformed.
I would like women to make choices that give them more power in the world. Not the kind of “power” we have convinced ourselves that flexed calf muscles in killer heels grant, but real power that comes from unencumbered bodies moving freely and healthily. Why not start by not massacre-ing yourself with crippling fashions this Valentine’s Day?