Tasha Tells All . . . On Whether High Heels are Empowering!
By Tasha Reign
Growing up, I remember idolizing the Spice Girls and watching movies like Clueless, viewing them as fashion icons and role models that inspired my sartorial choices. I always dressed up for school, and my mom was cool enough to let her daughter express herself--a rarity in the South County bubble, which favors conformity even in wardrobe choices. When I ran for class president in fifth grade, I wore high platforms; a plaid miniskirt; a blue, sparkly leather jacket; pigtails; and knee-highs. That year, my teacher asked me to stop wearing such brightly colored ensembles and to stop making fashion statements--the first of many times people would question what I wore and make assumptions about who I was because of my fashion choices.
I cried and told my principal; a parent-teacher conference was summarily held. My teacher argued I was distracted from the things in life that mattered; I replied that I wanted to be a fashion designer, so dressing up absolutely did matter, AND I was getting good grades--so what was the problem?
I admit to sometimes pushing the boundaries of what was deemed appropriate even then--I wanted to be the center of attention. But dressing up was my embryonic way to celebrate my freedom of speech, especially in an environment as stultified as K-12 schools. My clothing gave me confidence and pride and allowed for my creativity to flow. One Christmas, I even begged my mom for a mannequin so I could dress her up; I also requested books on fashion and sewing classes so I could study and one day be a designer. Clearly, this was something I was proud of, interested in and absolutely intrigued by.
Never once was I thinking about male domination, appealing to men or "succumbing" to men by wearing what they wanted to me to wear. Yet my love of fashion became a veritable scarlet letter. In high school, I dated guys who came from Christian households where certain styles of bikinis I wore to the beach were frowned upon; other times, the push-up bras I used labeled me as a "slut" to their parents. Such scandals over what I wore--how telling of the power of clothes! Even then, I found it powerful to be able to look sexy or stylish, dressed up or dressed down, scantily clad or demure--everyone obsesses over what women wear, in one way or another. But no matter what you wear, ladies, remember this: We dress not to be controlled by men, but to control our lives. The way we present ourselves, whether in hijab or skirt, baggy sweater or form-fitting tank top, is our chance to show the world our confidence and self-awareness.
I have one more semester before earning my bachelor's degree in women's studies at UCLA, and what I love about my major is that it comprises mostly strong, opinionated women who love fighting for our rights, including the right to discuss exactly what our rights are. I've learned different schools of thought about what feminism is, studied the rainbow of philosophies within the "feminist" label--extremist, conservative, sexually liberated, Third Wave, post-, and so many more. What I hear in nearly all those schools, however, is the argument that fashion is the ultimate domination of men.
Recently, someone made the case that high heels, while uncomfortable at times and difficult to walk in, enable a sense of entitlement, power and change of leverage that allows for one to feel and act a specific way. High heels are a great example of a literal walking contradiction--who are the heels benefiting? I choose to wear Ugg boots more often than not because I like the way they look with shorts, and they are so comfortable and warm. Heels, on the other hand, are my work shoes, just one of my tools to make a living. I make movies with the intention to sexually arouse, and heels have that power, that magic that makes some women feel their best.
Is it demeaning that women feel empowered through being sexual vixens for themselves or men? Is it liberating that women feel free through flaunting their high heels and being sexy? I'm still unsure about that, actually. Often, I find high fashion even unflattering and not sexual at all, and it's high fashion that has dictated the high heel is the ultimate shoe for the woman who wants to be sexually alluring. But how much do you judge someone based on their exterior appearance, and how much do you care about what your aesthetics look like to other people around you? Is fashion man's psychological-turned-physical power over women? If so, does that mean women have succumbed to male power and misogyny every time they strap on a pair of shoes?
All interesting things to take into consideration while getting dolled up in the morning to conquer the world.
Follow Tasha Reign on Twitter: @tashareign
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