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Opinions of Saturday, 11 December 2010

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

Why do women wear shoes they feel uncomfortable in?

I didn’t want to do this article. I really didn’t want to. But my friend kept saying: do it. Fo Kofi, do it! But I don’t want to have a reputation on this forum as someone who likes taking a dig at our ladies. What with my piece wondering why there are so many sayings about the enigmatic nature of women – sayings not really favourable to them? The other day, I was poking fun at our black sisters in the US who are “chewing on”. And, today, I seem to be having problems with the shoes they wear. Lola may come out swinging a fist at me. Nana Amma will probably emerge from her hibernation wagging a mean finger in my face. Akwele’s protests may be meek (because she is “Sweet Akwele” who will never say a bad word to anybody) but she will mean every word of it. Blessings may chip in too on the side of her gender and what will Naa Wellington say? Oh no! There are too few ladies on ghanaweb and I should be feeling proud of them rather than trying to get inside their bad shoes ... oops, books.

But my beef is not really with all the shoes women wear. It is certainly not with their Cinderella or Wizard of Oz shoes. It is with the high-heeled pointed shoes which must feel so uncomfortable. A high heeled shoe is “footwear that raises the heel of the wearer’s foot significantly higher than the toes and can be worn without socks”. My concern in this piece is the pin-pointed ones – the stiletto heels that have now made a comeback. These are the ultimate in ladies’ footwear fashion. Fashions change but the high heels have persisted over time. They define a woman in her quintessential feminine poise. You just can’t beat it.

Take the top flight female executive, perhaps a CEO of a major firm. She is coming to address an important executive or board meeting. She is wearing a well-cut business suit. No, nothing will match that but high-heeled shoes. Or take the Hollywood star at the Oscars walking up to receive her statuette. It is an elegant walk in designer made high heeled shoes.

There are areas where high-heels don’t look so obvious on a woman but, for some reason, must be worn by them. Ever watched competitive ballroom dancing (Dance Sports) on television? The ladies are beautifully dressed and high heels are compulsory. It doesn’t matter what type of dance it is – waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, rumba, salsa or cha-cha, high-heels are a must. I suppose these are specially constructed and sturdy shoes since you hardly see the ladies tripping on them. Even belly dancers can wriggle beautifully in high heels. And on the catwalk, the world’s topmost female models parade daintily in high heels. These, like those of the Hollywood stars on the Oscar night, are special shoes not worn on a daily basis but brought out on special occasions for aesthetic reasons. Then take the scantily clad young girls who introduce the rounds in boxing matches walking round the ring in the regulatory high heeled shoes.

But the most peculiar one is in the pornographic movies. The female “stars” here appear as naked as on the day they were born except for one item of dress: high-heeled shoes. Why must they keep the shoes on throughout an act that is supposed to be the most intimate between two persons? There are lots of psychological reasons behind this. It is high heels that help make the woman an object of male sexual desire – a sure-fire turn on for men. Even the painted-lipped transsexual is never completely dressed without high heels – the ultimate icon of femininity.

High heeled shoes have been around for centuries. Five hundred years ago, both men and women wore them at the height of fashion. Somewhere along the line, men stopped but women continued (or was it men who forced them to it to keep them less mobile?). There is absolutely nothing “natural” about women, but not men, wearing pin-pointed shoes. It is just like there being nothing natural about women wearing their hair long or wearing earrings but men not doing so. It is not as biologically determined as the wearing of brassieres.

But there are, indeed, advantages in wearing such shoes that are peculiar to women. High heels change the angle of the foot with respect to the lower leg and this accentuates the appearance of calves. They change a woman's posture giving a more upright carriage that alters the gait in a seductive and sultry fashion. Women know this almost instinctively and intentionally reinforce the effect. And we men go gaga... High heels make the legs appear longer, the foot smaller and the toes shorter. They also make the lower leg muscles more defined and they may improve the tone of a woman's pelvic floor. All these make a woman appear in a manner in which society wants them to appear to appeal to men. Then there is the very obvious reason that high heels make the wearer appear taller.

In addition to these “technical” reasons, women may purchase high heeled shoes for more social reasons. Every woman worth her salt wants to look classy and this is more important to them than the discomfort of shoes with needles for heels! Women are very competitive. Most will try to get, at all costs, what their friends and peers have. They want to outdo each other. Women chase modern trends more often than men. The height of a man’s fashion is the well cut suit and appropriate shoes. A woman’s ceremonial dress comes in different styles, with different matching shoes. So women buy lots of shoes. It is said at the time of the overthrow of her husband, Imelda Marcos had more than three thousand pairs of shoes! Guess how many of those were high heels.

But the practical and medical disadvantages of wearing such shoes are numerous. What prompted the writing of this piece was when I saw a six-year old boy on local television describe the pains and the discomfort his mother may have been going through when he sees her in those shoes. Even a child can see it and wonder why women wilfully go through such pains! High heels are simply uncomfortable to walk in. No woman can take long strides in them and they will not be able to run in them. They cause an unsteady gait since they don’t look natural. Many ladies actually have to learn to walk in such shoes! Everybody can see that it is relatively easy to trip in such shoes with the likelihood of sprains and fractures. It must certainly feel painful for your feet if you have to squeeze them into such little space. That is why the wearing of high heels creates such foot deformities like hammertoes and bunions. It has been medically proven that the altered forces at the knee caused by walking in high-heels may predispose to degenerative changes in the knee joint. This is because they cause a decrease in the normal rotation of the foot which puts more stress on the knee. Any decent website will tell you a lot more about the medical dangers of wearing such shoes. Women know of all these, yet nothing stops them. The best they do is to reserve such shoes for special occasions or carry them in their bags and change into them only when they reach the disco.

Ghanaian women are also fond of high heels. But you need level grounds to walk well in them. In Ghana, many of the walkways are not tarred and it is rough even in the cities. The challenges to wearing such shoes are great for woman in the homeland. Besides, since many of our women are “traditionally built” with heavy buttocks that they find difficult thrusting into trendy jeans, the pressures on their feet in high heels from their pneumatic bodies are enormous.

There is one way the Ghanaian woman gains by wearing high heels. Ghanaian men are, on the average, short. Just ask Benjamin Tawiah or take a look at our football players! Our women are even shorter! But they gain a lot in height when they wear high heels. Unfortunately for them, they meet another hurdle. Some Ghanaian men prevent their wives or partners from wearing high heels when they go out together because they don’t want the woman to appear taller than the man in public!

Oh, by the way, for those readers who may be wondering if I don’t have anything better to write about than a woman’s shoes or even those others who may want to ask if I can’t find a better part of a lady’s accoutrements to hide myself than in her shoes, I have an answer. When you write about incendiary political issues which some readers, riding on their politically partisan inclinations, intentionally misread and invest with meanings that the writer didn’t put there, it can be a huge relief to find solace in a woman’s shoes.

Kro, kyia! Kro, kyia! Emi na moroko no. Kenkaa!

Kofi Amenyo (