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February 14, 2010

Another Valentine's Day Massacre?

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?


  1. Oh, I'm all about the comfy shoes. (-:

  2. Just make sure that you stand in them with your feet squarely planted and your knees pointed out over your toes!

    (Dear Readers, I've been admiring Nanette's knees and toes ever since 11th grade, when we both performed in a school production of Brigadoon. She's one of my longest-term friends. (I was going to say "oldest," then reconsidered.))

  3. Dear Michael - thanks for this post! (I came over from Peter's blog). A friend of mine and I spotted the weird pigeon toed pose trend a while back and now we see it EVERYWHERE. We can't figure it out at all -- but now at least we feel like we're not imagining it!! So thanks! (And I will continue to not stand that way.)

  4. Welcome, Sarah! I'm always thrilled when one of Peter's fans stops by for a visit, especially considering how unrelated our topics are.

    Yesterday on the subway, I looked at the legs of fellow passengers (in a scientific way, I mean, not lasciviously):

    All the men: <> .. <> .. <>
    All the women: >< .. >< .. ><

    It's an epidemic!

  5. Oh dear, you mean they're not doing it just in photos? Where on earth did this terrible epidemic come from?! Thanks for your investigative report! ^_^

  6. The toes-obsession continues! The girls on the subway - were they wearing skirts? (Looks like your research will be ongoing...) I could kind of understand sitting >< on a crowded subway in a skirt because it's difficult to cross your legs but the >< pose makes it easier to keep your knees together. If they were wearing pants, I'm completely at a loss.

    Thanks for your post!

  7. Everyone in my subway survey was wearing pants. And it wasn't a crowded car: everyone was sitting next to an empty seat.

    You gotta wonder what all these women do with their feet in more demanding activities: lifting boxes, running, olympic ice-dancing, etc.

    Welcome, Miz K!

  8. Pants, eh? I have no guesses left at all. Will have to look and see if the epidemic has spread here yet...

  9. Michael, I had to give you our update - K has been doing some investigative journalism and it seems that "the toes" are an epidemic! No ideas on the origin but she did find this: http://www.dailyspincycle.com/?p=85 as well as some references describing the habit of younger women to pose this way as "emo toes" (which is now what we are calling it"). No report back yet from K on whether they're appearing in Zurich or Munich yet...

    Based on everything she found, my guess is that it came originally from Japan and photographs of girls there; celebrities and models started doing it; and then young women started emulating what they've seen, probably without even thinking about it. We see it everywhere -- ask Peter to show you a bunch of sewing blogs (or heck, BurdaStyle) and you'll see lots of it. And now, you're seeing it trickle down to actual daily posture. Which is awful!

    Somewhat related - I'm personally very interested in posture and breathing (and flexibility) and currently trying to come back from an injury that took me out for almost a year (I've been reading all your posts!) and I'm a little freaked out when I see a 29-year old who sews talking about learning to fit patterns to her forward-rounded shoulders...instead of thinking to correct the problem! Maybe you and Peter should collaborate on something there...if he can get someone to put their house on the market, he can surely encourage some people to do a little stretching!!

  10. "Emo toes"--I love it! Thanks for the link to the Daily Spin Cycle blog; it's gratifying to know that others have noticed what we have been thinking about. I agree with you that the origins of emo toes can probably be traced to Japan. . .the school where I did my Alexander teacher training enrolls a large number of Japanese women (the Alexander meme seems to have caught on among that demographic), who are often faced with the challenge of overcoming the psycho-physical artefacts of their cultural, which traditionally encourages women to adopt submissive postures and manners of speaking. I have delighted in watching a number of these women transform from inappropriately self-effacing (well, inappropriate at least by American standards, given their talent and intelligence) into confident, commanding presences.

    Sarah, I share your alarm over people's decisions to adapt their world to accommodate their unhealthy habits instead of changing the habits. (Of course, I am in the business of habit-changing.) Readers, can you think of any other examples of this?