By Neha Gandhi, Refinery29
Moment of truth: The first time I saw Sofia Coppola wear ballet flats and a pretty dress on a red carpet, I did a not-so-little happy dance. And I got into a heated debate with my mother about whether or not it was appropriate for such a formal event. Eventually, even Mom came around. Sofia looked amazing, after all. In that moment, even though I would still continue to buy and covet impossibly high stiletto heels for a few more years, I knew things were changing.
A few years later, I worked for a very powerful, competent, stylish editor at Harper's Bazaar, who wore voluminous dresses and flats on an almost-daily basis. She affirmed what I had secretly always hoped: You don't have to be overtly sexy to feel sexy and exude confidence. And that's where my personal style ethos was born. Today, I only wear heels for job interviews and black-tie events (because you have to nod to certain social norms...). And I still delight in shopping for beautiful, wearable, quirky, inspiring, often expensive shoes. Just the kinds that don't come with a platform.
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So, this op-ed on heels and their power as a supernormal stimuli troubled me quite a bit. The argument: In heels, your hips move more when you walk, and you appear more typically female. The author goes on to compare this phenomenon to the "super releaser" theory of evolution, in which "female baboons with a larger than normal swelling of the bottom associated with the sexually receptive period of their cycle, arouse greater sexual interest in males."
Um, what? I don't put my shoes on solely for the purpose of arousing sexual interest in males. This article suggests that "if wearing high heels makes women more attractive, allowing them to be more choosy over a larger number of higher quality males competing for their attention, this could explain the evolutionary advantages of this fashion statement." But that feels incomplete - and not particularly inclusive for tomboys, lesbians, and anyone else who isn't getting dressed with the intention of attracting the attention of a traditional man.
Plus, its conclusion that "what's chic, what's in and what's out, should be predicted by evolutionary theory" because "otherwise it will be judged by history as just a passing phase" seems flat-out incorrect. Personal style is about so much more than some outdated idea of finding a man (or a range of men). See here, if you need further persuading. We live in an era of family planning where decisions tend not to be made with the sole purpose of continuing the species. As a global community, we have the declining birthrates to prove it. But, that's a different issue altogether.
And, look: None of this is to suggest that you should or shouldn't wear heels. I have many a friend who love their 5"-monsters and feel like they can't truly take control of a boardroom without a pair. And other friends who fall closer to my camp. All of which is awesome. Because ultimately, fashion is about personal choice. It's about feeling happy in your own skin - and the clothes and accessories you put on it. But it's NOT about gender norms and cliches around femininity and sexuality. It's also not unilaterally about attracting a partner (unless that happens to be your personal goal on any given day or night when you get dressed - in which case, more power to you). So, while the comparison of my fashion choices to a baboon's backside is incredibly flattering, I think I'll pass on this particular scientific learning.
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By Neha Gandhi, Refinery29