Painted Faces

Yep, you knew it had to come – the discussion about makeup*. Empowering? Or does it make us a slave to vanity and sexual objectivity?

I actually love makeup, which may surprise some of you. Yes, me, Miss Sneakers-and-Cotton-Panties. I love makeup.

I think that it’s wonderful that we have the option of playing with colors and lines and shadows to enhance our features. Makeup speaks to the artist in me, and probably in all of us! It’s just plain fun.

Fun or not, though, I never wore much makeup. I started out a little besotted with it, though the feeling didn’t last. At 11, I begged my mother to let me buy an eyeshadow compact that contained 10 different colors. She graciously allowed me to have it so long as I promised to only wear the eyeshadow on weekends – never at school. And I obeyed, slathering electric blue eyeshadow on my eyelids every Saturday morning. (What can I say – it was the 80′s.) At 12, she let me buy clear mascara – a purchase that made me feel so grown up because I was allowed to wear it to school.

Oddly, when I turned 16 and was allowed to wear makeup regularly, I lost all interest in it. I sometimes wore mascara to school, but that’s it. The only things I faithfully applied were concealer, foundation and powder.

This trend continued until I was about 28 and met a woman who always came to work wearing the most beautiful, color-coordinated makeup. Around this time, mineral makeup was becoming the rage, and my mother was having a ball buying BareEscentuals products for me on QVC. And I wasn’t complaining!

I started dating someone some time later, and was suddenly very aware of my face. Or should I say, my makeup. For the first time in my life, I was hyper-vigilant about wearing makeup and keeping it looking fresh all day long. I’d sneak into bathrooms on dates to make sure my mascara wasn’t running or that my blush was still shimmery.

One night, after I washed my face, I looked in the mirror and was not thrilled with what I saw. I thought my eyes looked awful without the makeup. The feeling of dissatisfaction alarmed me – I had never felt inadequate without makeup on before.

Not long after that, I had another unsettling experience. My boyfriend was talking on the phone while waiting for me to get ready for a date and, not wanting to interrupt his conversation, I slid him a note saying, “What kind of makeup should I wear tonight? The usual? Or something hot and spicy?” He scribbled something down as he was talking and slid the paper back to me. It read: “NONE!!!” He wasn’t a big fan of makeup and had been encouraging me not to wear it all the time. After reading that note, I decided to go for it. And once again, I was disturbed by how hard it was! I was so scared he would think I wasn’t very pretty. (And keep in mind, even though I wore makeup every day, I did not wear a lot of it.)

That was my second wake up call, and I decided to listen to it. This was also around the time I started “going natural” with my routine – making my own shampoo, discontinuing my use of harsh chemicals, etc. I had already felt that perhaps it was not good for my skin to absorb so much makeup every single day. And after realizing just how inadequate I felt without wearing it, I knew I had to take a serious look at it.

Some of you may remember my Naked Face Campaign from last year. I encouraged women to wear less makeup and to do something radical – send me a picture of themselves with no makeup on! The plan was to make a collage of all of us. You can see me here, and Melanie, of My Magical Journey, here. I also got a few photos from brave readers but in the end, I did not receive enough to make a collage. (I think I have a total of four pictures, including me and Melanie!)

So all this brings me to a familiar point – as much as I love makeup, how does it become such a crutch to our vanity? (And please understand, I’m using “our” in a generic way – I’m not suggesting every woman has a problem being in public without makeup.) Do we have to wear it to be considered sexy? Do we have to avoid it to be considered empowered?

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do in these posts and answer these questions myself. NO on both counts. I definitely think we can wear it or not wear it and just be our own amazing selves.

However, I think makeup disempowers us when we begin to dislike the “naked face” we see in the mirror. If we don’t feel pretty without it, then I think we’re on dangerous ground. On that same note, I think it becomes disempowering when we wear too much makeup most of the time. (Not to name names, but Kim Kardashian comes to mind, fake lashes and all. I find her much prettier without makeup.) Can you go to bed without makeup on? Has your partner seen you without makeup? If we can’t accept the way our faces look without embellishment, then again, I think makeup becomes more dangerous than helpful.

Is it just me or is she way prettier without all the embellishment?

Yet when a dab of blush or swish of mascara or touch of lipstick gives you an extra boost of confidence? Well, that’s just awesome!

What do you think?

*Please note that I decided not to discuss the potentially hazardous chemicals in some makeup products, or anything related to that topic since I feel I have covered that in past posts – and will likely revisit that in the future!

Lingerie and Feminism

Unlike my last two posts, I don’t have a strong, hard opinion about sexy underwear – for the most part. As always, I think if it makes you sexy, go for it. And the best part is – it doesn’t (hopefully) hurt to wear lingerie (like high heels), nor do you have to alter your body in order to wear it (as with bikini waxes – though I know some people who wax so they look good in their thongs). In this post, I simply want to discuss the psycho-sexual issues of lingerie, as well as talk about one of my favorite subjects: comfort!

Cultural icon Victoria's Secret

So let’s jump right in: Why do we wear lingerie? I suspect the first answers to these questions will be similar to the questions about why we wear high heels or wax our lady bits: because it makes us feel sexy and empowered. But again, WHY do we feel sexy and empowered by these rituals? Because they make us sexy and empowered, as defined by our culture? Can we truly remove the feeling of being sexy and empowered from the cultural strings that are attached to those feelings? Why, for instance, couldn’t you (why shouldn’t you?) feel sexy and empowered in a pair of white, cotton panties?

Once again, I think this issue is worth exploring. While there is certainly nothing at all wrong with wearing sexy lingerie, it is interesting to trace our desire to wear to it back to its origin. Is it a true desire of our heart, or cultural conditioning?

Personally, this is yet another societal definition of beauty and empowerment that I reject – though purely for the reason of comfort, not to make any feminist statements! Fancy underwear is pretty, to be sure. But it is often a little on the un-supportive side. If you have a large chest like me, it can be impossible to find ANY bra in a store – and when you do find one, you grab it, lacy and sexy or not! Frankly, I need a lot of coverage and strap support and that isn’t always super sexy – but it does the job I need it to do, and I’m not complaining.

As far as panties go, it seems we have to choose between cotton blends (generally classified as not-so-sexy) or synthetic fabrics. Panties made from synthetic fabrics tend to be more attractive, I admit – lacy, shimmery. However, I hate the feel of those fabrics on my skin. Give me cotton any day! And thongs? Forget it! I do not find thongs the slightest bit sexy. In the movie Because I Said So, Diane Keaton’s character defends her “granny panties” by saying, “…this underwear enhances the female form, highlighting the elegance of the waist and making the legs appear longer, instead of the…awful…foreshortening aspect of a thong, which breaks up the body disproportionately.” Honestly, I couldn’t agree with her more. I think thongs cut the body in a way that is unflattering. I also don’t feel that it does anything to enhance the bum – and if you have a slightly chubby butt like mine, then why wear something that makes it look worse? Further…I cannot stand the whole “floss” thing, if you know what I mean. I know many women who say thongs are the most comfortable underwear they’ve ever tried, but how is that possible? Do you just get used to it working its way…in? I never could tolerate that, especially when I ride my bicycle so often. Ick.

Is it just me or are thongs just not flattering to a woman's body?

So for me, its full-coverage bras and nice cotton panties. :) And I feel perfectly “sexy” in my choice of underwear.

But this brings me to another question. Why does it seem like all feminist arguments boil down to sexiness? One school of thought says that bringing the issue of sexiness into feminism demeans us as women, stripping us of our souls, our intellect, all the things that make us HUMAN (not just female). Others ask why we shouldn’t use feminism to embrace our sexiness and play with it.

When posing for a GQ spread wearing lingerie in 2010, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had this to say about feminism: “I don’t really love that word. That connotes a harshness and almost a shrillness that I find unattractive… I respect women like Gloria Steinem who paved the way. But when you say ‘feminist’ now, there is a message that if you are sexy and you acknowledge that part of your personality publicly, then it’s somehow an affront to women. And I reject that.”

Megyn Kelly of Fox News

I, too, reject any notion of feminism that tries to take away our ability to celebrate our sexuality, but I think sexuality and sexiness are two vastly different things. Here, I think Kelly is talking about sexiness. She’s talking about her choice to pose in lingerie and still be considered a strong woman. I certainly think that a woman should be able to “be sexy” in any way she likes and not have it compromise her feminity or her strength. But, again, I simply question the issue of sexiness. What makes only certain things “sexy” and why is the definition of “sexy” so rigid? You don’t see any women doing features in men’s magazines in which they are seductively draped in their plaid pajamas or white cotton panties. So who defines what is sexy for women?

Sometimes, I feel that lingerie is a “buy-in.” In other words, there are often things we feel we have to do as humans (and sometimes, specifically as females) to “buy in” to something. To buy in to feeling sexy, for instance. Or, in one case, to buy in to do what we want to do, like some of the ladies on the Lingerie Football League. Team member JJ Thacker said, “We want to play football and let’s be honest, we’re not going to bring people to our game without some sort of gimmick. Maybe one day we’ll be playing fully clothed, but right now I want to play football so I’ll play in whatever you put me in.” Is this a “buy-in” that’s worth the price? Do we still live in a world that forces us to play the game in order to get what we want?

Again, please let me say that I really have no problem with lingerie, in general, and certainly not with the choice to wear it. I have issues with waxing and high heels, my two previous topics, because those are potentially dangerous and certainly painful beauty props/rituals. But lingerie? No problem. If you like it – go for it! However, now that I’ve got you on this topic – what do you think about the relationship between lingerie and “sexiness?” Is it organic, or the product of cultural programing? If you think it’s the latter, then how does that affect female empowerment?

A Hairy Update

First of all, my apologies for taking a week off the blog in the middle of the feminism series. Posts like the last two take a long, long time to write and I haven’t had any time recently to keep going. Until today! Hopefully, I can bang out a few more posts and have them set to publish over the next ten days or so.

As for this post, I wanted to write a quick follow-up to the last one on the subject of bikini waxes. It was one of the most-visited posts I have ever written on this blog and I think it brought in even more comments than my past giveaways! People definitely had a lot to say.

Everyone made really good points on one side of the debate or the other, and I found myself sometimes vacillating wildly as I responded to each one. Some people said that going bald was a gift to their partner – a way of honoring their partner’s preference as well as making certain intimate acts more “palatable.” Others said there is never a reason to alter our looks for another human being no matter how much we love them – we are who we are and we should be accepted in the package in which we came.

I kinda agree with both points. As far as compromises go, don’t we make them all the time for lovers, physically, emotionally, mentally? I could give a lot of examples of this, but will refrain in order to keep this post from getting too long, but think of your past relationships and how many times you altered something about yourself on any level in order to meet your partner halfway. In a way, changing our bodies is the same thing, isn’t it? Yet at the same time, I do want to hold on to the beautiful truth that we are loveable and attractive in just the package we came in. I want to hold on to the truth that our bodies were designed by a beautiful Creator (as you understand Him/Her/It) and therefore, reflect that divine beauty in every nook and cranny.

Another argument was cleanliness – that “going bald” is cleaner, or that it makes keeping our nether regions clean easier. Others asked why we  need to remove what’s there in order to keep this area clean. After all, pubic hair is a functioning part of an intensely intelligent, self-cleaning area of our bodies. Again, I understand the argument for cleanliness – especially for those of you who use pads (cloth or commercial). However, do we really need to be bald to be clean? I don’t know. One reader suggested bidets for this issue, which is think is great, no matter how much or how little hair you have.

As for one of my biggest issues with going hairless – the psychological-sexual implications of being a grown woman with genitals that look like a little girl’s and how many men in our culture are aroused by that – seemed to be disturbing to EVERYONE. Not surprising! The only debate was whether or not this was a “niche opinion” among males. Niche opinion or not, it still worries me that it’s out there at all. And I can’t help but wonder how much more prevalent it will become as the porn industry expands throughout the internet, airing this trend of hairless female genitalia.

And again, our girls, the next generation of young women coming of age – it is for them that I worry the most. We have enough limiting cultural definitions of beauty for them to struggle with. Do they need this, too? To worry about how their bodies will appear to a lover? To feel that they have to have their pubic hair ripped out by its roots in order to be attractive?

As for you readers, according to my polls, about 79% of you never go bare down there. Seventeen percent of you sometimes remove all your hair, and 4% of you keep yourselves hairless all the time. A whopping 79% of you felt that this trend is damaging to women, 11% were indifferent, believing it was another trend that would eventually pass, and 10% of you indicated that your feelings fell in the “Other” category.

I guess we’ll all have to wait and see how this plays out in our current cultural atmosphere. But I can’t help but hope that one day, we can embrace everything about our bodies with love, respect and acceptance from everyone.

Thanks so much to all of you who took the time to write such thoughtful, interesting comments on this subject. I appreciate all of your feedback!

The Hairless Haven

I decided I might as well hit all the hot topics I wanted to discuss before moving on to less controversial subjects on feminism. Today’s topic: pubic hair. Please be advised that this post will definitely contain mature and sensitive content. If this isn’t a subject you want to discuss, come on back next week!

Let’s just get right down to it: Is removing your pubic hair anti-feminist?

Now again, let me offer the same assurance in this post that I did in the last – that I respect EVERY woman’s right to choose what is right for her regarding personal grooming habits. My intention is to simply discuss this trend, its relationship with feminism and its sexual, psychological and cultural implications.

For those of you who have been a Five Seed reader for the past year or longer, you know that I put a lot of stock in Mother Nature. When it comes to our bodies, I believe that the less we interfere, the better. I also believe that if something is part of our body – it’s there for a reason! That includes pubic hair.

Now I must admit to being a bit of a hypocrite in this area. I shave my armpits and my legs and I pluck the occasional rogue eyebrow hair. Those are cultural ideals of beauty that I have not been able to escape. However, when it comes to having hot wax near my lady bits on a regular basis…that gives me pause!

Waxing, as you have probably heard in the news these past few years, can be particularly dangerous, especially in such a sensitive area of the body. Linda K. Franks, M.D., a dermatology professor at NYU’s School of Medicine says, “Pubic hair is there for a reason – to protect the sensitive skin and mucous membranes in the genital region. Getting a wax literally strips away that layer of protection. Anytime you compromise the integrity of the skin [which waxing does], you’re going to increase your risk of infection.”*

Beyond the potential risks involved with waxing, I simply cannot fathom enduring the pain of such a procedure on a regular basis. It hurts bad enough to wax your legs! As with high heels, I wonder: Why should we have to endure pain in order to be considered “beautiful?”

Now that brings me to my greatest problem with bikini waxing. Why is it considered beautiful in the first place? Like armpit hair, pubic hair is a secondary sex characteristic, exhibiting our physical sexual maturity. The idea of stripping off this hair (and the trend is moving toward complete removal, not just the “landing strip” look) is very disturbing to me. Are we, as a culture, teaching ourselves and men to associate sexual attractiveness with the sexual characteristics of a young girl instead of a grown woman?

My generation seems to be phasing out women with natural pubic hair, and the next is seemingly peopled with women who think pubic hair is “gross” and men who have never seen anything more than a landing strip on a woman. “It’s what’s expected these days,” said one bikini waxer to  Sunday Times’ writer, Sarah Vine. With the widespread availability of internet porn, teens and twenty-somethings see hairless women as the norm. “I get girls coming in here who haven’t even lost their virginity; but they’ve seen all this stuff on the internet, and they think having hair down there is gross — dirty, even.”

Is porn to blame for this trend?

This isn’t just a female-driven trend, either. Men have become increasingly interested in the state of their partner’s nether regions. According to my circle of friends, the new “pre-sex question” is not “Do you have a condom?” but “Do you have hair down there?” When Salon contributor, Christina Valhouli, asked her friend Chad about his reaction to his girlfriend’s “baldness,” his response was, “…when I felt her it was like, oh my God, an unbelievably primal welling of emotion. First from the shock and then from the whole little girl eroticism of it. It’s hard to describe. I guess it was like tasting forbidden fruit.” UK author, Janice Turner, says, “You don’t need to page Dr. Freud to wonder how the craze for bare pudenda might be tied to some unsavory fetishisation of youth. And now the waxed look is supported by a massive industry — hair removal in Britain is worth £280 million a year.”

Dr. Stephen Snyder, writing for Psychology Today, compared the stark contrast between the “full bush” of the 1970′s to today’s preference for being completely hairless. “I worry that it now seems mandatory for young women to do it,” Snyder writes. “Among many young men that I see in treatment, the sight of a woman’s pubic hair produces the same revulsion that in my day might have greeted the sight of her armpit hair. Vulvar hair is regarded as unsightly – or even disgusting. That can’t be good. Have all our field’s efforts to encourage young women to celebrate their bodies come to this – to their having to alter them so their partners won’t be disgusted? This can’t be progress.”

Even children – yes, children – are having this procedure done. One waxer describes her experience at Salon: “I used to have mothers come in to have me wax their 11- and 12-year-old daughters — lipline, eyebrows, full leg, bikini. Sometimes the nannies would bring them in, and the nannies would have to hold their hands… I’ll tell you, sometimes it felt like child abuse.” Why the waxing-for-children trend? Some believe that early waxing will prevent pubic hair from growing in the first place (heaven forbid!). Feminist Fatale explains, “virgin waxing is a pro-active measure designed to eradicate pubic hair in 2 to 6 sessions, eliminating the need for lifetime waxing. The salon claims that the savings can be applied directly to a college fund. Well, I am guessing that these virgin waxing treatments aren’t cheap in the first place and the notion that a girl’s pubic hair will be removed before she gets it, maintaining her pre-pubescent appearance is inherently disturbing.”

But what about the other side to this issue? Some women claim that they simply like having a hairless haven. Some have said that it makes them feel cleaner, more aware of their sexuality, more empowered, more beautiful, more naughty. According to Psychology Today, “A recent report by Dr. Debra Herbenick in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women in their sample who went hairless reported better genital self-image overall, and more sexual satisfaction.” This is all good and fine, but I can’t help but wonder: Why does it make us feel this way? Is the relationship between “empowerment” and a bald genital region a product of our culture? Is our sexual satisfaction connected with our feelings of being more beautiful and “acceptable” to our partners? Aren’t we already programmed to think that hairlessness is more beautiful, more sexy? Therefore, aren’t we just buying into the cultural ideal?

This is an issue Dr. Snyder questions, as well. According to the data he shares, the majority of polled women go hairless in their nether regions at least some of the time. Is that troubling, or simply the evidence of today’s trend that will eventually pass? And where is this trend leading us? As Snyder points out, there are some worrisome factors at work here that may or may not prove to be related to the hairless trend: “…How about the recent surge in vulvoplastic surgery – women going under the knife to have their inner labia trimmed. Am I the only one who suspects this has been prompted by shaving or waxing? After all, back in the moonwalk era, whoever noticed labial protuberance or asymmetry?”

While you may argue that men are under similar pressure these days to look good and appear hairless, I’d have to partially disagree. It is true that men are flocking to the spas to get their chests, backs and other areas waxed, but the cultural standards and pressures are different – especially when it comes to the genital area! I have read that men are starting to get Brazilians. However, some of the reasons I read include making them feel more sensitive during intercourse and wanting their penises to look larger. This is a vastly different set of reasons than women typically have, although the latter is definitely a cultural pressure to “look” a certain way. And when it comes to the rest of the body, one article said, “We’re not advocating waxed legs or arms — jeez, a dude should look like, well, a dude…” If a “dude should look like a dude,” shouldn’t a lady look like a lady?

Yeah, waxing hurts, dude! (Steve Carell in 40 Year Old Virgin)

In the end, my problem with pubic hair removal is simple: I fear it is the attempt of our culture to strip away our womanhood. Adult sexuality is a powerful thing and to live in a culture that asks us to turn ourselves into little girls from the hips down, to me, has the potential to strip us of some of that power if we aren’t careful. It perpetuates the notion that we need to alter the bodies Mother Nature gave us in order to be sexually attractive. And it is yet another beauty routine that causes PAIN!

I’m not suggesting that we leave our nether regions alone and never do any yard work down there. We shower, style our hair, wear deodorant, use perfume…there’s certainly nothing wrong with maintaining our gardens, as well. And if getting waxed down to baldness truly makes you feel sexy and empowered, then I say keep doing what works for you!

I’m simply saying that I feel it’s dangerous that being hairless is becoming the norm for women. I don’t think that’s healthy and I think it’s particularly damaging to the next group of girls coming of age. We should not be allowing our young girls to grow up thinking that pubic hair is disgusting or unsightly and that it needs to be removed in order to make them sexually attractive. I honestly believe that we need to have frank conversations with our daughters, nieces and younger sisters about this subject, however awkward it may be. Our girls need to know that their bodies are perfect just the way they are, and that they have the choice to do what they want!

What do you think?

*Some doctors have recently gone on record as saying that pubic hair has no purpose whatsoever and that there are no dangers in removing it. These statements are made to support the multi-million dollar waxing business, so I can’t help but be suspicious. This wouldn’t be the first time that experts were paid a lot of money to bend the truth.

Teetering on the brink of fashion sanity

Well, I decided I’d jump right in with what I suspect will be my most controversial post – perhaps ever! Seems silly to say when this post is about the somewhat unimportant subject of shoes, but we women tend to be pretty attached to our shoes! As far as heels go, though, the fact is, I think they are terrible for our health…among other things.

Now I know that many, many women love their high heels. If you are one of them, please don’t write me off yet. I certainly don’t have anything against people who love high heels – if you love them, that’s wonderful and if they make you feel good, then I say wear them with pride! I would never judge anyone for wearing high heels, ever! The purpose of this post is simply to talk about my own thoughts about high heels, their role in feminism (again, my opinions) and what they do to our bodies.

The iconic, always high-heeled Carrie Bradshaw

My relationship with high heels began at a very young age, as I’m sure is true for most women who grew up in this culture. I grew up playing with Barbie dolls whose bare feet are unnaturally shaped with the heels hovering high in the air as if her Achilles tendons are pulling her up off the floor. And if you are like me, you probably had a whole wardrobe to go with your Barbie, including dozens of high heeled shoes (back in the 80′s, no sneakers came with Barbie wardrobes…and that is a subject that could make for several blog posts!). Are we being programmed to associate high heels with femininity? Beauty? Womanhood?

Funnily enough, none of the adult women in my life wore high heels – ever – except for my grandfather’s wife, who wore them every day. She even had high heeled slippers. She was gracious and generous to her five step-granddaughters and let us all play in her closet and walk around in her shoes (she has very tiny feet, lucky for us!). We argued over who got to wear the feathered heels and the clear, see-through heels and the leather heels and on and on, and then would go strutting around the patio in them for all of five minutes – it was so hard to walk in them that we would become bored very quickly and go back to running around, riding bikes and chasing each other. In sneakers. Or our bare feet.

Throughout my teens and twenties, I attempted to wear high heels on numerous occasions. I thought they were pretty (and I still do, for the most part). I wanted to look tall and thin (don’t we all?). And let’s face it – like tuxedos for men, there’s a certain sartorial expectation for women in extremely formal situations – and that includes high heels. Funerals, graduations, weddings – I tried so hard to keep my big feet in those shoes. And ouch!

I have always suffered from joint maladies – ankles, knees, hips – as well as back problems and fallen arches. If I stand or walk for too long, I experience pain even when wearing sneakers. High heels have always caused me immense pain, even after a few moments of wearing them. I can remember gritting my teeth in pain for the duration of my college graduation ceremony, fantasizing about kicking my heels off the moment I got home.

Over the years, I read articles about high heels and what they do to our bodies. In case you don’t know, they can cause sciatica, shortened Achilles tendons, sprained ankles, hammer toes, arthritis, lower back pain, degenerative joint disease of the knees, tendinitis, corns, “pump bump” (a bony enlargement on the back of the heel), metatarsalgia and nerve damage, just to name a handful of the consequences of wearing heels every day. I wasn’t surprised by anything I read – my body had already told me that wearing high heels was bad for my joints, back and feet. What does surprise me is how much pain I and others are willing to endure to be beautiful.

About a year ago, I read an interview with Sela Ward in a magazine, in which she talked about breaking her ankle when she fell while wearing platform shoes. I remember thinking: We women are wearing shoes that cause us to be so unstable that we might fall and break our bones? Then I recalled the many stories I’ve heard from friends who got their heels caught in sewer grates (didn’t that happen to Samantha Jones in Sex and the City?), who sank in mud, who fell over while walking on uneven ground and who couldn’t get to their destination on time because it hurt too much to walk. Again, I think to myself: Why are we hindering our ability to MOVE? Isn’t there something a little bit creepy about wearing something that affects our sense of balance, our speed, our mobility? Honestly, I sometimes see heels as a self-imposed act of mutilation – it permanently damages our bodies and literally cripples us while we are wearing them.

Ten years ago, four inch heels were considered high. I read many articles saying that you should never wear four inch heels for very long – two hours, maximum, before switching to a lower heel. Today, six inch heels have come into fashion. SIX INCHES. Is it just me or does it seem masochistic to force your foot into a shoe that lifts your heel half a foot above the ground?

Kim Kardashian almost trips in her six inch heels.

I found an online article about the burgeoning market for six inch heels that, to my surprise, recommends this shoe (below) as the ideal “everyday shoe.” (I can’t imagine wearing these every day! This makes my feet hurt just looking at it!)

Now I’m guessing six inch heels still aren’t the norm for the average woman. I think most women stick with 2-4″ heels. But the potential to harm our bodies is still there, even if you opt out of the six inch trend.

And children? Oh yeah, this affects them, too. While in my day, a little girl’s exposure to high heels was usually limited to playing with Mama’s (or another relative’s) high heels, today, it’s not uncommon for little girls to have their very own pair of heels. Suri Cruise has become the poster child for this fashion movement, while mother Katie Holmes has taken a lot of heat for sparking the debate about whether or not children should be allowed to wear high heels.

So… If you’ve kindly stuck around to read this (heel-lovers, -haters and everyone in between), I’d love to hear what you think. Is this a crazy, anti-feminist fashion trend (that’s likely here to stay) or is it worth the pain?

Again, please let me say that I completely respect every woman and her opinions on feminism and her choice of footwear! :)

Femininity: Internal vs. External

In the past two days, I’ve received some fantastic comments about my last post, Femininity and Feminism. Teri commented that, at 60, she wants to hold on to her femininity for as long as possible by taking care of her appearance and avoiding wearing “grungy” clothes (i.e. jeans and baggy T shirts). Bella (of Bella Before and After), mother of three, commented about her daily uniform of yoga pants and how she wishes she was able to enjoy wearing her saris more often. EcoGrrl talked about embracing our inner selves more completely and how that enhances our natural femininity, no matter how it is expressed. Lisa C (Nourishing My Life) mentioned that femininity can be accessed in any way, as long as one feels good about oneself. And EcoYogini emphasized that the term “feminine” isn’t physical – it’s emotional.

I have to say, these comments really hit home for me and have helped me shape my thoughts about this issue – or should I say, my personal relationship with these thoughts. I already have many opinions about femininity in our society (which I will be blogging about over the next week or so), but it was my personal relationship with femininity that was throwing me for a loop.

While I agree with the comments about femininity being an internal energy and creative expression, I realized that I judge my external self by the cultural notions of femininity. This is not something I do to other women – I have friends who are frilly and girly and friends who are total tomboys, and I see them all as feminine and beautiful. But me? When I’m at the store, wearing my bicycle helmet and my cargo pants and T shirt (a very comfortable outfit I often wear when bicycling) and a woman in high heels passes by, wearing lots of makeup and a miniskirt, I suddenly feel fat, dowdy and absolutely the opposite of feminine. It is that insecurity that got me thinking about this in the first place. I wondered, Why should I have to feel that way about myself? I’m happy driving less and bicycling more – it makes me feel good for many reasons. I prefer to wear my comfortable, utilitarian clothing most of the time because I feel like I can do anything – go into the garden, walk my dog, play with my nephews – and not worry about getting dirty, sweaty or stained. So why should that interfere with my image of myself as a feminine being?

It shouldn’t. But it does.

I’ll be revisiting this some more in the future. But before I continue on this subject in future posts, I do want to make it clear that my goal here is NOT to denounce makeup or skirts or perfume or any other “girly” thing we ladies like to enjoy. Yes, there is one thing I will be stating my firm opinion AGAINST, and we can have some fun debates over that, LOL. But the rest of it – I’m all for it! I wear makeup sometimes. I love skirts. I love chandelier earrings (if you look at my picture on the top right hand side of this blog, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the long earrings I was wearing that day). I love perfume. All I am saying is that I want to feel feminine even when I don’t choose to engage in these forms of femininity. I want to be able to still feel feminine when I am in my sweatpants, huffing up a hill on my bike. Right now, I feel like our culture doesn’t really honor that – the ability to be feminine all the time just because you are a woman. I feel that our culture only acknowledges one kind of femininity – external femininity. And that’s what bothers me.

Thanks for all your comments! I look forward to reading more!

Still from Bride & Prejudice

By the way, I find it completely ironic that two comments mentioned India/Indian culture. I find that funny because I have always thought that is a culture that knows how to celebrate the feminine body! (Okay, I’ve never been to India and am making this judgment purely based on Bollywood films. So forgive me!) The colors are so vibrant, the fabrics so beautiful, and the jewelry…oh, the jewelry. Sometimes, I wish we lived in a culture like that – where all the women look like goddesses. Wouldn’ t that be something?

Femininity and Feminism

I have been thinking a lot about femininity. What it means. Who defines it. How we express it. I’ll be writing on some related topics over the next few weeks.

But today, I want to talk about femininity in general. What does it mean? What ideas did you get about femininity when you were growing up? When I think of my childhood, these are the women who seemed feminine to me:

Daryl Hannah in Splash

Wonder Woman

Briar Rose / Princess Aurora

Jennifer Beals in Flashdance

Notice a theme here? They are are super beautiful, super skinny, and in most cases, super sexualized.

I was lucky to have a brief period of time during which I was immune to the cultural ideal of femininity. Mostly in preschool, LOL. In fact, I remember that at that time, I equated femininity with physical strength. I wanted to be the most feminine girl at my preschool, and to achieve that, I would do just about anything to prove my strength.

We had a bike track at my preschool (perhaps that’s where I learned to love bicycling?). Yes, an entire track built into the playground, designed for the tricycles – we had a whole fleet of those. My favorite tricycle was the rickshaw trike – a saddle for the “driver” and a two-person seat over the back two wheels. Every recess, I would run to the rickshaw trike and yell for my friends to get on. Two kids often weren’t enough. More, more! I’d try to get three or four on the back seat just to see if I could make it all the way around the track, pedaling their weight. That’s what made me feel feminine.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t more than a year or two later that my sister and I were running around in our California bikinis with washcloths stuffed into the bras, pretending we were Wonder Woman. We still equated femininity with strength, but strength wasn’t enough anymore. We had to have “breasts,” too.

Later, we learned another lesson about “femininity” – one that is, from my current perspective, horrifying. One of our favorite movies, being rabid Hayley Mills fans, was the 1963 Disney film, Summer Magic. What was the message about femininity from that film? “Be radiant, but delicate. Memorize the rules of etiquette. Be demure, sweet and pure. Hide the real you!” Thankfully, Hayley’s character, Nancy, is such an independent, strong, tomboyish character that her actions offset this one awful moment in the film. We admired hardy Nancy far more than the more “feminine” characters in this film, Lallie Joy and Julia.

These days, I contemplate the issue of femininity a lot. Since I ride around on my bike most of the time (instead of driving), I tend to opt for comfort. There are a lot of people out there who love biking in stylish dresses and even high heels, but I’m not one of them! However, I can’t help but notice that when I’m out on my bike in my workout pants and fleece jackets (or whatever other ugly-but-functional clothing I tend to wear), I don’t always feel that good about my appearance. I don’t usually think about my appearance in the first place, since biking is truly fun for me, and I just enjoy being in the moment. But when I arrive at my destination, I always feel a bit…dowdy.

I was thinking that maybe I should put more effort into wearing nicer, or even more feminine clothing while biking, which is ultimately what got me thinking about this subject in the first place. Soon after this thought appeared in my head, I read an article about herbalist Susun Weed – someone I admire greatly. I looked at the picture of her (in her classic headwrap, jeans and T shirt) and thought: This is a woman, too, and therefore, this is another expression of femininity. So what am I worried about?

Picture source: HerbTV Online

Granted, I can imagine that our backwards culture would reject the notion of Susun Weed as “feminine,” or “sexy,” or any other such rigid categorization of the female appearance. Which only leads me to wonder: Is our culture’s notion of femininity anti-feminist? 

Stay tuned because I have lots to say on this subject…and I have the feeling that some of it will inspire some heated conversations!