July 22, 2010
Self-Image and the Shoes of Death: On Unsqueezed
I love shoes. Tall shoes, especially. But I've always felt that in the area of shopping and fashion I was a pretty late bloomer; and having always been rather tall, wearing shoes that drew attention to this uncomfortable fact made me . . . uncomfortable. So I was in my twenties before I got over my height issues and started wearing more than a one-inch heel. It may seem trivial, but it was significant for me to realize that being tall is, really, just fine.
So now every time I see the cover of Margot Starbuck's Unsqueezed, the first thought in my head is often, Oooh, I really want that shoe! And then, even though the thought of wearing a stiletto is, shall we say, a bit over the top for me, I run through in my head all the places I might possibly go to procure such a lovely, sexy, impossibly-angled pair of shiny red stilettos at a reasonable price. I even had, for a while, this annoying sing-song phrase running through my head (like the McDonald's "Filet-o-Fish" ad): give-me-that-sti-let-to-heel / give-me-that-heel.
As you can see, I've come a long way.
The shoe on the cover of Unsqueezed gets to me because in one sweeping blow it identifies something that I really love and then tells me that I need to be free of it. And it's not just the shoe that it tells me I need freedom from, but everything the shoe represents--which is, according to Starbuck, our culture's "ill-fitting," "death-dealing" concept of beauty. Says Starbuck, "Enlightened women like us know better. . . . we're aware of our culture's distorted perception of beauty. . . . [But] dissatisfied with our bodies . . . and against our better judgment--many of us still buy into it all." Preach it, Margot!
Honestly, though, I want to argue with the shoe on the cover: Really, wearing high-heeled shoes is proof of how accepting I've become of my height. What's so bad about that? Or, Would not wearing these awesome shimmery purple pumps really mean that I have a healthy self-image? No. I like them, I'm wearing them, and I don't care what anyone says--including you, silly red-shoe-bedecked book cover! Never mind the fact that my toes go numb after standing in them for twenty minutes; or that my back swells and aches from compensating for the unnatural position it must adopt to accommodate my otherwise impeccable taste in shoes; or how hugely impractical these contraptions are when your car breaks down in a blizzard five miles from help. (Though they smite me, yet will I wear them . . .)
Yes, when it comes to how we present ourselves, women (and men, too) take far more drastic steps than wearing tall shoes, to be sure. But why do we insist upon making our bodies billboards of self-awareness? Starbuck has honed in on some reasons--lies, marketing, greed, shame. And she helps us redirect our self-obsession toward an understanding of what our bodies are really for--worship, mission, movement, relationship, service, justice--and how we can use them for the good of others and the world around us. (And she accomplishes all this while being really funny. Seriously.)
Here's Margot's take on how to step out of the mold:
--The very brilliant cover of Unsqueezed was impeccably designed by Cindy Kiple.
--Excerpt taken from chapter eight, "Self-Preoccupation."