Saturday, October 22, 2011
Jamaica Gleaner Online | 22 October 2011
Tony Deyal, Contributor
The previous Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) prime minister (PM), Patrick Manning, had a faith healer who was his closest confidante. The present PM, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has turned into a feet heeler. In the middle of an International Food Festival held two weeks ago at the poolside of the Trinidad Hilton, the prime minister called on women to start wearing "flats instead of heels".
Maybe they served sole food at the festival and she had too much of it, but whatever the reason, the PM provided a non-sequitur that seemed to be her idea of food for thought. According to a media report, the PM, while "showing off her own bejewelled slippers", boasted, "The people around me are saying I'm going to set a new fashion trend. So, ladies, check my feet! I'm going flat because it's healthier and I'm getting a lot of jokes about it because I would normally wear heels, but God is great, my toes are open and my shoes are flat ... . So it's a new fashion trend. Let's try it throughout Trinidad and Tobago. Ladies, I'm sure you'll feel far more comfortable splashing around in flats instead of heels, so be more comfortable and enjoy it!"
While some of my Trini friends came up with old jokes about open-toed women, I prefer to wonder whether the PM's advice would fall flat or would women say to heel with her? First, let's look at the age-old symbiosis of women and shoes. Most men have at most three pairs of shoes - one black, one brown and one sneaker. We don't understand, and I have always wondered, "What's this with women and shoes?"
Footwear sales up
According to Cosmo, "While sales of most things have plummeted thanks to the recession, footwear sales have gone up compared to the same period last year." Cosmo continues, "Buying a pair of shoes has always had near-supernatural effects - like instantly updating an outfit from last year or just making you feel hotter than hell - but that doesn't fully explain how footwear is beating the odds in sales. Trust science to have the answer: Turns out, we've always been wired for shoe lust, even when the going gets tough."
Cosmo quotes Martin Lindstrom, a branding expert for Fortune 100 companies and author of 'Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy'. His view is that when you try on or buy any kind of apparel, your mood is boosted. He explains, "The neurotransmitter dopamine is released, providing a feel-good high, similar to taking a drug. The dopamine increases until you swipe your debit card." Usually, the high then flatlines, and guilt starts creeping in ... except, that is, when the item you're purchasing is a pair of shoes. Lindstrom believes that shoppers rationalise shoes as a practical buy - something they can wear multiple times a week - so they hold on to that pleasurable feeling longer. The research also shows that with high heels you get an extra lift.
However, it's not just dopamine at work. Lindstrom says that the mood-altering traits of shoes also come from another brain reaction. Buying new footwear stimulates an area of the brain's prefrontal cortex termed the collecting spot. According to the Daily Mail, "The average woman owns 20 pairs of shoes and more than half of them - worth around £400 in total - are never worn, sitting in the wardrobe waiting for the right occasion, which never comes." Suzanne Ferriss, PhD, editor of 'Footnotes: On Shoes', maintains, "Shoes are a collector's item, whether women realise they perceive them that way or not. Just think of how they're often stored artfully on shoe trees and shelves. They're like sculptures." As a result, collecting each type provides a mini-adrenaline rush similar to the satisfaction a stamp collector gets when he acquires a rare find. In that sense, Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, might have been excessive but far from unusual. Instead of a case of the 'blahs', when depressed she got Blahniks.
So where do high heels fit in and why are they getting even higher? It is not just all pumps and circumstance. The research shows that it would take a much higher power than the T&T PM to get women to give up their heels for flats. It seems that it is biology, and not advertising at work. Cosmo quote Helen Fisher, PhD, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University, "Like most animals, we're wired to associate height with power. High heels can literally raise your status because you're taller when you wear them."
'Measure of class'
Dr Fisher says the heels carry historical significance as well, adding to their appeal. In previous centuries, only the wealthy wore high heels - everyone else had practical footwear to do manual labour. "Shoes were a measure of class," says Fisher, "and we still have a bit of that mindset ingrained in us."
The real deal of the high-heel appeal comes down, like everything else, to sex. Dr Fisher says that when a woman wears stilettos, she assumes a primal mating pose called 'lordosis'. "Her butt lifts and her back arches," Fisher insists. The sex angle is also reinforced by Dr Daniel Amen, author of The Brain in Love. He says that our minds are structured in a way that may associate feet with sex. "The area of the brain that communicates with the genitals is right next to the area that deals with the feet," says Dr Amen. "These regions share neural crosstalk, which may be why shoes can be erotic." It is possible, with advancing age, the crosstalk becomes muted, but Marian Keyes, author of The Brightest Star In The Sky, is certainly one person who hears it loud and clear. She flatly refuses to wear anything but high heels. "I never wear flats," she stoutly maintains. "My shoes are so high that sometimes when I step out of them, people look around in confusion and ask, "Where'd she go?" and I have to say, "I'm down here."
Psychiatrists now talk about 'Shoe Obsession Disorder' (SOD). That means that if anyone, be it PM, prince or pauper, goes to someone with that condition and tells her to wear flats, her natural response would not be "Shoe!" but "SOD off"
Tony Deyal was last seen writing a footnote to his shoe column. He says that Christian Louboutin's shoes make him see red, he loves the sound of Jimmy Choo's shoes, and he could whisper "Ferragamo, Ferragamo" all night long.