My son was leaning out of the window when I arrived and watched me walk to his door. He was eyeing me strangely, but said nothing until I had brought him his morning coffee.
“I’d forgotten that you were female.” This, I thought, had to be some new and devious method of insulting me upon which he had been working… it is a family thing, a gesture of affection… He remained silent for a while, and, rendered speechless, so did I. Eventually, he clarified and apparently he was serious. “Really, I had completely forgotten you were female. It’s the heels… they look feminine.”
The implications of this statement were not lost upon me, though had I not married his father, I might have retaliated suitably. So, heels equal femininity, do they? And I never wear them any more…
Being an unnatural female, I loathe shoe-shopping, but there are times when needs really must. This time, I am being forced by flapping soles and cold, wet feet to acknowledge that I will be obliged to brave both the horrors of going into town and the even worse ordeal of trawling the shoe shops for something suitable.
My needs are simple… flattish, reasonably foot-shaped, with a light, flexible sole that will do double duty as everyday footwear and for the occasional bit of rock climbing and moor-walking. My current choice came from the local supermarket two years ago and cost me about an hour’s pay and they have lasted remarkably well. The uppers are still perfectly respectable, but as the soles have parted company from them in places and been worn through to the insole in others… not to mention having split across the balls of my feet… the wet weather we are having makes replacing them an urgent necessity.
They are not my only pair of shoes. I am not quite that unnatural. There are the mud-boots and walking shoes in the car, a pair of heels I will only wear under extreme social duress, one pair of sandals and my old ballroom shoes in the wardrobe. Forced to make a drier choice to go to work today, I had dug out the pair of trouser-shoes I bought long ago to go with my business suit. As I seldom wear trousers and no longer own a suit, these shoes, with their small, sensible heel, seldom see the light of day, but apparently their minimal heels are enough to make the difference between androgynity and femininity, at least to my son.
I stopped wearing heels when I started pushing a wheelchair and became a mobile walking frame. With a son a foot taller than me hanging on my shoulder, I needed all the stability I could get. I had been a dancer with point shoes… my habitual footwear had been high heels for years… and my toe joints had suffered accordingly. Flat shoes were suddenly appreciated at a personal level too and gradually became my footwear of choice.
Should I now to go back to heels in order to recapture the essence of femininity that I have apparently lost in my quest for comfortable feet?
I have spent too much of my life trying to project a conformable image… one that was both appropriate for the situation, and…more dangerously… one that others might, I hoped, interpret in a way that would make me acceptable within their criteria. Short skirts and heels? Well coiffed hair? Business suit or evening gown, I dressed for others, not for me.
A natural part of the ageing process is a growth in self confidence. It really does matter less what others think about you. It matters more how they feel about you as a person, and, even more importantly, what you feel about yourself.
Yet the world has its sartorial stereotypes, imposed, often enough, by the media, the class system and our own memories of what was considered suitable for previous generations. Although we are generally more accepting of what would once have been considered eccentricity in dress, there are still cut-off points, beyond which an automatic judgement seems to kick in, where eyebrows are raised and less-than-complimentary labels are mentally applied.
My own son, the one who sparked these reflections with his comment, has strict notions of propriety where my dress is concerned. Neither knees nor chest are acceptable if visible and he finds it uncomfortable if I am wearing make-up and have tidy hair unless we are going somewhere.
I will give a nod to conformity when I must. I can, and will, dress appropriately for an occasion where it is a matter of respect for others. The rest of the time, I dress as I please. If I wonder at all what others make of my long skirts and draped shawls these days, it is mere curiosity…and I do not need to prove my femininity to anyone else.
And that thought, sparked by my son’s comment, is a real gift. So many of us spend too much of our lives trying to squeeze ourselves in an image that is not our own, and too many try to push us into being what they believe we should be, without any regard for who we actually are. The image of ourselves that we show to the world should be our own, the one that feels right and in which we really are comfortable… the one in which we can be ourselves.