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Be the change

A TED talk crossed my Facebook feed recently, discussing objectifying women’s bodies. I watched, because it’s a topic I’m concerned about and also one about which I can use more education. She made some good points, and ended the talk (somewhat) dramatically by wiping off her makeup while speaking about how we can aspire to a world in which women don’t need to spend an hour each morning doing their hair and makeup. (Her talk was not limited to hair and makeup, but this was her big finish.)

I fully agree that we shouldn’t need to wear face paint or be perfectly coiffed to be taken seriously in business or to be appealing socially. Certainly many women go without makeup and hairspray already, and are fine. But how many women au natural do you see on television or in magazines, or even in any position downtown or at the mall? Clearly, a norm still exists.

But I hardly believe that a war on makeup is the end-all-be-all for that norm. I couldn’t help but notice (of course I couldn’t) that the speaker taking off her makeup didn’t ALSO remove her high-heeled shoes. Or her tailored, low-cut top, for that matter. She was discussing how we are mentally and emotionally affected by the whole concept that we aren’t pretty enough as we are, and so need makeup (and skin and hair products and stylish clothes and shoes AND need to monitor our body position and suck in our gut and stick out our chests) to be fully acceptable and desirable. Which, of course, we are, and it takes quite a toll.

HOWEVER.  I’d like to call attention to what the clothes and shoes do to us physically.

(Beauty products affect us physically, too, of course,  mostly from a chemical perspective, but that’s a post for someone else to write.)

The high heel discussion has been fleshed out over and over, and simply the pain of wearing them should be reason enough NOT TO. Here’s the short version: tipping your foundation (your feet) up by 20, 40, or 60 degrees forces the rest of your body to compensate with ankle, knee, hip and vertebral joints picking up the slack to keep the rest of you vertical. The muscular tension patterns that result can be devastating, from your foot muscles clear up to your neck. Migraines, anyone? There is absolutely NO health benefit to wearing heeled shoes, from your cushiony athletic shoes and basic men’s dress shoes to your comfortable clogs and stunning stilettos. (Disclaimer: If you currently wear only stilettos, then YES, of course there’s a health benefit to switching to clogs.)

Have you read about the people who are amputating their little toe so as to better fit into fashionable shoes? Or those who are injecting toxins into their feet to dull the pain? And people say that foot binding is a thing of the past….

So we wear them why? Because of style and expectation. And this isn’t *just* about women’s bodies being sexualized! It’s simply what the fashion world dictates.

What about clothes, though? What physical harm would a low-cut shirt possibly cause (other than to the classy guy who inadvertently walks into a wall while staring)? Well, it might change the way the wearer picks up the pencil she dropped. Instead of bending over with straight legs, getting a good hamstring stretch and flexion of the hips, one might sort of kneel, putting a lot of strain on your knees, to keep your shirt from gaping and exposing your whole front.

Are her pants so tight she can't squat to get down to kid levee?

Are her pants so tight she can’t squat to get down to kid level?

We talk a lot about how cultural norms keep us from squatting correctly, because “sticking our butts out” isn’t acceptable. But even if you didn’t care one whit about others’ opinions, the skinny jeans you’re wearing might actually prevent you from getting into a decent squat. Heck, they might prevent you from simply sitting in a chair without slouching way back. Tight and short skirts require extremely delicate movements to maintain modesty. In some skirts it’s nearly impossible to sit down without exposing yourself. And what about the need to keep legs pressed together or crossed due to skirts?

The skirt arranged itself so that it's not actually showing anything in this picture... which doesn't always happen!

The skirt arranged itself so that it’s not actually showing anything in this picture… but that doesn’t always happen!


Maybe you’re not inclined to wear a super-short skirt, or even skinny jeans. But is there ANY skirt you’d feel comfortable squatting in? I bought a few “skorts” so that I could wear a skirt and not have to worry too much about flashing anyone, but guess what? I’m somewhat uneasy sitting cross-legged, or squatting, or doing anything that would ordinarily be uncool in a skirt, simply because no one else knows it’s a skort… so my behavior is based on what I think other people are expecting, not what’s actually technically acceptable.

See how high that skirt rides when I do a forward bend? Good thing I'm wearing shorts underneath...

See how high that skirt rides when I do a forward bend? Good thing I’m wearing shorts underneath…

In very real ways our clothes actually prevent- either physically, or by demanding modesty- the natural movement that our bodies need so badly. I feel like I have bought in to the natural movement movement about as thoroughly as I can. I have shifted my environment (my house and yard) and my lifestyle around to better facilitate getting the movement I need. I have exchanged all of my positive-heeled (and cute) footwear for minimalist, barefoot shoes. I have all but stopped wearing anything that physically restricts my movement (goodbye jeans, hello yoga pants). Frankly, I’m lucky in that I was never much interested in clothes or fashion, so the transition wasn’t too hard for me. The fact remains that there are cultural standards for “appropriate clothing” for any given situation, and many women feel like heels are required for business or formal attire.  Just as they feel like makeup is required, and that yoga pants aren’t really appropriate for the office.  Can you blame them? How can we make that shift?

My awesome colleague Jillian doesn't hesitate to move how she needs to move... regardless of clothing.

My awesome colleague Jillian doesn’t hesitate to move how she needs to move… regardless of which clothing she’s wearing.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

That phrase is used for loftier goals than these, but it absolutely applies here. If you think people should be able to wear health-promoting clothing and shoes in any setting, then start doing it. Whenever and wherever possible. Healthy doesn’t have to mean ugly, or even casual. You might have to look harder to find choices that you’ll find acceptable, but it’s worth the hunt. Remember basic economics: the more demand for unrestrictive, attractive clothing, the more the industry will supply it. Also remember that huge clothing companies are not the whole industry– try looking at local, handmade stuff, or look on More expensive, yes, but so is healthcare when you can no longer bend over to pick up your pencil…

Cats don't have to worry about clothes affecting their movement. Cats stretch a lot, too. Be the cat.

Cats don’t have to worry about clothes affecting their movement. Cats stretch a lot, too. Be the cat.


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