Ballet Flats

December 17, 2008

Ballet Flats: Changing the Nature of Power

During Barack Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination for president, seeing Michelle Obama in ballet flats brought home to me a real sense of equality grounded in the practicality of something so simple as what a woman may choose to wear on her feet. Being “on one’s feet” for many hours a day has come to symbolize the working woman and man’s sacrifice and dignity, however for women it has also connoted a special type of pain. 

Perhaps this pain was connected to Mater Eve’s pain in childbirth, given to her by an angry vengeful God. Or to a sadistic Frenchman’s appetite for elevated legs. We have been fed since then a steady diet of images of powerful women walking around in heels, raising children in heels, striding proudly into the future in heels. Whether or not that accurately reflects a woman’s reality is debatable yet heels remained the only choice for women who wanted to present a put-together image, an image of beauty and strength tied together by the social, biological or psychological need to attract and please men. 

Heels remained the only choice for an night out, a date, or a wedding. Worn with a power suit, heels made women taller and more savage. It does take a certain amount of grit or masochism to wear them for a whole eight hours. Recently however the tides have been beginning to turn. As an homage to punk, worn with leggings, ballet flats emerged onto the scene in late 2006. They were comfortable, chic and innocent. Teenagers embraced them in droves. Then professional women started wearing them to work. They hung on tight until designers started paying as much attention to flats as they did to heels. They are now available in any color, material, and price. At present, heels on the runway have reached catastrophic heights, perhaps because they sense their own obsolescence? 

Women will always continue to wear heels but like the women on NBC’s Lipstick Jungle (a successor to Sex and the City’s outdated moral code), they will wear them for their own pleasure as part of a carefully considered outfit and no one will tell them otherwise. Famous tall women including Carla Sarkozy, Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie can now wear flats in public, on very official occasions while still maintaining a polished image. Admittedly, this is (at least in Mme. Sarkozy’s case) a calculated attempt not to overshadow men but it is an achievement nonetheless for the millions of career women who now have a comfortable option to wear with their power suits and pencil skirts. 

As any woman will tell you, that comfort cannot be overstated- three cheers for the ballet flat and for the changing nature of power! Next up- media pundits will criticize John McCain for not getting Botox or a personal stylist… Obama’s GQ image will usher in an era of male masochism that will help to even the scales, and, God willing, someone will hire a babysitter. We can’t be everything you know, us modern women, but spared of a little foot deformation, we are on our way to the top of the world. 


Note: In February, this article appeared to support my hypothesis.