Heels – Just for Women? 

Gender is not an innate quality nor is it concrete in its views. As Lahle Wolfe explains,‘“sex” refers to our biological and physiological traits; “gender” refers to the roles society assigns people based on their sex’. As we progress as people, cultures and societies so do the definitions of words and concepts alter.

Heels are women’s best-loved accessories and as Rose Feller (played by Toni Collette) rightly says in the 2005 movie In Her Shoes, “When I feel bad I like to treat myself. Clothes never look any good. Food just makes me fatter. Shoes always fit.” There’s just something about retail therapy – particularly the shoe kind – that can make a woman feel better about any situation.

There’s a pair for every occasion, every event, every mood, style and trend. But shoes, our magnificent multipurpose high heels, were not created for women. In fact, women started wearing them to appear more masculine despite that our current 21st-century society has heels as the definition of femininity.

Around since the Egyptians, high heels have a very long and complex history. Growing in popularity in 15th century Persia, created for the sole purpose of helping soldiers secure their positions when standing in stirrups. This allowed better precision when shooting a bow and arrow.

“Heels were intended to be an instrument of war, rather than one of seduction.” – Jennifer Wright

Invading Europe, the male aristocracy snapped them almost instantaneously for the added height that signified dominance, wealth and importance. They weren’t made for comfort as walking was the job of labourers and peasants.

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Image of Louis XIV

Louis was a great fan of the heels, so much so that he only allowed his close court members to wear a red heel such as his. The red dye was expensive and exclusively worn by the wealthy. By being allowed to don the red, it symbolised that person’s close relationship and favour from Louis. A serious issue with execution for anyone caught wearing a red heel without permission.

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Dita Von Teese – Orange Coast Magazine

Women adopted the heel along with pipe smoking and wearing manly hats, all in an effort to add masculinity to their appearances and dominance over their own looks. As Dita Von Teese beautifully quotes, “Heels and red lipstick will put the fear of God into people”. Armed with lippy and heels, women go out to battle and conquer. Clearly, the tradition and symbolism of the colour red has stayed ingrained in our culture, especially with Christian Louboutin trademark red soles.

Women submerged heels into their images and took them over. For a while, heels were worn equally among aristocracy both male and female, until the French Revolution brought flat shoes into style. The heel faded until the 19th century brought new technologies and men, eager to jump on this, revolutionised the heel to what we associate with them now: women.

French erotic postcard photographers quickly realised the effect a pair of heels had on a woman’s poster and walk: lengthen the leg, creating a sway in the hips, lifting the chest and pushing the rear out. Not ones to pass up an opportunity, women were sexualised through heels and are the reason our 21st-century society associates them purely with women.

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Postcard from the 1920s – Monovisions

Despite their long history, most heels are still a pain to walk in for anything longer than four hours. Hills, slippery surfaces and cobblestone paths are not recommended; it’s a sure way to fall flat on your face.

So, why are our battle beauties such a pain? Scientifically, the height puts pressure under the ball of the foot which travels up ankles, hips and spine. Adding stress to tendons, prolonged wearing of high heels can cause damage to the foot and leg, especially if not adequate time is given to rest. Beauty in pain, some women are happy to make the sacrifice, others aren’t. Just remember ladies, give those legs a rest!

“Strong women wear their pain like stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, all you see is the beauty of it” – anon.

Interestingly, as the times change so does the definition surrounding high heels.  You might remember Britain’s Got Talent 2014 entry of three Frenchmen dance group: Yanis Marshall, Arnaud, and Mehdi. The wonderful twist that took the country by storm? Men dancing in heels, very very high heels might I add.

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Yanis Marshall, Arnaud, and Mehdi BGT Final

They managed to win over the country, and probably more impressively: Simon Cowell. The only thing more remarkable than their first audition was their superb choreography to a Beyonce soundtrack in the finals. They made dancing in heels look easy.

These men, coincidently French just like the postcard revolution, embody the movement of a new era and the overthrowing of gender stereotypes. We can’t say that heels are feminine because of their origins of creation and we shouldn’t have to. A symbol of masculinity that we embraced continues to shift and change. Perhaps these men are reclaiming what was never intended for women. Perhaps they wish to show equality. Maybe the only reason behind any of it is that they just want to have fun.

Heels: love them or hate them, they make a statement – whatever the gender.

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Health Benefits of Dog Ownership

For most people, our four-legged furry friends are wonderful companions, and they aren’t wrong. Dog are loyal protectors capable of lending an ear and brightening any day.

One of the main benefits of dogs, and probably best known is their desire for games and walks which, subsequently helps keep you active. But, did you know that dogs are date magnets? According to many studies, including Get Healthy, Get a Dog by Harvard pexels-photo-137031.jpegMedical School, dog owners are more social and approachable. By having a dog accompany you while on a walk, the number of people likely to approach increases drastically. Having a pet can signal to a lady that this gentleman is caring, compassionate and not scared of responsibility. And ladies, let’s be honest here, what man isn’t instantly more attractive with a canine companion? Looks like they might be the ultimate wing-mans.

In an age of technological advances and issues such as Toys R Us filing for bankruptcy due to a lack of interest in toys over tablets and Minecraft, a dog can be a great instinctive to get the kids outside. Out in the real world playing with dirt, mud, and sticks, children get the benefits of the outdoors. Not to mention the health benefits of germs! By playing in the open air with a dog, their immune system builds itself up higher, creating a greater resistance to colds and other bacteria.

Plus, the responsibilities of pet ownership: having to feed, bathe, take on walks and care for their wellbeing encourages empathy in children.

pexels-photo-247968.jpegHowever, some of the lesser known special skills of our lovable labs are their medical ability to save lives. Dogs trained to recognise the subtle behaviour and body changes that are undetectable to the human eye or ear, such as a rise in heart rate, can distinguish the starting stages of seizures and successfully warn their owners. This couple of minutes warning could be the difference in life or death; from someone falling down the stairs, holding a dangerous item during a seizure (such as a cooking knife) or to give time so they can mentally prepare themselves. Seizures are draining emotionally and physically: being unable to control your own body and predict its nature having a detrimental effect. Having a dog can then also supply much-needed comfort once the seizure has passed.

In the same way, dogs can be trained to recognise a drop in blood sugar and warn their owners that they need to stock up and have a sugary treat.

New studies by the Arkansas Search Dog Association further now presents hopeful research into dogs’ abilities to detect early stages of ovarian cancer – one of the hardest cancers to recognise and therefore one of the biggest killers of women. Donna Waugh, the President of the foundation expresses how dogs are experts in scents and “[a]ll we have to do is give them a scent we want them to pick out for us, then reward them”. In doing so, the dogs are trained to distinguish the specific smell. There are high hopes in the future that this can be utilized to save millions of lives, the sooner the scent is detected, the higher the chances of a full recovery. If it can be applied to ovarian cancer, perhaps other illnesses can be diagnosed faster too.

Dogs are now widely acknowledged in the field of rehabilitation therapy, known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), through interaction and bonds held between human and animal. The simple act of looking at your pet triggers an increase in the amount of oxycontin, more commonly called the “happy” or “good” chemical due to it being the main foundation in anti-depressants. Other chemical reactions are also triggered by the presence of a pet such as dopamine and serotonin. Patients who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease are lacking in dopamine and being in the company of a pet can help ease up muscles: granting relief.

Serotonin is a big one in itself, with a high impact on your whole body, from maintaining bone health to regulating eating, sleeping, and moods. This is another major factor in anti-depressants and mood control; a chemical that natural increases in production just by the mere sight of a four-legged friend. Dogs are truly tremendous.pexels-photo-230785.jpeg

Still, the miracles and wonders of dogs are not all uncovered just yet. Let’s discuss Guide Dogs. Trained for the partially sighted and blind, Guide Dogs started in 1931 just from four pups being trained in the back of a garage. Able to follow voice commands and give people the freedom of mobility without the fear of traffic or other dangers. It is extraordinary: the life-changing impact a Guide Dog can have on someone. The most notable quality, perhaps, is their ability to judge a command fit or unfit. If they deem that the command issued is unsafe to their owner or potentially harmful, such as walking out in front of a car, they will disobey. This “intelligent disobedience” saves lives.

Our pooch pals have been looking out for us since the canine-human relationship was established over a staggering ten thousand years ago. We owe them a great deal of gratitude. To dogs everywhere, big and small, thank you!

Language Barriers

Language is an important tool that we all take for granted. It is only when you are deprived of your ability to speak and still have to convey information, that the usually effortless task become a battle. Having recently experienced this to a lesser degree, it was eye-opening.

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A workshop warm-up exercise designed precisely for the purpose of allowing us to experience the frustration and helplessness at the lack of someone understanding. We were assigned a seemingly simple task: in pairs, one person was turned from the screen and had a page to draw on, the other: acting as the eyes. The looker had to communicate an image from the screen to their partner non-verbally. Not a sound to be made by either person. The scene? A black and white, simple beach scene with multiple subjects to be drawn by our partners. Sounds easy? It wasn’t.

Some aspects – such as the birds – didn’t cause much trouble and holding up the correct number (three) was simple too. The sea caused a problem: one pair found that what she assumed to be sea waves that she was making with her fingers, her partner assumed was a piano. Confused is an understatement.

That was lesson number one – what we personally assume something to be is not what everyone else will perceive, no matter how apparent it seems to us. Unlike bees, sadly we do not have a hive mind.

The sea took some time, after that a swimmer (with some exaggerated facial moments and wild arm actions) was added along with three fish. The ice cream kiosk proved to be the next obstacle, licking evolved into a lollipop, ice cream, ice cream seller, ice cream eating, to ice cream truck but kiosk or stall, was just too hard to convey. Our partners similarly could not speak to guess or say anything, had to gesture back themselves or draw. Growing more and more frustrated trying to understand each other, our movements became frantic and as a result: the message gets obscured in our arduous struggle.

Guessing the boat was mere luck and the boathouse that was… agonizing. Irked, impatient and irritated we admitted defeat.

The sheer amount of time and effort it took to convey a beach scene was shocking. Language is so fundamentally crucial in all aspects of our lives, that when cut off from it, life becomes a struggle. According to the British Deaf Association, there is an estimated 9 million deaf or of hard hearing people in the UK alone. A huge figure of the population that finds everyday life hard to express, limited and constricted by the language barrier in place. Nonetheless, don’t presume life ends for them: they don’t sit at home isolated. Many live completely normal lives, working, raising families and enjoying themselves. However, a little help, a simple sign of ‘good morning’ could make their day and make them feel less isolated.

This exercise was the most effective method of showing us the importance of how words are formed from sounds, strung together and create sentences that can describe the simplest action to the most complex philological concept. It was our starting point in introducing Makaton: a language programme using symbols and signs designed for the support of communication. Unlike BSL (British Sign Language), it follows the natural speech pattern. ‘I went to work’, in BSL would start with ‘work’ and follow backward, while Makaton is designed to enhance the spoken word and therefore the sentence is portrayed in the same order, leaving filter words such as ‘to, or, and’ out.

More universal by using iconic symbols that are simplistic and easier to understand, Makaton is wonderful for helping young children with difficulties learn how to communicate. Containing different stages of vocabulary, it allows the language to grow with the user and provides a straightforward, effective training method.

Image result for makaton sign for brotherLearning Makaton through a workshop is not only satisfying, when you manage to correctly communicate with someone else and get an answer in reply, it is fun to learn. Finding out that the sign for ‘brother’ is rubbing knuckles together, which is symbolic of fighting and, evidently as we all know, brothers often fight amongst each other. This caused laughter throughout the whole class and made the sign memorable. ‘Sister’ – that one was even better, making a hooked finger and tapping it twice on your nose because sisters are nosy. As a sister myself, I have to reluctantly agree.

Having had my first workshop, I would not only highly recommend, but also profoundly encourage people to attend and learn for themselves. It’s a wonderful, transferable skill in not only helping other Makaton users or children but in how to manage body language, facial expressions, and interactions with others. Practical and exciting: our three-hour introduction workshop flew in!

Break down language barriers by learning something new, whether that is Makaton, BSL, Spanish, French or Mandarin, challenge yourself and stick with it. The rewards are wonderful and worth your efforts.

 

Feature photo was taken from Lead with Languages website.

 

Belonging to a Place

Nationality

Self-definition can come from the notion of nationality. It draws people together into a unit and creates a feeling of belonging among perfect strangers, simply by the idea of nationality.

Nationality is a wonderful concept and vital to the running of the world, placing an individual within international law. Wide and diverse, the very word can encompass everything from history, art, ethnicity, and religion; it is not limiting to or excluding, any other aspects that make up personal identity. Yet, now as David Miller explains, the word ‘is often dismissed today as an irrational political creed with disastrous consequences.’ Why is this our 21st-century image of such an important essence of human identity?

The negativity revolves around our brutal times: unpleasant and unsafe in many instance, the rising unease means that when publicising these criminals, nationality is the first identification used. This does not mean that this whole nation is made-up of like-minded people. However, here the problem arises. Everyone has a right to a nationality and this applies to all humans, good or bad.

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Image from NMSU website

With rising globalization and inter-connectivity of nationality to citizenship, the meaning often gets lost or pushed away. These two could not be further apart. Miller states how citizenship ‘is a legal status, which means that an individual has been registered with the government in some country.’ Something that can be applied for, controlled and is your choice in the matter. American, British, French, Australia – take your pick. Of course, some may be harder than others to acquire and each one takes work, after all, while being a choice, it is a fairly big one. Nationality, on the other hand, is ‘through inheritance of his [or her] parents’ for the country that the individual was born in. Being born is not something any of us can control nor which parents or country. Let’s face it, if we could, we’d all probably live very different lives – I’d pick some badass, rock loving, parents who understand that pink really isn’t my colour.

So, knowing that nationality unites not only people but so many different aspects of human being – do we have to be limited to one?

What if you were born in one place, lived there, felt that pride of culture, native tongue and common people and then, suddenly, moved again. Different country, different area, different people, different tongue. How does that affect someone?

Carol Ann Duffy’s Originally questions the origins of a person, a place and the birthright of a people. Home, the place they fled is heavily autobiographical for Carol herself, who was in the same position. ‘[O]ur own country’ rings loud with belonging and yearning, of a childhood uprooted. Yet, ‘all childhood is an emigration’, a metaphor for our inevitable journeys from childhood to adulthood. A strikingly beautiful poem in which Duffy shows paragraph by paragraph the transition that occurs when the nationality of a person is displaced.

‘Your accent wrong’, a negativity by the collectivity that you don’t belong to. That something as simple as your pronunciation might set us apart, that the loss of our roots means the loss of our tongue. As in the case of most children, with time their tongues adapt, and accents change, but borderline some always stay a stranger. Too neutral for the regional, colloquial dialect and too foreign for their own mother tongue. Must we completely lose one to adapt to the other?

I was one of those children, uprooted early enough to adapt my tongue but too old to forget the essence of my nationality. Even now, though my thoughts circle in English and more than two-thirds of my life have been lived in Northern Ireland, the ghostly impression has never left.

My mother, older and concrete in her roots of belonging, like the Nefertiti mother in Swing Time, she does not compromise or adapt in the same way. Perhaps, already full of what nationality meant to her, she did not need to embrace another. Ironically, her own roots are split equally between two other nationalities.

Children are smart, they pick things up much quicker than their parents. The roots of belonging aren’t as deep, the loyalty of a nationality not as strong. A new place can become a home, it’s easy to ‘forget, or don’t recall, or change’ and a new language becomes your own. If you’re young enough, the embracing of a new country can be entire, consuming and the memories of a distant, far away birthplace becomes a dream, a passing wisp of a long-forgotten race. The tongue might accept a new language and the only foreign aspect left is the weird pronunciation of a last name adapted to fit the crowds.

Nonetheless, deep down in the corners of the mind, an imprint of a country is left strong. A ghost town once played in, among the ruins we were all warriors and rebels, hunters and seekers; we ran through the fields with grass to our knees. Memories like these don’t fade even with time, instead, they ignite a unity with the people of my parents, my ancestors and their countries of birth. Holding a family line that has long since been displaced and dispersed, we seem to each embrace our nationalities of the countries we were born into, but also form connections with the roots our new individualities and origins.

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Even now, after reading the words five or six dozen times, the last two lines ring loudly, as if created by Duffy to express my own situation. ‘Where do you come from? Strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.’ I do hesitate, not because of shame or fear of telling strangers my birthplace but considering that both places signify just as much. Both countries molded my personality and every aspect of who I was and am.

There is not one that dominates over the other – perhaps for some – but for others belonging and self-identification comes from more than just the incidental place of our births. It is in the combined essence that grows and shapes us, nationality being one of them, citizenship another. Dual countries can be just as important as the other, after all, we all have a nationality of Earth.

Perfection: The Myth

What is perfection? What does it mean to be perfect?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines perfect as ‘the state of being complete and correct in every way’.

The Oxford Dictionary defines perfect as ‘Free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless.’

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Adam Levin – photo courtesy of Twitter

‘Free from flaws’, an interesting phrase considering that dimples, which are considered widely in many countries and cultures as attractive, are in fact muscle defects. They are caused by a fault in the tissue situated under the skin, or a shortened muscle, while the embryo develops. Medically registered as ‘genetic defaults’ and imperfections, it is ironic that this is one of the main attributes women find attractive in men. Famous celebrities such as Cheryl Cole, Cameron Diaz and even the Duchess of Cambridge, all present beautiful smiles enhanced by dimples and let’s not forget about the men: Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt, and even Maroon 5’s own Adam Levine.

Body modifications have jumped onto this popular defect with dimple piercings which according to Piercing Models, is the ‘most talked about modification’ due to ‘how it accentuates a feature beautifully.’ Models such as Iska Ithil rock this modification, instantly eye-catching and highlighting her facial features. Piercings such as this, attempt to capture the natural beauty of a defect because, despite its medical imperfections, dimples are attractive and beautiful.

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist… without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.” – Stephen Hawking

We aren’t born perfect because perfect is not human. As humans, it is one of our shared traits as a race to be subjected to human error. Unlike certain animal species that are so perfectly adapted to their environments, they have been around since the dinosaurs (aka the resilient crocodiles), we are a relatively new species on this earth that is ever-changing and ever learning. The Marcgravia evenia plant has only recently been discovered to have evolved a new leaf that creates an acoustic echo beacon. This allows bats to find it more easily to increase pollination. Like this plant, we evolve constantly with changing believes, opinions and perceptions that help us adapt. Filled with flaws we adapt through trial and error, better fitting our environments and constantly remolding society.

Imperfections are natural in our birth, unique to each different human being and in our flaws, we create our fingerprint of identity. Yet our society is founded upon perceived beauty and perfection that is unnatural, photoshopped and airbrushed. Free of wrinkles, freckles and tight, fat-free synthetic bodies is the image society depicts as their perfect, an image that is imposed on women and men alike. This leads to many spending the rest of their lives trying to achieve a look of perceived beauty and perfection. Especially susceptible to peer pressure and media, young girls are constantly attempting to emulate these size zero models. Vulnerable in how they view themselves; young girls misguidedly think that starving themselves is natural to achieve the body they desire. Detrimental not only to their physical health but mental as well, this has irreparable effects.

Who has the right to say what perfection is? Perhaps this is for celebrities to decide, they often start trends and end them, or perhaps media holds this power; shaping views, beauty don’ts and dos. Maybe family, friends or even your partner, but whether this is one or all, the underlining fact is that perfect is a myth.  The image of perfect changes from person to person, culture to country and century to century. The 18th century presented a chic look of dead white, porcelain skin attractive due to the social connotations of being pale equalling being rich. Only servants or laborers had any colour from working outside. Lead-based cosmetics were the trend, applied to the skin in the pursuit of the perfect ghost complexions. The deader the better. Only death was the result in many cases including Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry, who at the age of twenty-eight died due to her ‘fashionable lead-based makeup’ as the National Trust quotes.  Now, our own 21st century Western trend has flipped this completely with tanned skin being the desired appearance which has resulted in many Oompa Loompa wannabes.

What is your ideal image of perfect? Everyone has a different view no matter how small. Is it tall, dark-haired, tanned skin and tight bodied? Or perhaps a fair-skinned, blonde hair, blue eyes Adonis? Sound familiar? This Aryan race was one man’s ideal view of a perfect world, a perfect race populated only with perfect people, a vision that leads to mass genocide. In the name of perfection Hitler killed and tortured millions: the elderly, women, children, disabled, Jew and just about anyone with a difference of opinion fell into that category. None of them fitted into Hitler’s distorted image of perfection. ‘I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race’, in the book Hitler Speak, this is quoted. What gives one man the right to murder all in the name of his own personal image of perfect?

We, as a race, have become obsessed with the image of perfect. Only recently has Vogue featured an article celebrating ‘sun-kissed’ women full of constellations of freckles. Titled as ‘13 Rule-Breaking Beauties Who Made Freckles Iconic, From Twiggy to Penelope Cruz’, these women are considered ‘rule-breaking’ for throwing away the socially imposed image of perfection and embracing their freckle flaw. In doing so they demonstrated the beauty of this flaw, a beauty that has now changed a perception of society so dramatically, that freckled models are ‘in season’ with the demand for them being immense.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all judge someone on their appearance, much like the judging of a book by its cover. A taboo in literature, yet one of the main selling points of books is their bright covers and interesting designs that make them stand out from the rest. But have we considered that our imperfect little flaws act in the same way? Bright, interesting covers that shine inner beauty and self-acceptance, being more interesting than the hundreds of others: all the same shade, all the same style and trend. We each have unique personalities, unique styles, unique quirks and flaws that create the individuals that we are.

I by no means claim to be confident in my own skin. I could not walk out the door with no makeup and feel confident, self-assured and ready for the day. Some days a little battle makeup is required in tackling a particular activity or event, and makeup can be a wonderful tool to enhance a natural feature. However, I have an immense amount of respect for those women that can walk out the door barefaced and beautiful in whom they are.

“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.” – Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

So much of how we are expected to look is all subliminal and specially made to target our subconscious selves. Embedded into magazines, trends and television adverts, this perfect image of men and women starts as young as children; as a study by Johnson and Young in 2002 shows. However, if we are all one shade of perfect, then everyone on earth would look the same, act the same, dress the same, even talk the same. So are we all expected to become Stepford robots: mindless, submissive, docile with no lives of our own but perceived as perfect? What a boringly dull world that would be. It’s our imperfections, our little quirks, birthmarks, dimples, personalities and so much more that make us who we are. We aren’t perfect and I’m okay with that.

Maybe, one day as a united human race we’ll rise up above media and unrealistic expectations to be ourselves. Already we have taken a step in the right direction with France joining Spain, Italy, and Israel in banning underweight models. They have also added a law that any photos which have digitally retouched a model’s appearance have to mark this with photographie retouchée (that’s retouched photograph to you and me).  Slowly, we are continuing to evolve in our thinking and accept that being who you are is not only okay but beautiful. When we finish this Elysian evolution of thought, we will change the definition of perfect. Perfection will mean being who you are and no one else; because we live in a world where everyone is born a single, magnificent shade of imperfect perfection.

So why cheapen yourself to be a copy when the original is worth so much more?