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the podiatric tales
madame's heels are designed to do damage
by sigbjørn lund olsen

How much do you think about what you put on your feet every day? I'll put a wager on answers similar to "Not much". That'd certainly be what I'd answer my question with. Frankly, I could hardly care less about what I put on my feet, as long as it keeps them warm and safe. I suppose one could call this another example of the interconnectedness of everything, but I just happened to receive this mail only two hours before I totaled my wonderful and trusty pair of Nike Air sneakers:

Walker, shame on you, and the usual end-of-the-month crowd has taken its usual approach: Jack and Michael and Sigbjorn, I'm looking at YOU. Unless, Sigbjorn, you're still in Oslo.

Actually, anyone who's in Oslo right now can take a lackadaisical (Adam,
check my spelling) approach to the deadline. Free deal, this month only.

I wasn't in Oslo. I had angered Jael (again), the most fearsome of the Intrepid editors, and I needed something to write about. And I needed it fast. So to get inspiration (and some relief from my headache) I took a walk up the closest mountain. And halfway up, my shoes died on me, and at that point, it all become clear. There was no alternative. This column simply had to be about shoes.

While the earliest forms of footwear were merely a form of protection from rough terrain and a cold environment, footwear quickly became a status symbol. For example, in Ancient Egypt you'd find high-born people have sandals with upturned toes, while women had sandals with embedded jewels. In Greece ornamentation and colouring showed the social status of the sandal's wearer. Furthermore, women with a "bad reputation" wore sandals with high heels to attract men sexually - haven't we come a long way?

We humans always look upon ourselves as something aloof from the primitive animals, we're sophisticated and civilized. I disagree. Just from the significance of sandals in the ancient Mediterranean you can see that even though our intelligence certainly is superior to that of animals, it is still the same basic needs that make us tick. Societies vary, but think about the materialistic spin of western society... We want status, and thus we get ourselves fancier clothes, fancier cars, fancier housing. We do a lot of stuff just to gain enough status to find a high-status mate and reproduce high-status offspring. Not very unlike the pecking order of birds.

Personally I just grabbed a pair of Kangaroos that my father doesn't use, and my problem was fixed. I did like the Nike pair better though, and I'll admit that it just may be because they are more expensive.

Speaking of sneakers, they are probably the longest-lasting modern shoe design. Its role has changed from a sports shoe in the late 19th century to a symbol for the youth rebellion during the fifties and sixties. Exploiting this, shoe producers got teenage idols to wear and embrace sneakers, something that made sneakers even more popular. The sneakers has in most ways lost its real identity as a sports shoe and a rebel shoe these days, seeing as large companies such as Adidas and Nike have large collections of "fashion" sneakers.

Many types of footwear are simply ornamental, but some one would think are ornamental do have hidden purposes. Take high-heeled shoes for instance. The shoes do not only elevate the person, but also change the way their body weight is distributed, tilting the body in a way that is thought to be sexy. Modern stilletto heels further the play on sexuality, where heels and design help convey "master and slave" symbolism. With shoe fetishism this becomes very apparent, seeing as the heels are often used to "tickle", "tramp" and "crush", going from mostly harmless to rather painful. Madame's heels are indeed designed with the capacity of doing damage.

Shoes and feet have actually very often had a sensual symbolism. In the middle ages in Western Europe, the fashion of the time was shoes where the toes were extended, sometimes so far that it was difficult to walk. Sometimes one would attach bells to the ends of the shoes, to much the same effect as high heels in ancient Greece.

Sadly, I don't think the amount of women (or lack of such) flocking around me would change much if I had my old shoes.

While their boots probably didn't attract as many women as their muscles did, the Roman Legionnairies had great practical use from their footwear. It was sturdy and warm and made it possible for them to be highly mobile on foot, something that added to the Roman striking power. Think about what would have happened should the Legionnairies boots have been crap. Small pieces of leather would have toppled history as we know it. Furthermore, military boots have always been a matter of style and rank. The length of a Legionnaire's boots were proportionate with the rank of the person wearing them, for example. And how fearsome would Grand Moff Tarkin have been had he worn sneakers instead of his long black boots?

I don't know if there is much to learn from all this, but when I get myself to a shoeshop to buy myself a new pair of Nike Air sneakers, I will probably look very differently at the stillettos over in the ladies department...


Sigbjørn still maintains that he is going to be somebody ... carefully neglecting the fact that all the ninety-year olds still singing into their combs in front of their mirrors, they too knew that they were going to be somebody. It is slowly dawning on him that his shot at being a star kid actor may very well have passed, so as a backup plan, he's currently attending university in Trondheim, Norway, studying film.

more about sigbjørn lund olsen


mad man disease
the next european farming catastrophe
by sigbjørn lund olsen
topic: general
published: 4.21.01

contact and conflict
xenophobia, will we survive this round?
by sigbjørn lund olsen
topic: general
published: 11.24.00


matt morin
7.30.01 @ 1:44p

I just want to know why the East Coast usually calls them "sneakers" while native West Coasters always call them "tennis shoes".

adam kraemer
7.30.01 @ 3:37p

Because "tennis shoes" sounds pretentious.

lee anne ramsey
7.30.01 @ 9:17p


tom scarpelli
7.31.01 @ 2:14p

While their boots probably didn't attract as many women as their muscles did... That might have depended on their boot size. Coincidentally, "Scarpelli" in Italian means little shoe,which is why I found it necessary to lift weights.

sigbjørn olsen
7.31.01 @ 2:59p

Matt: Sneakers were actually a type of tennis shoes back in the 18th century. Tom: The longer a Legionnaire's boot was, the higher rank he had.

adam kraemer
7.31.01 @ 3:00p

Could be worse. "Kleineschmuck" in German means "small jewels," though, of course, no one actually has that name.

sigbjørn olsen
7.31.01 @ 3:00p

Joe: Why can't this little box convert newlines to BR tags like every other box on this site and this side of the Internet do :-P

adam kraemer
7.31.01 @ 4:41p


joe procopio
7.31.01 @ 5:36p

Very cool, Adam. But it's really because there's over 2000 posts that don't parse out the new lines, and they'd be all messed up. I'll convert it. Sooner or later.

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