19 April 2021

Review: High Heel by Summer Brennan

High Heel by Summer Brennan book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *

High Heel by Summer Brennan is the first book in the Object Lessons series by Bloomsbury Academic that I've chosen to review here on Carpe Librum.

I've always been fascinated by shoes and while I can no longer wear high heels myself (long story) I'm interested in the ways in which they can liberate, empower and hobble their wearer.
"So, are high heels good? Are they bad? What do they mean? Are they feminist or anti-feminist? Do they communicate authority? Independence? Oppression? Professionalism? Confidence? Frivolity? Subservience? Sex? No one group can seem to agree. If you ask me, the answer to all of those questions is, yes." Page 25

Summer Brennan examines the history of the high heel and the fact they can be empowering while simultaneously immobilising and painful. Femininity, fashion, consent and sex is explored and the author does an admirable job of letting the reader decide. 

"For better or worse, the high heel is now womankind's most public footwear. It is a shoe for events, display, performance, authority, and urbanity. In some settings and on some occasions, usually the most formal, it is even required. High heels are something like neckties for women, in that it can be harder to look both formal and femme without them. It's a shoe for when we're on, for ambition; for magazine covers, red carpets, award shows, boardrooms, courtrooms, parliament buildings, and debate lecterns. Along with being our most public shoe, it is also considered the most feminine." Pages 15 & 16
High heels change a woman's posture and gait, and often this is what makes a woman wearing them more attractive. However they also slow us down, weaken our mobility and make running difficult, forcing this reader to question whether making women physically vulnerable is part of the attraction in addition to lengthening the leg and arching the back.

High heels aren't the first - or only - item of clothing that forces women to contort their bodies into uncomfortable and unnatural shapes, and Brennan covers one of the most extreme in the practice of foot binding in Imperial China.
"But it is women's bodies that have been most often manipulated, legislated, controlled, and contorted. A number of those cultural practices have been aimed at the feet." Page 64
Brennan goes on to step us through an examination of shoes in fairytales which was interesting however I didn't quite understand why the content was broken down into 150 separate 'vignettes' as I've noticed other books in the series don't follow this format.

I was looking forward to discovering the long term physical effects of wearing high heels, but the author sidestepped the subject which was a little disappointing. I could have done with less content around female objectification, rape culture and the relationship between what a woman is wearing and consent in favour of her thoughts on the future.

What do you think? Are high heels oppressive or empowering? Do they convey professionalism and confidence or vulnerability and sexuality? Just like any item of clothing, I think they can do all of these things and the reasons for wearing them are as individual as the wearer.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I’m not much of a fan of shoes, little lone high heels. With a wide size 81/2 foot I could never find heels to fit anyway. My pet peeve is seeing female detectives/ medical examiners etc in US shows teeter around on stilettos in the middle of a crime scene or while chasing a suspect.

    1. I know exactly what you mean Shelleyrae! I have the same pet peeve when it comes to seeing characters in TV and movies waking up with makeup already applied. It creates an unrealistic expectation that women should look 'fully made up' at all times.


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