Shoes are fine for feet, they just don’t fit the brain
“Shoes make me happy. I’m superficial. Whatever.”
I pass this sign, plastered in the window of a cheap shoe store in Bondi, at least once a week.
Whether it’s meant to be funny or represent the views of its customers, I’m not sure. But the marketing manager behind this cringe-worthy sign has tapped into a solid gold business concept: selling ignorance.
Forget that the trendy hot pink ballet slippers with gold diamantes on them will only ever see the light of day on your person a grand total of once. They’re cheap! You’re bored! Who cares if you just failed a maths test, shoes will be the answer to all your life’s problems.
For exactly three minutes while you complete the transaction, you will be thinking about shoes – and ONLY shoes.
Many women’s magazines take this concept one step further. Even as we approach the dawn of 2010, the era we were once promised flying cars and time travel, glamorised feminine stupidity seems more prevalent than ever.
Young women are offered gushing advice from fresh-faced agony aunts over life’s most important questions: Is it better to shave or wax? How soon is too soon to kiss the guy? Does wearing pink to your wedding say bad things about your past?
Like beauty editor and former footballer’s girlfriend Zoe Foster, who has not only built a career on filling those gaping voids of the unknown – dating and lip gloss – she has landed a three-book deal.
Samantha Brett has amassed a large following by tackling the tricky topics of stilettos and blow jobs. And then there’s sometime model and society offspring Kathryn Eisman, who has parlayed her groundbreaking psychological investigation ‘How to Tell a Man by His Shoes’ into an international TV presenting career.
It’s just light entertainment, I hear you argue. Get over it.
My point is not that this junk food for the brain exists, but that it is so excruciatingly over-represented in our society. And it’s nothing new.
In the 50s, Marilyn Monroe’s myopic, breathy performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes set the benchmark for the dizzy, helpless sexpot.
In the 80s, the hero shot of Olivia Newton John clad in black leather and smoking a cigarette shot a bullet in the head of her grade-A student alter-ego. And then there was Paris Hilton in the noughties whose answer to everything was a vacant, “I’m hot” “It’s hot” or “That’s hot.”
The dumb female parody is tired and old. It’s time to erase the stereotype that being a well-dressed, well-manicured young woman means you also have to be deeply shallow and burst into tears at the thought of filing a tax return.
The real challenge is making ‘smart’ appealing. The shoe marketer does not want a culture of ‘smart’.
Shoppers who think too logically about the benefits of each purchase mean they are not easily persuaded by emotions; they don’t care if Victoria Beckham wore it first. They want quality for money, they want stuff that lasts and they probably have a clearer idea of their own personal taste. They are stingier with their dollars.
Telling shoppers – especially female shoppers – not to think too much is an extremely lucrative retail strategy. Women’s magazines seem happy to play to this position, and they too benefit from the retail cycle. Lipstick, perfume and shoe advertisers bring thousands of dollars to the publishing industry.
This is the wrong message to send to younger girls. We need female role models who let Australian girls and women know that it’s sexy to be smart.
It is 2009 and we are still fighting ancient battles like equal pay in the workplace and complaining that there are too few women in senior management.
Those battles cannot be won without serious attention to the messages we as young women are sending to the next generation.
It’s time to give media visibility to women like Jess Maulder, who put her medical student training to use in the makeshift morgues of Sri Lanka’s tsunami-flattened shores.
And Leisl Packer, whose work in medical research might help develop a preventative cure for melanoma and environmental engineer.
These are women with real lessons to teach us: determination, persistence, how to handle a crisis, how to make a real difference to other people’s lives – and that having a high IQ is not something to hide.
Just as Greenpages entrepreneur Katie Patrick once said you don’t have to be a hemp-wearing hippie to care about the environment; you don’t have to be dumb to be sexy.
And sexy doesn’t have to mean acres of flesh and your own perfume line. It shouldn’t have to mean posing near-nude (like these women in IT tried to do a few years ago).
Sexy can mean confidence, knowledge and, yes, good grooming. But it most certainly doesn’t mean shoes.
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