Oh, my lord. Women and our clothes. Jessica Valenti is sad that skinny jeans and high heels and purses pose a danger to her health, and wishes that she can wear comfortable clothes, like her child. But she can’t, because otherwise she’d… well, something bad would happen. So she’ll just keep wearing these clothes and probably die of some sort of jeans-related aneurysm.
Before you freak out, I’m here to tell you that none of these items of clothing are looming threats to your health. If you go to your doctor and ask her what you can do to improve your well-being, the last thing she’s going to tell you is to stop wearing skinny jeans. The clothes that Valenti describes aren’t even particularly uncomfortable, excepting certain types of high heels.*
I’m almost certain that anyone who reads this page will about this type of jeans, but just in case you’ve never put a pair of dangerous skinny jeans onto your own trembling legs, I’ll explain them to you. Maybe really expensive jeans are sewn onto the wearer’s body along with diamonds and pearls, but most jeans brands add some stretchy substance to the denim weave, so the jeans cling to the body (the “skinny” look). They’re pretty comfortable and they’re not especially heavy compared to other denim, which is part of why they’ve stuck around for the last 15 years despite not being universally flattering. Granted, if the jeans are too tight, they can cut into your skin, but that’s not some sort of fashion trend, it means that you bought the wrong size. You cannot injure yourself wearing a pair of jeans unless you deliberately make yourself into a human sausage.
You also cannot injure yourself by wearing a purse, because a purse is literally a container with a fastener on it. I mean, you can injure yourself by carrying too much in your purse, or wearing one with an uncomfortable strap, or by buying a purse with spikes on it. But nobody’s going to come up to you and say, “Woman, if you don’t injure yourself by carrying a purse with spikes stuck on, you are no longer a female but some sort of neuter beast. Begone!” It’s a tool to carry your personal belongings. I don’t know, if you’re a guy, maybe someone will injure your sense of masculinity by calling your purse a “murse” or a “man bag.” Oh, it’s a messenger bag, all right then.
High heels are actually dangerous, if you wear them constantly and if the heels are too high or thin. You also need to practice walking in them at first or if you haven’t worn them for a while. However, if you want some extra height, there are short heels and chunky heels and wedges, so you don’t absolutely have to wear shoes that are difficult to walk in. Or, you know, you can just wear flats. It’s not like the choice is between platform stilettos and Crocs.
OK, OK, I’m taking this too seriously. I get it–constructing your appearance is important, especially for women. The process of making one’s self up is fascinating to study, if it’s slightly less fun to actually live out. (Taken to the extreme it becomes blackly hilarious—“Ladies, you may be dying of cancer, but why can’t you put on some makeup? It’ll make you feel better!” Yeah, I’ll use it to cover up my suppurating tumor, jackass.) Wearing certain outfits sends out certain signals–you have more money, more access to knowledge, an allegiance to this or that community. Add that personal preferences to that—favorite colors, fabrics, and so on—and it gets pretty complicated. I care about this myself, I want to project a certain image and I definitely change it according to my surroundings.
I think what gets me is just how prim Valenti is. She thinks that her clothes will harm her body and yet she still wears them! What would happen to her if she wore flats instead of heels? What would the terrible consequences be? Would her friends and family desert her? I mean, what would happen if Valenti took a backpack to work, instead of a purse? Would her boss come in and say, “You know, you write a good feminist line, but that knapsack makes me despise you as a person. You’re fired!” Would that really happen? I don’t think so (and not just because Valenti probably works from home).
I mean, it’s not like Valenti has to wear some sort of professional uniform, official or understood. She’s not a Hooters waitress or a McDonald’s cashier or a courtroom lawyer. Valenti is a professional feminist at the Guardian, for Christ’s sake. Her entire career as a third-wave feminist is based on promoting the personal freedoms of women and she still can’t wear a pair of flats because making that choice would destroy too much of her worth as a person. What hope is there for the rest of us poor saps?
* You know what item of clothing is dangerous? The thong. What’s the point? Oh, I don’t want people to know I’m wearing underwear, because that’s slutty, but I don’t want to not wear underwear, because that’s slutty too! I’ll compromise and wear a tiny strip of fabric that is designed to irritate every single part of my genitals. Oh, and because the thong’s so tight, it transports all the bacteria from my poop into my abraded vagina! Yay, vaginal pain and yeast infections!
** The skinny jean trend finally seems to be ending—flares are coming back in, which no doubt will lead to tales of women who trip on the hems and die. Overalls are also on trend, deliberately marketed as a grown woman’s version of the comfortable children’s classic.