Wednesday, October 10, 2012

optimism and beauty

Today I was looking through TIME website and found this article about a new fashion item: Sky High Front Heels. I think this is a good example of cruel optimism that Lauren Berlant tries to explain in her book. Here is the excerpt from the article. (

“Humans are playing God by physically and metaphorically perfecting themselves. Beauty is currently at an all time climax, allowing this project to explore what lies beyond perfection,” she wrote. “Scary Beautiful challenges current beauty ideals by inflicting an unexpected new beauty standard.”

The shoes display both the ultimate ideal of beauty and the extreme means one must take to get there. If a woman looks sexiest in a towering stiletto, then theoretically higher should be better. But these heels are towering, and the only way to wear them is to essentially turn the entire shoe backwards. In the same way that a “perfect” face is achieved through invasive plastic surgery or a beautiful ballet dance is enhanced by toe-crushing en-pointe shoes, the “Scary Beautiful” heels pointedly (no pun intended) skewer modern beauty conceptions.

High heels embody hope: the hope that enables us to look tall, the hope that deceive our weakness and create illusions of being tall, and the hope that enables us to live. This hope makes us deeply attached to high heels. It is not too hard to find a group of women who are addicted to shoes and one of my friend is one of them. She is always wearing high heels every time I see her. I’ve never seen her with shoes that do not have heels inside. One time I asked her why she wears them all the time since they seemed too uncomfortable to walk around the campus. Her response was this: I was supposed to be taller than this. But when I was little I felled down and broke my physeal plate, which stopped me from growing taller. So I wear heels because I would’ve been this tall if I never fell down that night.
For her, shoes bring presence that does not exist. Her past lives in the present moment she puts on her stilettos. Her past, present, and future are all embodied in a pair of stilettos: past that could’ve made her taller, present that makes her taller, and future that creates illusion. She is trying to find hope in these shoes that connect past and future. As Berlant describes in her book, this optimism and the “attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered either to be impossible, sheer fantasy, or too possible, and toxic” are problematic because "the continuity of its from provides something of the continuity of the subject's sense of what it means to keep on living on and to look forward to being in the world." (24) This problematic object, high heels, is certainly what the designer (in the article) is trying to criticize. Behind the overly optimistic and perfect beauty lies the almost freakish looking pair of heels. 

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