Most of us have seen these TV commercials. In one, several women in an office are huddled around a computer, all glued to the screen in wide-eyed amazement, shrieking and emitting primal sounds befitting more some adult film’s soundtrack than workplace clatter. In another, a woman flees from her amorous husband/boyfriend into a bathroom where she takes out her IPod and becomes completely mesmerized by what is on the screen. Her husband/boyfriend tries to coax her out of the bathroom for what is set up as a night of romantic passion, but alas, to no avail. She is on an online hunt for a treasure.
These commercials are produced for JustFab – the popular online retailer of women’s shoes. While the scenarios are obviously over-the-top dramatizations, the truth behind them is incontrovertible: women love shoes, often to distraction.
And now there is actual empirical proof of what has generally been mostly anecdotal evidence. Last April, Shoebuy.com conducted a nationwide survey of 1,000 women in the U.S., ages 35-44 that confirms — in an almost disturbing way – that women are true-blue shoe-worshippers. Among the highlights, the survey found that 20 percent of women admit they are more aroused by new shoes than by their partners. Half admitted to judging someone based – no pun intended — solely on their shoes; 1 in 2 are willing to lie to their partners about the price they paid for shoes; and one in four will not slip off an uncomfortable shoe even if their feet are sending urgent “you’re killing me” messages to their brains. On the average, a woman will buy 4-7 pairs of shoes every year.
I must confess that I’m no stranger to this shoe-worship, although I do try to keep it in check. You might say I’m a functioning “shoeaholic.” I’m certainly no Imelda Marcos, the widow of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, whose shoe collection numbered in the thousands (it is rumoured she owned 3,000 pairs!) I don’t have a dedicated closet for my shoes, although owning one features prominently in my daytime fantasies. I would say that I’m just an average collector (20 pairs or so) of what I consider to be the best accessory a woman can have.
Buying shoes or wearing the right shoe can work wonders. When you’ve had one too many French fries and your dress size has changed in the least desired way, a shoe-buying expedition is not going to throw that in your face like a dress-buying expedition might. And in fact, high heels or even more casual platforms tend to lengthen a woman’s shape which makes us appear slimmer, and that goes a long way to making us feel better. A high heel or a stiletto also changes the curve of our posture pushing our buttocks out, and although physiotherapists worry about what that might do to our spines down the road, that look is definitely appealing to the members of the opposite sex. And that is why all the Kardashian/Jenner girls (not to mention most of the Real Housewives of whatever city) trudge around in their Louboutins no matter what the location – a cobbled Paris street, a Miami beach or a “no drama” walk in a park.
Yet, our fascination with shoes is not all just vanity. Some high-end shoes do fall into category of works of art and can be structural marvels. Maybe that’s why actress Kiera Knightley is quoted as saying, “I see a pair of shoes I adore, and it doesn’t matter if they have them in my size. I buy them anyway.” The type of shoe you prefer can also reveal aspects of your personality, your mood, your sense of style and aesthetic. And some psychological insight can be inferred (rightly or wrongly) from knowing that someone prefers to wear a certain type of footwear – be it flats, heels, boots, sandals, clogs, platforms, etc. (The specifics of this type of analysis is, however, a whole other article.) Footwear also speaks volumes about a culture and the zeitgeist, as a trip to the Bata Museum in Toronto will prove.
As women we are well familiar with the effectiveness— at least in the short term—of retail therapy. And in fact, research by psychologists has found that levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter in the brain that releases the “feel good sensations,” increases when we buy anything wearable, creating a feeling similar to a drug induced high. But apparently, when we buy shoes, this “high” lasts longer than it does with other purchases. So, there you have it — an explanation for a shoe addiction. You can use that the next time you’re explaining to your significant other why you spent $600 for a pair of new boots: “My dopamine was extremely low today, honey.”