The Slavery of Stilettos

This article is written with utmost love and respect for all my friends, no matter what you wear on your feet!

My granny used to think my feet would spread if I didn’t wear a nice court shoe. How far did she think they were going to go? In the end she couldn’t wear flat shoes or go barefoot at all due to foreshortening of the calf muscle from a lifetime of wearing heels. Even her slippers had heels. How different is this to foot binding? Only by degree.

The stiletto shoe epitomises sado-masocism. It oppresses and imprisons the wearer, disabling them, causing pain and restricting movement. It forces them to walk daintily on their toes, as if afraid to put their foot down, tipping their body weight forward to unsteady them. How easily could you run from an attacker (or an abusive partner) or stand your ground in self-defence? Yet at the same time it displays aggression; a potential weapon, a spike to stamp down with; increasing the wearer’s height, and in those who have mastered it, a confident swagger. It is a form of power dress and of enslavement simultaneously, not unlike a studded collar on a dog. Think I’m overreacting? Try putting men in them for a week.

The corset was designed to constrict a woman’s breathing and movement, causing them weakness and fainting spells. It also compressed the abdominal organs. Foot binding in China prevented girls’ feet from growing and horribly disfigured and permanently disabled them. Fortunately recent generations have stopped the practice. FGM not only robs a woman of pleasure but can make childbirth much more difficult and potentially fatal. All these abuses were perpetuated by the women themselves on their own children, and change was strongly resisted by the older generations. In the words of Steve Biko, the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. The instruments may change but the intention is the same. Those who challenge the status quo are mocked as militant. Sometimes the more subtle the abuse, the more insidious and persistent it remains, whilst we believe we are making a free choice. Think on.

© Janey Colbourne 2016

Speak Out Loud (trigger warning: rape and abuse survivors)

I want your touch
Yet I cannot bear it
Betrayal is bitter
And love runs cold

You smile at me
And my heart warms
Then remembers
A stone hard shell

My own love
Opened up to you
All those years
What did they mean?

The deepest wound
Yet you deny
It can’t be healed
By lies

To fear a lover
Daring not to speak
But lie there silent

Twisted tarnished
An act of love
Made hate
In the deepest way

Never the same again
That moment
In my mind
Your face

Your rage
As you lay on me
In every sense

Feeling dead
Tears choked back
My body
Not my own

Like a dog
Your territory marked
Then with disdain
Cast me aside

Yet still you think
I have a problem
A frigid distance
Why so cold?

I could not call it
By its name
For many years
Still cannot speak
Out loud

© Janey Colbourne 2016

Compassion and #Healing

I think compassion is right up there with Gratitude as one of the most important attitudes to cultivate in life. It is a form of love, a form of kindness, that is non-discriminating, yet is neither overly emotional. It is both detached and caring. In that sense it is like empathy, which is a component of compassion. In fact it is the only way to maintain a caring attitude in a professional capacity without causing oneself to burn out. Empathy is a tool which can be used to cultivate compassion. It is the capacity to put oneself in another’s shoes, to imagine how they might feel, or see the world, whilst maintaining our own sense of self as a separate being, so that we are still able to act rationally. Sympathy is where one identifies with the other’s feelings; we know how they feel because we feel it, or we believe that we know how they feel and react from an emotional position. This is not always helpful, as it often comes across as feeling sorry for them, and can paralyse us from helping the other person to see a way forward. We are stuck in there with them, or worse, we take them to a negative place they weren’t even in. This can happen especially if we have unresolved traumas of our own that resonate in some way with theirs. We are reacting from our own emotions, rather than a rational and calm base. With empathy and compassion, we can be caring and rational at the same time. We can make appropriate decisions, based on both bare facts and the emotional needs of others, without being clouded by our distress on behalf of the other. We can recognise their views and feelings, so that they feel validated, without them feeling that we have taken over and entered their psyche, along with all our baggage.

However, the power of compassion has much greater implications that this. In its ultimate manifestation it is a force for healing. As a practitioner and as a disabled person, I have had many interactions with a variety of health professionals, both as a patient and as a colleague. As I mentioned in my previous article on burnout (see Burnout: A collective responsibility), there is a danger of losing compassion in the healing professions, especially when one is overloaded and feeling unappreciated. The difference it makes to meet a consultant with true compassion is astounding. A certain look, a touch on the arm, a genuine active listening, says “I am here with you”. It says, “I care and feel for you, but I am strong, you can relax in my space”. In that moment there is true connection. We feel understood, supported, respected and validated. The respect is mutual, and the gratitude overflows. We may respect a doctor for their knowledge because we need to have confidence that they know what they are doing, but it is their compassion that makes us want to consult them. Sadly it is not as common in the medical profession as it should be and pracitioners who excel at it are ironically vulnerable to burnout, as everyone wants to see them, and has high expectations of them.

I have had recent experiences of compassion from the busiest of consultants, which has been so meaningful and significant to me that I consider it a part of my healing process and is a factor in my trust and confidence in them. To see even the most highly trained expert hold on to our common humanity is a great relief. There is always a danger of “knowledge is power” becoming “knowledge is power over you” when in fact there is a mutual privilege; as patients we open up our vulnerabilities, our trust is given to the consultant. The “good bedside manner” was once very greatly valued when medicine and technology were not so advanced and a doctor had few other tools but to really listen and to physically touch a person to understand their problem. Now it is easy to order blood tests and scans, to compare results to standards of “normal”. It is too easy to lose sight of the individual, the very real human, that does not always fit in a neat box. We do not grow from textbooks. Much frustration from patients is from not feeling listened to and validated, just as they are. We may not all have medical knowledge, but we have our own internal experience, we know how we feel, and we need to have that heard. We are not only and solely our disease. We are a whole experience. Disease is manifestation of aspects of ourselves and our interactions with the whole. It is the body’s response to challenge. True healing is much deeper than external treatments or interventions. It occurs on many levels. It comes about when the self is reintegrated. Healing of the soul can occur, even in the absence of physical health, just as physical healing can occur initially without deeper healing. It takes much personal courage and soul searching to heal to a level where illness does not recur or manifest in some other form. We need support to do that. Most doctors are very busy and not able to attend to this level of healing, and in fact, that is our own responsibility, but what can be done by others is to begin to create that safe space (see my article on Holding Space), to extend compassion that reminds us we are not alone. It is an energy that in itself has some healing capacity, as we let go of our defences and open up our pains to a person we trust. Fundamentally compassion is about connection, and connection brings healing.

© Janey Colbourne 2016