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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Show watcher

A casual interest in other person’s footwear is not abnormal by any stretch of the imagination and only when this becomes a prolonged anti-social obsession would restifism (i.e. shoe fetish), be diagnosed. Originally a fetish was an artifact given supernatural powers and worshipped, obsessively. By the nineteenth century, the term was extended to refer to anything which was irrationally worshipped. French psychologist, Alfred Binet, in 1887 was the first to describe fetish in the psychological sense and associate it with sex and the attraction of certain portions of the female body, or specific articles of female attire. Examples of body parts, which attract the fetishist, include feet, hair, buttocks, and breasts; and objects include. gloves, lingerie, hose, leather, brassieres, and garters. Ernest Becker later argued fetishism in males represented an anxiety of the sexual act and the fetishistic object was a lucky charm that transformed the anticipated terrifying reality into something that transcended anxiety. Performance anxiety is a male fear (Freud’s Castration Theory) and this according to Valerie Steele is one reason why fetishism is almost always a male obsession, but there are some cases cited where females have a real ‘shoe fetish.’ Collecting shoes is by itself not a true fetish and more akin to obsessive compulsive disorder. Although no one can be sure, prehistoric foot coverings were likely to be worn as a decoration in homage to the admired trait of the animal the hide came from (bravery or speed). It is unlikely shoes were used to protect the feet from the environment and this would only come much later with herding and the development of weaving and tanning. Clothing anthropologists uphold the Theory of Displacement which describes how hair (and hats) as well as feet (and legs) became sexualized. Once people covered their genitalia, then symbolic representation of gender became obvious from hair styles (and hats) as well as shoes. Simply put plebs, went barefoot and hatless and aristocracy wore foot attire and head coverings. The Ankh (one of the oldest known symbols) is thought to represent a thong (sandal) and was associated with very high born women in early Egyptian society. As costume became more refined then it was easy to spot superior beings, child bearing women, and warriors. Throughout many cultures the humble and inferior looked down rather than up, and so would take much information of the presence of others from their shoes. Foot adornments such as henna tattoos and bells carry messages which most of us miss in modern society. By the same token shoes give out signals which may be only obvious to the very sensitive. Women in particular are better at reading these signs than men and when males do show an interest it is often dismissed as an aberration, whereas it may say much about the caring nature of the individual. Shoes do appear to have something to say about the wearer but conditions do apply.

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