peer pressure, high heels, and lemony snicket

08Dec07

roses staying in their place, outside a catholic church during the first rain

The Sartorialist, who photographs well-dressed people on the streets of Paris, Stockholm, and Milan, among other exciting locales, recently posted a photo of two women in New York.

One anonymous commenter brought in critical thinking where only aesthetic judgments had reigned:

The heels that women in the last few pictures are wearing make my feet hurt just looking. Those heels are completely crippling, though they make the women’s legs look longer and thinner. Why are western (liberated) women still wearing things that are utterly uncomfortable to say the least, as compared to men’s outfits? I am from South Asia where most women wear flat shoes or flipflops even with formal clothes – these 4-inch heels with platforms make a burkha (full veil) in 90 degree weather or a Victorian corset seem less oppressive.

A few people, including me, commented agreeing and elaborating. Some people of course said it was a choice and that’s what fashion is all about!

And then I read this. (Honestly, what will I do with my life when I finish this book and The Amber Spyglass, now that Harry Potter is over? Probably reread Matilda.)

Such situations are often referred to as incidents of “peer pressure,” as “peer” is a word for someone with whom you are associating and “pressure” is a word for the influence such people often have. If you are a braeman or braewoman—a term for someone who lives all alone on a hill—then peer pressure is fairly easy to avoid, as you have no peers except for the occasional wild sheep who may wander near your cave and try to pressure you into growing a woolly coat.

But if you live among people, whether they are people in your family, in your school, or in your secret organization, then every moment of your life is an incident of peer pressure, and you cannot avoid it any more than a boat at sea can avoid a surrounding storm…

All day long, everyone in the world is succumbing to peer pressure, whether it is the pressure of their fourth grade peers to play dodge ball during recess or the pressure of their fellow circus performers to balance rubber balls on their noses, and if you try to avoid every instance of peer pressure you will end up without any peers whatsoever, and the trick is to succumb to enough pressure that you do not drive your peers away, but not so much that you end up in a situation in which you are dead or otherwise uncomfortable. This is a difficult trick, and most people never master it, and end up dead or uncomfortable at least once during their lives.

The End by Lemony Snicket

There are very few things we do now that we would still choose to do in a vacuum, completely unaffected by anyone else. Eating and sleeping, maybe verbalizing. A good biologist, or some kind of -ist, could do better than I in this area.

People learn to accept unappealing drinks from their hosts to demonstrate a polite and friendly attitude. Likewise, women learn to wear painful, movement-restricting clothes to show a non-confrontational approach to the world’s disrespect.

The funny thing about ending up uncomfortable or dead is that it can happen regardless of whether you conform too much or not enough. It’s a constant balancing act, and some of us have to do it more carefully than others.

Twisty has discussed femininity as a survival skill here and elsewhere, so I’m not saying anything new overall. Still, when it’s the first time you hear it, it hurts. Maybe we all just read the wrong children’s books.



5 Responses to “peer pressure, high heels, and lemony snicket”

  1. Daniel Handler disguises unpleasant truths so well. I almost want to have kids just to read to them the Series of Unfortunate Events. Well, I suppose what I really want are kids who are old enough to understand them in the first place. I want my kids to be born at kindergarten age. And then I’ll return them to the store once I’m through with the series.

    Would that we could all be Greg House.

  2. My sister reads those stories. I’ll have to steal them off of her.

    I feel like I don’t have a choice other than to wear heels when I dress up.

    Maybe it’s my lack of height, as well?

  3. While I am not a fan of high heels, that Lemony Snicket quote is very true. (I’ll have to start reading those stories…) I’ve tried to sometimes stay away from the trends and the norms of teenager-dom (going to malls even though it is completely unnecessary), and it does get a bit lonely at times.

    High heels are evil, by the way.

  4. 4 vorare

    I now reject high heels pretty easily (it really helps that I can point to bad knees if someone asks me about not wearing them — a doctor told me not to!), but for me dress-up still = cleavage.

    This despite the idea that wearing more clothes signifies having greater power. Source: “I read it somewhere,” so don’t take it too seriously. I find it makes sense, though, because if you can get attention because of who you are rather than what certain parts of your body look like, you definitely have more power than most of us (including me) give ourselves credit for in formal settings.

    Also, a great long coat makes everyone feel like a badass.


  1. 1 books I have loved, 2007 edition « vorare

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