tibetan thangka (detail) I was reading an article in the New York Times about painful shoes today and it felt as if I was looking at a former version of myself. Throughout the comments and reviews, people defended the practice of beating up one's feet for fashion, such as:

Contrary to popular belief, today’s extreme shoes are not designed to torture women’s feet. Pain is not the goal, it is just an unfortunate side effect — collateral damage? — to the visual impact of the shoe’s extreme design. - Valerie Steele

Wearable art? Creating illusion and desire is a way that a woman seeks power? Increase in height equals increase in self-esteem? Whatever it is, I've been part of it for my entire life.

I recall my Mother telling me when I was younger that she sought out comfort, not glamour. I also recall thinking that she was an alien for doing so. But I find myself buying for comfort more and more these days and not feeling alien in the least.

And I don't know why this article sent me down this path, but it made me start thinking of all of the ways we externalize our power. And somehow I thought about religion and dating and politics and identity and painful shoes all being part of the same system of externalized validation.

Religion, from my perspective, is a way that people can have hope and faith and believe in something beyond what they see to validate a way of being in the world. Dogma, mantra, karma - whichever - it helps guide people externally to do 'the right thing'.

Dating is a complicated arena full of people looking for love. Only, I have observed that there are very few amazing matches that result in the dance. And, from my own experience (being part of those mismatches), I feel like we settle too quickly into situations that aren't good fits for us because being with that other person externally validates our worth. I know...this seems like a terribly negative view of love, but I've finally gotten to a point in my life that I'm happy enough with myself that I don't have to settle for someone who doesn't complement me.

Politics? Left or right? Socialist? Capitalist (arguably, not even a political stance, but used nonetheless)? Libertarian? Humanist? Whatever all of those mean, are we really so in love with categories that need to file ourselves into one or the other? How did we become such experts in what the 'right' way to run a country is? Not from personal experience. It's learned. It's transfered. It's external.

Identity is a wider reaching ball of muddle. I'm a woman. What does that mean? Why are so many pre-conceived notions packed around that definition and why do I need to put them on as uncomfortable as they are? I'm just as guilty as anyone for generalizing identities to make a point (i.e. Canadians are more community focused, etc.). I know where it's useful. But I also know where it ceases to be useful. These external generalizations of identity are good for figuring out what we have in common, but they cease to be useful when we start expecting individuals to act a certain way because of the generalization.

Which brings me to these shoes. A good step back (so to speak) would reveal to us that wearing 12" heels or pointy toes or strappy sandals that we can't walk in more than 1 block and cut our feet to shreds is the unsexiest thing we can possibly ever do. I was at drinks with some friends of mine the other night and they showed me a photo of a male friend who is single and who makes his dates fill out a test before he'll go out with them. I looked at the photo and thought, "This man is bald, overweight and not particularly handsome, how does he have the power to administer a test to women who desire to date him? Would an overweight, unattractive woman be able to do the same?" And when I read the article on the shoes, I thought, "Oh geez, I balked at the test, but that's what these shoes are." Another test. A way to seek external validation that we are worthy...to be looked at...to be desired...to have someone with comfortable shoes and way more power ask us out on a date.

I'm learning slowly to find my power from within. It's easier said than done. There is so much to unpack in terms of identity and messages and everything else that leads to self-doubt and feeling unworthy in the world. I'm a million miles away from achieving full-on internalized validation, but what I can say is that I don't require religion to tell me what is right and make me a better person in this world, I don't require a political label to define how I believe we should be treating people in our countries, I'm done with dating people who don't fit and am more than happy to be single for as long as it takes (even if it never happens), I work hard to unpack notions of identity for myself and the people I meet everyday and I won't wear shoes that hurt me anymore. I'm more desirable without them.