Written by DAREarts Teacher Valerie Kostyniuk, edited by DAREarts Head Teacher Geneviève Anthony.
Fashion, Grade 5 West delegates learned today, reflects and expresses different aspects of our societies, for better or for worse. Lotus shoes on display at the Bata Shoe Museum gave some of the students (and teachers!) pause. Popular in China for hundreds of years, as late as the 1950’s in some rural areas, these tiny shoes only fit bound feet. Mothers would bend back their infant daughter’s feet and wrap them tightly, permanently changing the shape of the feet so that they were considered beautiful and so that they were painful to walk on. In the present day, our tour guide pointed out, parents permanently alter their children’s teeth with braces, which are sometimes painful, so that they will look more attractive and, frankly, more well-off. So they will get better jobs. So their lives will be easier and more pleasant. “Would you do that for your children?” she asked. “What about for yourself? Would you get plastic surgery to look better to gain more power over others or to win approval?” Nobody answered.
Later we visited Bata’s current temporary exhibitions: Beauty, Identity, Pride: Native North American Footwear and The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits. Both exhibits were celebratory and hopeful. Beauty, Identity and Pride showcased Aboriginal Canadian footwear, valorizing and affirming the cultures that produced them. Nowhere was there the slightest hint of a narrative that these fashions should be hidden or traded in, pure celebration. The Roaring Twenties highlighted shoes with laces and straps that allowed women to dance and run. The gorgeous shoes showcased were also shoes that allowed active women to be perceived as beautiful as is, no need to change for approval. The kids came alive in the upper two galleries, faces pressed to exhibit boxes, chatting excitedly about what they were seeing. This is what I wish for them. Power and brilliance and finding a way to prosper as is.