Each time I scroll through my Instagram feed, I seem to find one particular type of photo. An #ootd captured by an “Instagram husband” hard at work or by the wearer in the style of a shoes selfie. And more often than not the subjects of these photos are female millenials who’ve grown up with fashion at their fingertips in the form of online magazines, fashion blogs, America’s Next Top Model….
They’ve learned through years of conditioning that Instagram-worthy fashion photos don’t just happen; they’re carefully planned, staged, and executed, from the empty Starbucks cup in hand to the cherry red soles of their Louboutins peeking out. These Instagram idols have also studied the fine art of posing and largely settled on one particular pose that’s supposed to read as cute, chic, yet unassuming.
Instagram fashionistas didn’t invent the pigeon-toed pose, but they’ve adopted it in droves. I challenge you to search #whatiwore and not spot at least three women posed pigeon-toed in the initial results:
This pigeon-toed phenomenon actually dates back centuries to geishas, who were instructed to adopt the uchimata gait, which was seen as the height of femininity and elegance in Japanese culture. This posture was also supposed to highlight the geisha’s kimono as she walked. Even today, many Japanese women walk pigeon-toed, which some have linked to too much time spent in the traditional seated position known as seiza, where your legs get tucked underneath your bottom, with toes pointing toward each other.
Of course, lots of people are naturally predisposed to walk pigeon-toed, but it’s often a matter of culture that causes us not to correct this condition, or to adopt it as an adult.
“In France, when a child walks with its feet turned inwards, it is systematically corrected, but in Japan, society encourages women to perpetuate this infantile posture,” Claude Estebe, an associate researcher at Tokyo’s Teikyo University told AFP, adding that “in all of Asia, only Japanese women walk like that.”
Across the pond, American women have been told that turning your toes inward has a (supposedly) slimming effect on the legs and, as Paris Hilton famously demonstrated, can make our feet appear smaller. When women pose pigeon-toed, our overall stature seems to shrink down. We appear childlike, submissive.
Try a quick Google image search of your favorite female celebrity + “pigeon toed,” and you’re sure to find evidence that she’s been instructed to pose this way:
Social psychologists like Amy Cuddy have studied the effect our body language has on others’ perception of us as well as the hormonal changes that take place in our bodies simply as a result of our own posture. In her experiments, Cuddy discovered that asking subjects to stand in a “high-power pose” (characterized by “making yourself big,” which she points out we see across the animal kingdom) vs. a “low-power pose” (characterized by “folding up” and “making yourself small”) led to “hormonal changes that configure your brain to basically be either assertive, confident and comfortable, or really stress-reactive, and feeling sort of shut down… When you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.”
These are significant findings that might make us want to reconsider our current obsession with the meek, mild pigeon-toed pose—one that can not only make us look submissive but actually feel submissive. When fashion bloggers adopt this stance, what message are they trying to send to their 229k followers? And if this pose is one of submission, not success, how is it that so many incredibly successful women have used it, over and over and over, to gain followings that rival those of major corporations with unlimited budgets?
Why is “I’m just a girl” better than “I am woman, hear me roar” in the world of fashion…or at least on Instagram?
Maybe it’s because fashion falls within the purview of those feminine industries in which women’s power lies in their ability to appear passive—often, beauty without a voice. Women are literally “seen and not heard.” When we pose pigeon-toed, we continue that tradition of appearing powerless in front of the lens. Notice that none of those Instagram fashionistas above make eye-contact with the camera; they avert their gaze, making us a powerful voyeur. (Seriously, scroll back up to check it out. I’ll wait…)
The weird thing is, we’ve clearly surpassed this one-dimensional archetype of the fashion-forward woman. We’ve had so many examples of powerful, outspoken women in the fashion industry, from Coco Chanel to Anna Wintour. We’ve seen celebrities like Beyonce consistently favor power poses over passivity. Heck, couldn’t we all use a little more Beyonce and a little less Paris Hilton?
But maybe that’s the point: your average Instagram fashionista is no Beyonce, not even close. She’s aspiring but insecure, and she’s using passivity to evoke femininity. Ladies, it’s a poor substitute!
If just striking a power pose is enough to make us feel more powerful, maybe we should all find a full-length mirror, pop our hip, prop a hand up there for good measure, and seize the day.