Sneakers and Stilettos by Shelby Thompson

On our way to the gym today, my roommate and I passed a women walking in the opposite direction in a body-hugging leopard print dress, black stilettos and makeup that must have taken a good part of her morning to apply.  She was a direct contrast to us in our spandex running shorts and body-hiding workout shirts, and our heads turned in both envy and admiration as she strutted by, whereas she barely noted our existence. Ever since we arrived in Narva, I’ve observed that one of the most striking differences between our nationalities is the way that the local women carry themselves as opposed to how we do.  In any college town in the USA, every girl blends into the next one, all of the wearing yoga pants, North Faces, and flip flops.  Now, there’s good reason for this dress-code – it’s comfy as all hell.  No one wants to wake up for an 8 am class, and have to add choosing what to wear to their list of things they have to get done in the half hour between the time they make their coffee and the time that their professor eventually walks into the classroom.  So we choose the easiest option, the one that’s low maintenance and is easily transformed into a workout outfit.  Here, that type of thought doesn’t exist.  I have yet to see one woman on the street wearing anything akin to sweatpants, and it seems like the dresses only come in two varieties: professional chic and clubbing chic.  The clicking of high heels is a more common sound in the college than the traditional squeak of sneakers that I’m used to, and not one woman I’ve talked to has yet to complain about the blisters on her feet that accompany hours standing in heels. At first I was confused – why would these women sacrifice comfort and the ability to run and sprawl around on beanbags on a daily basis?  But after talking to people, I came to realize that the same way that many Western girls take pride in how far they can run, or what new fitness regimen they’re about to start, Estonian women take pride in the fact that they can look flawless while walking to the grocery store, or while picking up their kids for daycare. I’ve heard some people kind of make snide comments about how the culture here must be fairly superficial for everyone to “rely” so much on their looks, but I disagree.  Every culture is superficial in a sense, but from the women that I talk to in Narva, their appearance is a source of personal pride and satisfaction for them…it’s one of the only parts of their lives that is truly their own.  Unemployment in Narva is worse than in the rest of the country, and most of the high-paying jobs that are available here are given to the men.  Many women are completely financially dependent on their spouse, especially those who have children at home.  In the States this is a common occurrence, with many women choosing to stay home with their children, but here it is less of a choice and more of dictation given to them by their life circumstances.  Many women would actually prefer to have a job, or to be able to significantly contribute financially, but simply are unable to.  And so they take pride in something that is truly theirs alone, their appearance.  For women here, the way they look, no matter their weight or ethnicity or facial structure, is a priority because it Is a canvas that they can use to artfully express who they are.  That’s not being superficial, that’s being human.

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