More Pink Shoes, More Controversy

But this time, not on a book cover. Try the front page of a newspaper. Bitchery reader Kay Web Harrison thoughtfully sent me both the picture and the follow up letters that line up on either side and either cry, “Yay for teh sexy!” or “Down with the sexism!”

So have a look: this photo by Rich-Joseph Facun (additional popup copy here in case that link breaks) ran on the front page of the Virginian Pilot with the caption, “Candice Knilans waits for her husband, Petty officer 3rd Class John Knilans, to disembark from the carrier Harry S. Truman… after the strike group’s seven month deployment ended. More than 7,000 sailors returned on the Truman….”

Those are some new shoes, judging by the stickers and the pristine condition of the heel tips and shoe bottoms as caught in the photo. And they are pink. Shocking, hot pink. But in the “picture worth 1k words” department, what do they say?

Read on.

On 6 June, the Pilot published two letters, one from JulieAnn Singleton-Smith, a fellow military wife, who stated that she has “a career and a series of degrees” and therefore objected to the “cheap, hot pink high-heeled shoes” as an image that “conveys a message that military wives are cheap and trashy.”
Another letter praises the image as on par with the WWII era photo of the sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day.

But the reaction continued on!

On 7 June, more letters appeared.

First, a rather fascinating analysis from Dr. Frederick Lubich Chair of Old Dominion’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, who calls the image “controversial” as it may be “insulting” or “intimidating to those military wives who are…more than just lusty ladies in waiting.” But Dr. Lubich then likens the image to:

mythic memories of seafaring warriors” such as Ulysses and Penelope, providing the epic model for this timeless human experience, in which ‘passion’ in its archaic sense connotes the suffering of separation and the ecstasy of reunion.

From the shorts of ancient Greece to the modern ports of Hampton Roads, there is nothing offensive about young lovers dressing up to celebrate the magic…of homecoming and its nostalgic euphoria.

Dr. Lubich also recognizes the similarities to the V-J Day photo, and states that the photograph “symbolically encodes the increasingly more complicated lifestyles and love lives of our own times and…stand[s] as an iconic image.”

But wait, there’s more. A former military wife weighed in by relating her memories of “choosing carefully what to wear to enhance that special first evening home,” and pointedly responding Ms. Singleton-Smith that “one can have degrees and careers and still look fabulous while celebrating while celebrating the ship’s return from a difficult mission.” A second military wife also said she thought the picture was “absolutely great” and that it had “nothing to do with how many degrees you’ve got” but the “joy of having your ‘sailor’ home again.”

Another letter said he thought the image was not cheap or trashy, but “touching and poignant” and offered “a unique perspective on that familiar theme” of families reunited during wartime.

But another spouse was “saddened” by the paper’s decision to highlight that particular photo as “inappropriate” for the Truman’s homecoming, as “a woman’s legs and her high heels with the price tag still on the bottom…do not capture a…homecoming for one of our beloved aircraft carriers.”

I’m struck by two things: one, the seeming desire to asexualize a homecoming. Those who objected referred to the aircraft carrier, not the people on it – people who loved and missed their families, and in some cases spouses who, one would hope and pray, were loved in a demonstrative fashion once they arrived home. The asexualization of the military and the concept of homecoming vs. the sexuality and human need for contact on the part of the servicemen and service women on board are quite at odds with one another in the responses, especially in the context that we are, after all, at war, and deployment is a life-or-death issue for many, many enlisted individuals. Coming home safe means coming home alive, and let’s be frank, the most affirming way to celebrate the fact that one is alive, home, and safe? Sex. Hugging. Kissing. Possibly more sex. (I hope it was awesome.)

And two: that yet again hot pink shoes are very, very eye catching.

Personally, I thought the image was very evocative and certainly sexual, and that’s not at all a bad thing from where I stand in my shoes which, today, are brown. I don’t know if I can stand anywhere and judge the welcome-home wear of a woman whose husband has been deployed for seven months, but I surely wouldn’t dare start by casting aspersions on the relative cost of someone else’s shoes.

However, what is the lesson in this minor kerfuffle? That pink shoes are eye catching? Publishers already know that!

No, the lesson may be: take the price tag off the bottoms of your shoes. You never know from what angle you may be photographed.

Addendum: welcome home and thank you to the service men and women of the Harry S. Truman, the Oscar Austin, the San Jacinto, and the Winston S. Churchill and anyone else who returned home. Hope your reunion was so great you had to take your shoes off.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    jessica says:

    I don’t understand what the problem is. I thought the picture was great, and didn’t see anything sexual about it-to me it was an interesting perspective on what a someone would wear while waiting for their loved one to come home. I don’t think that it’s “trashy” but a wonderful way to welcome him home. I hope that the return knocked their shoes off ;)

  2. 2

    Um, she really misses her husband? What’s the big deal? Imagine, a wife misses her husband and wears something sexy to welcome him home. Why the hell not? Married women want sex too!

  3. 3
    Eunice says:

    The sticker bothers me. Other than that, I dig the photo.

  4. 4
    AgTigress says:

    It is a brilliant photograph – eye-catching and stunningly well composed.

    First, I must stress that I belong to an older generation, and I am not American.

    Now, to me, the visual message is ‘vulgar and tasteless’ (‘trashy’ if you like), chiefly because of the bare legs with high heels, and the ankle tattoo.  The style of the shoes is fine, the colour could, in certain circumstances, be clever and pretty rather than tarty, the newness of the shoes is no problem.  But the tattoo and the unclad leg is pure Essex Girl / WAG (= footballers’ Wives and Girlfriends, bywords for flashy vulgarity).  Those are the things that, to me, totally demean something that should be touching and emotional.  Amazing how cultures differ, eh?

    But it is still a truly fantastic photo.

  5. 5

    Okay, this kind of thing makes me freaking nuts.  We just moved from Virginia, where my husband was on the Harry S. Truman.  As a Navy wife who has endured two separate deployments and even written a book about how hard it is on the family when your spouse is at war, I get awfully tired of people who haven’t been through it making value judgments. 

    Cheap and trashy?  Are you kidding me??  So she missed taking a price tag off.  Do you have any idea what the few weeks before homecoming are like?  (Not to mention the long long months of being a single parent worrying about who was shooting missiles at your spouse . . . )  I was lucky to remember to even put shoes on, let alone worry about price tags, by the time homecoming came. 

    Cheap and trashy??  It’s a long-standing time-honored tradition for the spouses, men and women, to get dressed up to welcome our husbands and wives home.  Really, after my husband put his life on the line day after day and was gone from me for half a year or more, what do people think I’d wear to celebrate his homecoming??  Spit-up stained sweatpants and old sneakers?

    Cheap and trashy???  I have a degree or 2 and even graduated law school summa cum laude, and you can bet your red white and blue ass that I wore my share of stilettos to homecomings.  As I wrote in my book, there’s a reason why so many squadron babies are born nine months after homecoming. 

    I applaud that woman, and I hope she and her husband enjoyed a marvelous homecoming.  Mine was usually so tired after flying halfway around the world that the first order of business was a long nap with the kids piled on top of him.  LOL.  But trust me, there was a joyous poignancy just in watching him sleep.

    So many of our men and women never come home, except in a flag-draped coffin. We should all stand up and cheer for the ones who come home alive, and wearing fancy shoes while we do it is just frosting on the cake.

  6. 6
    amy lane says:

    Jesus, can’t a bitch wear pretty shoes on a happy day? 

    Seriously—to me, the picture was all about a woman greeting her husband after a long absence.  She wanted to look pretty, and dammit, she had the legs to do it.  Why go off and fight if you don’t have a damned good idea of what you’re fighting for?  I’m with you—I hope the sex was SPECTACULAR.  I hope military wives start a movement with pink fm stilettos that have ‘None of your business’ written up the sides of the heels, because if anybody deserves to look FABULOUS, make a first impression, and celebrate life in a big lusty HUMAN way, it would be someone who has waited 7 months to see her husband. 

    But I’m not surprised at the ‘asexualization’ of the pundits.  In my experience (i.e., my high school staff room) the most easily offended people on the planet are the people who forget the basic animal human nature of our humanity.  Perhaps because women get constant physical reminders of our animal-human (menstruation, hormones, pregnancy, child-care etc.) we are less squeamish about announcing to the world that it exists, and that it deserves to be fed. 

    Also (and this is fresh out of teaching Orwell, mind you), if her sailor is coming home with more on his mind than patriotism, that means he can’t put all his energy into defending his government, and DAMN IT, we can’t have that!

  7. 7
    Sandra D says:

    I quite like the photo, stickers and all. The fact that the stickers are still there tells me that she bought these just for the homecoming and was so anxious/excited to get there that she didn’t bother with the tags.

    Alesia, I loved your line about your husband taking a nap under a pile of kids, what a lovely image to share.

  8. 8
    DS says:

    Loved the photo– used to have a pair of similar style in pink dyed lizard skin. Those things hurt my feet. A lot. 

    So where’s the sexy husband waiting for his wife picture?

  9. 9
    Helen M says:

    I have to say, the only thing about the photo that bothers me is the price tag and size stickers on the undersides of her shoes.

    Apart from that?

    Love it.

    Love the shoes themselves, think her tattoo’s cute, love the composition of the photo, love how personal it (and the caption) are (names), without actually showing us their faces, love the fact that it evokes that VJ-Day photo, love the fact that it is a happy photo, love the idea that she wanted to wear something special to welcome her husband home, but most of all, love the fact that her husband came home safe for her to celebrate. As a woman with a brother in the (British) Army, any celebration of boys in the Forces coming home, whatever form it takes, whether it’s a parade with speeches and a band, or a pair of new shoes and smexxing on the cards, is a good one in my book.

  10. 10
    Anj says:

    I like it. It’s great. I don’t know why any woman would feel embarassed about waiting expectantly for her husband to come home. If you love someone, it’s what you do for them.

  11. 11
    rebyj says:

    Gawd .
    Where’s the 4000 + photographs of the family members who pick up their returning military in coffins? Anyone want to pick on their shoes too?

    In the big scheme of things what a non issue to choose to pick on. 

    I”m glad her man came home safe and she was able to tart up for his homecoming!

  12. 12

    As one who pretends to be a photographer at times, I think the photo is stunning, for several different reasons. It’s subjective, to be sure, but to me it certainly isn’t screaming cheap or classless or… anything negative.

    I dare to ask, what if those shoes were navy, or black, or brown? Then what? Then nothing, I suppose. The photo might not have even been run, no one would talk about it. Just because those pumps are bold and sassy doesn’t mean a damn thing other than it makes a eye-catching picture. And what, degree’d professional women can’t wear shoes in bright colors? *snort*

    I can’t speak for this woman, or any of the others who have been away from their men for a length of time while they serve, but I can say with pretty doggone certainty that I’d be dressing myself up and lookin’ my finest for my man when he steps off that ship. If that meant some cute little dress and hot pink heels, so be it.

    Others might find a way to be offended, but I’m guessing her husband was not. Good for her.

  13. 13
    Rebecca says:

    That is a fabulous photograph.

  14. 14

    I love you all.  Just wanted to say that.

  15. 15
    Tina says:

    That is a great picture!

    Given the daily bombardment of depressing and heartbreaking news we see or read about the war or the economy, it’s heartwarming to see someone had something exciting to look forward to that day!

  16. 16
    gemiwing says:

    If I could pull those shoes off, I’d wear em too.

    I think its a touching picture and makes me think of what a great homecoming they’ll have together. Who cares what we think about her shoes- its done for them, not for us.

    Still wish I could pull off that look tho. I just end up looking like a boy in drag.

  17. 17
    Nora Roberts says:

    I think the photo’s great—hot and sweet at the same time. (Yes, take the stickers off). But even with the stickers it’s just a great image. Even the way she’s standing says anticipation, nerves, joy.

    It works beautifully for me.

    I see nothing cheap or trashy. I have an ankle tattoo myself, and never thought of it as cheap or trashy either. Hers is cute.

    And I hope her sailor lifted her right out of those hot pink shoes with the first embrace.

  18. 18
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~But trust me, there was a joyous poignancy just in watching him sleep.~

    Awww. This actually made my eyes sting.

  19. 19
    SB Sarah says:

    Thanks for pointing out what I meant to say but forgot to mention – that is one superb photograph in and of itself. I love how Facun used such a very narrow depth of field to focus just on the shoes with everything else in vivid color such that you recognize what it is, but it’s all still part of the bokeh/fuzzy background. Love it. Such talent. Wish I could do that.

    Also, it makes me want to buy pink shoes, and I am not generally one for adventurous footwear.

  20. 20
    Nadia says:

    It’s only tacky if the shoes don’t match the dress.

    Love the picture, the composition is fabulous, and it tells such a story in one image.  I hope their homecoming was memorable.

    I didn’t realize that once I earned my degree, I had to give up the FM pumps, dammit.  Why don’t the guidance counselors tell you these things in high school????

  21. 21
    DS says:

    Want to say that I think the stickers make the picture.  There’s something a little awkward and touching about that.

  22. 22
    karmelrio says:

    Award-winning photo, IMO.  Vivid, well-composed, tells a very complex and human story without anyone saying a word.    I hope they had an excellent homecoming.  Cheers to them. 

    It’s only tacky if she tries to return the shoes after she’s worn them.  ;-)

  23. 23
    MoJo says:

    Jesus, can’t a bitch wear pretty shoes on a happy day?

    Well, that pretty much summed up my reaction to the anti-pink-shoes brigade.

    On another note, my first reaction was, “Awwww, how sweet.”

  24. 24
    RStewie says:

    I love the picture, and I love the sentiment in evokes.  Having been deployed and come home to find my man dressed up and waiting for me at the tarmack, I can say without doubt those shoes tell the entire story.  The rush of the day coming, the excitement about having someone to wear something pretty for again, the joy of knowing you’ll be able to be naked with your lover, the sights and sounds of others going through the same thing (even though it’s just like in that picture—hazy and out of focus, because at that time, it’s all about you and finding him), the knowledge that things are different, YOU are different, HE is different, but now it’s time to relearn each other and live again.

  25. 25
    Kit says:

    Anybody who wants to criticize that lady’s shoes should walk a mile in ‘em.

    Also, I was squinting at the tag to see if I could tell what brand they were, because they’re cute!

  26. 26
    TracyS says:

    Alesia~I LOVE how you expressed your feelings about this.  I have never been in your shoes (pun totally not intended!) but I’ve read enough milblogs and spouseblogs to have read about those crazy days leading up to homecoming.  A good friend of mine was late picking up her hubby because they kept changing the time and the last change said “they’ll be at the airport in 45 minutes!!” She lives an hour from the airport!!  I think she was glad to have her and the kids dressed and out the door in 5 minutes!!

    I like the picture because it’s joyful to me. She’s waiting for her man and you can tell by the way she’s standing that she can hardly wait to see him.  I bet her man LOVED those shoes. 

    Alesia and hubby~thanks for your service.

    Oh, and the book Alesia mentioned is called “Emails to the Front” and I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants at some parts. Then in others I was dabbing at tears.  The email about artificial nipples still makes me giggle.

  27. 27
    Sara says:

    Loved the photo…damn, wish I had her ankles!

    The stickers made the whole thing so human…we’ve all done that one!

    I think it’s great!

  28. 28
    Chicklet says:

    1. I love this photo, for both its artistry and the joyous homecoming it represents.

    2. I, too, find it interesting how many of the commentators on the original photo (not the Bitchery) were trying to desexualize the homecoming. Is that because they (subconsciously) want to distance it from the highly sexual cliches attached to the Navy (“spending money like a drunken sailor on leave” or “a girl in every port”)?

    3. I think her tattoo is super-cute.

  29. 29
    Charlene says:

    AgTigress, many Americans no longer wear nylons *at all*. Not to the office, not to the White House, not ever.

    I’m in Canada and I haven’t seen nylons on anyone under 60 in five years. And it gets cold here.

  30. 30
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Did anyone else want to take the esteemed professor from Old Dominion aside, slap him, and yell, “Snap out of it!”

    Seriously—that photograph is all about anticipation and joy.  To try to overintellectualize it devalues the emotion.

    And I’m with Nadia—I didn’t realize my degrees meant I had to give up the FM shoes.  If I had to give up the degree or the shoe wardrobe, I know which one would be going.  :)

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