And, of course, certainly most memorably, there were her thousands of pairs of shoes, which were housed in a massive closet, and which she left behind when fleeing the country. It’s odd that this became the ultimate symbol of her excesses, and not the time she thought about buying the Empire State Building.
Whenever I hear about the shoes, though, it reminds me of an anecdote in Furious Love about when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – who were famous for spending money as though it was going out of style – went to visit Benin in West Africa.
They were housed at the Presidential compound, and were greeted personally by President Soglo, the general who had helped win the countries independence a decade earlier. Biographers Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger write:
The palace could barely hold a candle, however, to the luxurious hotels the Burtons were used to. When “Mon General” showed them his wife’s clothes closet with great fanfare, Elizabeth was touched to see “a perfectly ordinary rack of shoes.” When Elizabeth was invited to step onto a mat that automatically switched on a couple of lights, she feigned delight.
I think this is supposed to be a “The Burtons are polite” story, but anecdotes like these do make me think of the tremendous pressure that heads of developing countries (like the Philippines) must feel to keep up with the luxuries of world powers. Perhaps Imelda Marcos simply didn’t want her shoe closet to seem pitiable and ridiculous if Elizabeth Taylor were to step foot in it.
No world leader, I’m sure, wants to be seen as kind of sad and sweet and adorable as a result of their shoe rack.
Moreover, this was the 80′s. It was a time when women on the world stage were supposed to be extremely fashionable. You could even argue that Princess Diana became as a famous – and beloved – as she was simply because she had such great taste in clothes. I mean, major news outlets still chronicle the story of her life in terms of her evolving taste in clothes.
So, yes, clothes do matter in regards to female world leaders. Imelda Marcos was not stupid or naive to think so. And it’s possible that having 40 billion shoes could really help you out (God knows how many Princess Diana had) – providing your people are are not starving.
This is the thing, and pay attention to this, because you seem like the kind of person who might lead a military coup one day: you literally cannot do anything fun if your people are starving, or they will kill you.
This isn’t about being a selfless person, this isn’t de-worming orphans in Somalia, this is just politely declining to meet Madame Guillotine.
Best case scenario there will be a revolution and you will have to flee. I understand that a lot of women in power – from Marie Antoinette to Imelda Marcos – really haven’t wanted to follow this advice. And I get that, because being a world leader seems appealing because it should allow you to have a TON of fun, and buy ALL the shoes.
Also, they probably don’t remember their people are starving if they don’t see them every day. This is evidenced by the fact that we, normal people, often forget that people are starving and go out and get drinks and play angry birds and continue on our merry way.
However. If you are a leader, and your people are starving, the only way you come out okay is if you adopt conditions that give the impression that you are one of them. Think of Washington sleeping in the tents with his men, or Queen Lilibet and Bertie expressing relief that the palace and been bombed during the Blitz so that they would no longer feel ashamed meeting with the people of the East End.
Really, when your people are starving, all you are supposed to do is be that lady in the dumb beginning of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun video who is preparing the eggs. For people to eat.