My friend Carol has already been to the new, big-deal downtown studio at the W Hotel where they’re filming Austin City Limits from now on. It figures. My with-it friends are always beating me to the punch on some hot new venue. By the time I make it there — a couple of years from now, say — everyone will be bored with it.
Anyway, Carol promptly launched into a long discourse about how almost all the young women at the W were teetering around on the skinniest, highest stilettos she’d ever seen.
“Going up and down stairs on them,” she reports, aghast. “How do they do that? It’s got to be dangerous. They’re going to break an ankle.”
“Or a leg,” I say.
Carol goes on, complaining, while I contemplate my own, ambivalent relationship with high heels. Basically, I can’t wear them at all. I spend my whole life already so balanced-challenged on my own two feet when they’re planted solidly on the ground that I never dream of pushing my luck any further or higher.
The trouble is, dammit, I am superficial enough to think high heels look great. Sometimes, I think of how good I would look in them — how tall! how thin! how chic! — that I become temporarily deluded. Why not? I ask myself. Why not go for it?
I linger fondly at that one moment, that precious sliver of time, when I would pause tall-y and thinly and chic-ly. Looking, for once in my life, like a million fucking dollars.
Perfect. I revel in that imaginary moment.
But then, being a realist, I push on. I see myself, inevitably, tripping, doubtless in some public place. I watch the whole tragic scene unfold — my clawing the air, my panicked, distorted face, the screech from my ragged, open mouth, the horrified onlookers. I hear the crash, the sympathetic, but glad-it-ain’t-me murmurs of the crowd.
I stop there, even though I’m still wondering how much blood would be spilled and trying to intuit whether I’d still have my front teeth. I can’t go on, though; it’s too painful.
“Why do women wear those heels?” Carol wants to know. “They’re ruining their feet.”
“Because men think they’re sexy,” I say.
“You really think so?” Carol says. “Women wear those shoes because of men? They ruin their feet because of men?”
“I guess so,” I say, more tentatively.
After we hang up, I text my 24-year-old son about the matter. He tells me that it’s no big deal — high heels, low heels, whatever. “They’re just shoes,” he says with finality.
Unfortunately, my husband is out of town, the way he always is during a crisis. When I talk to him, I forget to ask my big stiletto question. So I email my friend, Steve Collins, who’s our same age. I even promise him anonymity.
He answers: “Yes, high heels are sexy on women. For those of who are ‘leg men’—my spouse has and has always had great, long legs–a high heel does wonders to accentuate the muscular angle of the calf. Boring legs—and there are very few of those—look better in a high heel. Now, I know high heels make no sense and are, in fact, harmful. It is CRAZY for women to do anything other than pose in them. On most (definitely NOT all) women, they do not contribute to a sexy walk. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect; most women appear rather awkward in them. My counsel is for y’all to pose in them for our pleasure, but put on your tennies for actually walking around. (Feel free to attribute.)”
All of which (Steve is never short-winded) makes me revert to my high-heel fantasy. As I paused in the reverie, looking glamorous and tall, before I took a tooth-loosening, nosedive crash, what on earth was my motivation?
I think beyond the heels — into harsh memories of girdles and hair curlers I slept on and every kind of stinging chemical treatment to my hair and the scorched-eyebrow policy of some cosmetic dominatrix. The usual female torture chamber.
Here’s what I think: I wasn’t doing any of this for anybody else — so I couldn’t even blame men. I was doing it for myself.
I’m not sure whether this makes me feel better. Or a whole lot worse.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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