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)
Read a somewhat related post about Good news! You can still pose naked!.
In the 1990s, I literally walked miles every day at the Capitol. My morning routine included taping moleskin bandages to my feet to prevent blisters before those high heels were slipped on. They weren’t stilettos, but high enough to deliver pain. Not any more. Done with that.
My 12-year-old daughter, however, asked for a hair straightener for Christmas (horrors! to straighten those gorgeous curls?!) and last week asked for heels to wear to her cello concert. She got both, but only after my heart stopped pounding from all those visions of female suffering at the hands of style.
Stillettos are back. Posing perhaps the wise choice. Then kick off before falling on one’s ass. You’re not the only one.
Only one woman was born to wear high heels. Joan Crawford. I’m sure there was even a pair of the ankle-strap variety dangling from her umbilical cord. But she never wore them for sex appeal. She was no fool. She knew what bone structure was for. JC buckled on those ankle straps for POWER!
I’m 55 and never wore heels until like, I don’t know, a year ago? I see the young girls hobbling around in their stilettos, and believe me, they know they are ruining their feet, and in a sick sort of way I like to rub it in that I can wear high heels now because I saved my feet for the end. If I trash them over the next 10 years, so what? I also like to rub it in that I waited until I could afford heels that most likely won’t ruin my feet. It will probably kill you to pay this much, but if you just want one pair of heels try Anyi Lu. Spin on up to Fort Worth, and I’ll take you shoe shopping.
Unaccustomed as I am to being brief, my reply could have been terse, but (1) what makes something or someone sexy is complicated, and (2) I felt the need to acknowledge that high heels make no sense aside from the pose.
I do wonder how many of us would bother with heels or beauty treatments if there was never anyone around to see it. Sure, we can say we do it for ourselves, but what we do to ourselves has a basis in what society accepts as attractive. No matter how much I like empire-line dresses, I never wear them because they make me look much larger than I am. If I lived in a community where larger was hotter, hell, I’d wear them all the time.
As for heels, I wear them because I think they look sexy, and I want men to find me sexy. However, I always carry flats in my bag, because I refuse to hurt my feet over the issue. And frankly, if I am honest, I am mostly a flat-shoed scruff-bag.
Oh, dear. This made me laugh. I do very little teetering because here is the thing … I’m very short, even with heels on, so I figure … why bother?
When too many friends needed surgery to correct bunions caused by stilettos, I gave 60 (!) pairs to charity. Now my feet don’t hurt, but I’m soooo tempted to splurge on some sky-high red Christian Louboutins! They’d almost make surgery worthwhile.
You know, there’s a theory that men like us in high heels because it makes us look like we have hooves.
Wow! I’d never heard that theory before now. But I saw the analogy. I immediately envisioned circus fillies decked out in big, colorful plumage performing high-step prancing around the ring with equally plumed women standing upon their backs. But that theory is really an outdated illusion as Women’s Lib turned them into enormous Clydesdale’s willing and able to pull their own heavy cartloads. And we all know of the legendary love men had for their horses. Plus, men also carry on love affairs with their cars and refer to them as “she.” Is that why another part of the female anatomy is referred to as headlights?
Ruth, this comment has nothing to do with high-high heels, I had to give up my med-heels due to my continued desire to walk after putting them on. I need to mention that I am reading “Women on the Verge…” And love your style. How did you get your head inside each of those women to write so realistically? You are amazing, and I just ordered your two previous publications from Amazon. I just need a final big snow storm to be able to sit and read-don’t tell anyone here I said that because all I do is whine about the snow!
**** Good point, Winston. Can’t think of any instances where women refer to inanimate objects like cars and boats as “he”. Excuse me, there’s either a pony or a woman in stilettos hoofing it down the hall outside my office…
I laugh now that in my first year of university I would sometimes show up to class in pointy, high heels. Seems so silly now. I’ve always wanted to have longer legs but I rarely where heels now, for the occasional wedding, and I find them so hard to walk in.
I do think some of this is cultural: My Aussie galpals still don heels pretty regularly, as do lots of Euro women. And I remember friends from afar being horrified by that look on public transit in America: Women in work clothes donning white socks and sneakers for the walk to their job. Just an awful look. Thankfully, there are loads of cool-looking shoes these days with low or no heels.
I won’t do it. I’ll kill myself or at least break something. I won’t look sexy in a cast either.
I’m with you. I don’t wear them. They hurt my feet. And I just don’t care. Of course that is the rationalize I use to explain why I wear yoga pants every day also. When I was a teenager I did all the crazy things you do to look amazing. I pretty much gave that all up once I had kids. No time, no interest. I’m just me, in sneakers and yoga pants. Take it or leave it.
I only wear them in the bedroom. That was probably too much information already so I’ll stop right there.
Ha! Thank goodness Steve has some anonymity here. And he’s right they make no sense but I still really like them. Stilletto, chunky…
I used to wear high heels but no longer. My original excuse was that my second husband is shorter than me, but actually, it feels so marvelous wearing flats that I know I would never go back.
Love this, Ruth. I don’t think I was even into my thirties before I decided that heels were the work of the devil. I don’t ever wear them and if faced with a serious dress up occasion, would in fact, be screwed.
I can’t walk in high heels so I don’t wear them. Ever. But Alisa’s given me a good idea (smile!).
Well, being tall, I never had to rely on heels – for height, anyway. And they’re definitely too uncomfortable to start now.
High heels really do look great on women – they make our legs look super long, which is great for this schlumpy girl. But I just can’t wear them. Especially as I get older, I worry about breaking a foot or something if I fall off them.
A few years ago, I bought some super-cool-looking black boots with 4-inch heels. They’re not stilettos, so maybe they’re still in the running. I keep them around anyway, and my daughter fits into them now and looks like an absolute super model in them. I don’t know if I should be encouraging her to wear them or not. But … she really does look great in them…
Ok, and the other thing that gets me — which I thought of after I hit Send on that last comment — is how completely bizarre neckties are for men. Every time I see a group of businessmen in suits and ties, it all just seems so odd to me. Like they should start bleeting like sheep or something, because they’re all wearing the exact same thing.
And where did we ever come up with all these odd clothing habits? Who came up with the idea for guys to wrap a piece of fabric around their neck and hinch it up tight so they can barely breathe? Seems like I heard that ties were originally invented to be used as napkins … ?
Anyway, so it’s not just women; men have weird stuff they wear, too.
I am delighted to see this view expressed by a woman. I enjoy watching TV and film from various decades across the twentieth century. The men always look the same– the only variable being the width of the tie or jacket lapels, and that is minute. Nothing is more boring to me than a dance floor filled with a variety of stylishly dressed ladies and their partners all in identical dark tuxedos. From boardrooms to restaurants ties are mandated, sometimes being forced on the male diner by the restaurant in order to gain entry. In the ’70s, I worked around mainframe computers and their enormous printers. Of course, ties and jackets were mandatory office wear. Men had to be wary of the printer gates, least the spinning type chains caught a tie and choked the poor fellow! I applauded the attempts at change such as Zoot Suits and Nehru Jackets but they were quickly shot down by the sheep. I guess the majority of men have been just that– sheep, embracing a narrow strip of fabric designed to do nothing but hide a row of shirt buttons. When I was a small child in the ’50s, my mom found me in my room one day patting the sleeve of a colorful striped knit pullover shirt I was wearing and quietly weeping. She asked why I was so sad. I said, “When I grow up I’ll have nothing to wear but white shirts and yucky ties like Dad.” Her only reply was, “Well, that’s a long time off yet.” I’ve never forgotten that moment.
If you do wind up in a leg cast, have printed on it with bright red nail polish, SEXY DAME UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
I am quite tall so high heels were never something I was drawn to, in the spiky heel sense. I have to admit, though, I do love a nice platform. Um, are they even in style?
I’m sure I’m one of the few women who never wore heels. I tried, but found them exceedingly uncomfortable. Oddly, I have friends that claim they’re more comfortable in super high heels than in flats. Who knew?