Oh High Heels, Must We Break Up?
I may have worn high heels for the last time. It may be that moment.
wish I could be all fabulous and barefoot about it, as Emma Thompson at an important, dressed-up, New York City gala recently.
The divine Miss Em loped up onto the stage sans shoes declaring, “I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don’t wear them anymore. You just can’t walk with, and now I’m comfortable.”
But I’m not comfortable on the inside. I’m sad. It’s like saying goodbye to a dear old friend.
I’m not even a habitual high-heel wearer. My current day-to-day shoe go-to is a shiny yellow pair of Saltwater sandals, about as flat as they come. I’ve got a few lovely pairs of ballet flats and other perfectly sensible yet pretty specimens of footwear. I’ve never gone near an “extreme heel”, the 20-centimeter mega-death implements that reduce the perfect agility of young women into geriatric tottering. But heels have been a comforting presence in my life, a kind of “Break out in case of emergency” constant in the bottom of the wardrobe, ready to help me get over sudden social insecurities and fashion crises.
My loving relationship with heels has been one of the longest of my life.
As a 20-year-old uni student with a Human League hairdo and a liking for Adam Ant-inspired pirate pants, the op shop was my retail wonderland. One day I found a pair of black silk pointy pumps with a perfect six-centimeter stiletto heel. Beautifully made in probably the ‘50s yet in perfect nick, I put them on and life changed. I’ve been wearing a variation of them ever since.
Sometimes they’ve been suede, sometimes patent leather. Or silk again. Or matte leather. Or a combination. But down there, in the dark of the closet floor, there has always been a pair of black stiletto pumps with a pointy toe, the shoe that when all other efforts fail, magically elevates my outfit – and mood – into something vaguely resembling chic.
A torn meniscus from running that complains when distorted into heel-wearing form, feet that just simply do not put up with long periods of standing in stilettos any more, the silent disapproval from my chiropractor when he yet again has to sort out the damage – I have been able to put up with all of that.
But this recent night out was different. After the shameful shuffle through the city in my Havaianas with my heels in a green shopping bag and a furtive shoe-change in an alleyway before turning up at the function’s doorstep followed by an uncomfortable three hours’ standing, I felt like a fraud, kidding no one other than myself. The heels may have to go.
I can put up with a lot of things about aging. I embrace most of it. I love saying “in my day …” to the young folk. I love saying “young folk”. This though, I’m not sure I’m ready for. It’s a very tangible line in the sand – one day I am a heel wearer, the next I am not.
The morning after that function, however, results of a study by Melbourne podiatrist Cylie Williams were released. Williams discovered in a 4-year period Victorian hospitals treated 236 women (and four men) for injuries sustained as a result of high heel mishaps. That figure did not include the 45 people who were stepped on and the 18 assaulted by high heels. The whoopsies were from falls and stumbles, pure and simple.
Admittedly, I’ve had two sprains from an ankle going over while wearing platforms (one of those was sustained while doing the limbo, it could have happened to anyone). But schadenfreude is a fabulous healer (pardon the pun). There’s nothing like the misfortune of others to bring into focus how utterly ridiculous human behavior can be. The subject of misogyny in shoe design being a whole other discussion, what kind of crazy banana straps a 20-centimeter stilt to their foot, drinks six Red Bulls and vodka then hits the dance floor?
The crazy banana next door, that’s what. Or the crazy banana next door’s daughter, more than likely. There are loads of those bananas. Not me. My heels only measure six centimeters. And I certainly don’t drink Red Bull and vodka. (Yep, if you look hard enough, there’s always someone more stupid than you.)
So maybe I won’t throw out those perfect stiletto pumps just yet. Maybe I’ll save them for dinner parties and other sit-down affairs. And if I ever run into Emma Thompson, I’ll just quietly pop them in my green shopping bag and chuck on the Havaianas.