Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and backaches
of outrageous posture,
Or to wear flats in respect of the lower spine
And by straightening shoulders, end them.
Back to work at the school today after a two-week break, and my feet are feeling it. And I wore flats. I have heels and wedges, but I rarely wear them in winter in part because the flats are just plain warmer, and sometimes (depending on the outfit) I can go from car to classroom with my faux-fur boots keeping my tootsies happy.
But there’s something about heels that I just keep coming back to . . . It’s not that I need the extra height. The opposite, actually; I’m 6’1.5″, and I have a bad habit of hunching and slouching in order to meet people’s eyes when I’m talking to them. I did a little research during a period of back pain recently, and I learned that discomfort can increase with tall people over time because we have to fight just that much harder against gravity. Add to that the problems that heels can cause by displacing the natural curvature of the spine, forcing the body into more of a sway-back posture for balance, and it’s just a healthier choice to go with flat shoes. I know this. And I have invested in some very nice flat shoes, many of which are from Tom’s — I love the buy-one, give-one philosophy.
The heels, though . . . they call to me.
They’re slimming and curve the calve in a pleasing way, an aesthetic choice that goes back to the early
days of raised heels when men showed off their shapely legs in courtly bows.
Women’s heels are spindly and deceive the eye into seeing the foot as daintier and smaller, something that appeals to me. As a tall woman, I often envy the petite. I’ve always found real joy in looking at anything smaller-than-life-size, and in the struggle to find clothing and shoes that fit me properly, I get easily frustrated in regular stores. Wearing heels that make my feet look smaller than their typical size 13 makes me feel smaller and taller at the same time, emphasizing that I do enjoy being tall. Heels are power-shoes, in my opinion: they demonstrate the woman (cis- or trans-gender) is in charge of her actions and her appearance and not afraid to take risks. After all, she’s teetering around on her toes! But I’ve run in high heels, and I’ve kicked them off to run faster. I’ve balanced on one foot while tuning up my French Horn, and dangled my shoe from my toe while lounging in a club. Lately, I’ve been eyeing the wedge-heel and kitten-heel tall boots at my favourite online boutique, debating whether the investment would be worth it — or whether I’ll end up going ass-over-kettle in the grocery store parking lot.
(Yes. I’ve done this. Also on a curling rink . . . no, I wasn’t drunk!)
Would I feel any different if high heels weren’t as popular in mass media? After all, high heeled shoes for women are ubiquitous, appearing in most television shows and often in unrealistic scenarios. How many women keep their heels on after they get home, rather than kicking them off immediately and finding those soft fuzzy slippers to baby their sore heels and toes? Of course, if I know I’m going out again right away, I’ll leave my shoes on so that my feet won’t swell, but it’s more likely that the heels will come off as soon as I can do it. I recently discarded one pair of peep-toe wedges (black lacquer) that I absolutely adored because no matter what I did, the edges of the holes would cut into my skin and I’d end up with angry red lines across my toes. I couldn’t wear those shoes for more than half an hour before suffering major discomfort.
Maybe that’s what I get for buying cheap shoes, though.
I used to watch Sex and the City and wonder how anyone could possibly justify spending three figures or more on designer heels. Boots, I can understand, especially in this climate — waterproof, well-made, grippy soles, and high on the leg, these are all entirely necessary for staying warm and dry through four to six months of snow. But when you have chronic backache, made gradually worse by age and gravity, splurging on even well-fitted, quality high heels seems foolhardy at best.
I tell myself I shouldn’t want another pair of high-heeled shoes, or even high-heeled boots. They’re a symbol of sexism. They’re bad for my posture. They make my toes hurt. They’re really not practical.
Damnit, they’re just addicting. Sexy, powerful, empowering, symbols of strength and purpose. Sharply pointed toes make me think of direction and command. Knee-high tops show that you’re prepared for weather, or making a statement in how you look; sling-backs and peep-toes are carefree, casual, relaxed, and fun. Rounded toes peeking out from under slacks are gentle but firm, a hint of Snow White under the business casual of Kate Beckett.
I was organizing my shoes the other day in an over-the-door rack, getting rid of the pairs I knew I couldn’t wear anymore (sniff — goodbye black lacquer! I’ll miss you, green buckled wedges! You may have been so heavy that my heels would slip out even in socks, but damn, you looked good with my jeans!), and my children decided to gather around to remark on the extensiveness of my collection. Folks, I have 14 pairs of shoes. Two pairs are at school at the moment, and the rest are here. Most of them are spring-summer-fall, or when I need a lift of colour in the middle of the winter. Most of them are flat, too. I’m trying to give up my addiction to the heels, keeping only the wedges that have been most comfortable.
But the shoe stores . . . they call to me. They are my precious. I seek out the ideal heel, both slimming and comfortable, shiny and slick, something to complete the professional look of the educator or the casual fun of mom in summer. Maybe it’s better that I live in a town without many shoe stores — or, at least, without shoe stores that have footwear to fit me. I’ve ordered shoes online and had to return them for sizing; lost boots and then the tracking number to figure out where they went; been unable to order what I wanted in a boot because being online, the style was already sold out . . .
I’m aware, too, how spoiled this sounds. I should be — and I am — grateful that I have options in footwear at all. That I have the freedom to show my feet and wiggle my toes in whatever decorative gear I want. I think that it’s easy to become complaisant in a society that promotes frequent changes in appearance, forgetting that there are so many without even one pair. It’s ungrateful to whine. On the one hand, being able to have choice is an incredible gift. On the other, having the advantage of choice means that professionals are expected to use it, meeting a certain standard of dress. I’ve tried to make my shoes last as long as possible, conscious of this, and ended up feeling embarrassed by tears, nicks, holes, and pained by the blisters and cuts my heels have given me. I wore my favourite pair of brown heels down to the plastic outer sole, adding inserts to try and make them go just a little longer.
In the fall, when I took my daughter to search for a new pair of boots for herself — mukluks that would see her through the cold of fall and as much of the winter as possible, until she has to switch to her waterproof Nates — she told me that one of her friends had suggested that she find a new pair of “fashionable” boots so that she would be more popular. That made me pause, in the middle of the shoe store. I understood where her friend was coming from, and I knew, as a mom, where I should be coming from. “Honey,” I said, “You don’t wear boots to be popular, and I think you know that. But you shouldn’t have to wear boots that are ugly or make you feel unhappy just because they’re warm enough and will keep your feet dry.”
I hoped I was explaining it well. There comes a point, of course, where everybody has to strap into a pair of big boots that make your feet look two sizes too big — anything else is impractical. But you wear what you choose to wear in that category, what you feel looks good to you and on you, and then that size doesn’t matter.
Maybe that’s the secret behind high heels.
They may end up feeling painful after a while. So I will wear them in moderation, alternating with my flats. They may entice me to curve my back. I’ll remind myself to stand tall with my shoulders back. As long as my feet are contained, without my toes scraping the floor in front or my heels drooping over the spikes, I will feel polished and professional and put-together, capable and strong. And you know, even after a day in flats, my feet still cramp and ache from time to time. Might as well also look damn good while I’m at it.
May my chiropractor forgive me . . .