Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cruel Shoes

I was late getting out so I pulled on what was handy: a pair of black dress pants that are on the long side with my highest heels, sling-backs with a tiny peek-a-boo opening at the toe, an inch-high platform of unpadded wood under the ball of my foot, and about five inches of heel in back. They look like something a Vargas girl might wear, though perhaps not out on the town.

They’re my cruel shoes. I don’t know why I didn’t throw them out the last time I wore them, but what I keep doing instead is I let them sit in my closet until I forget the special agony of walking in them, and then I blithely put them on and go out. Not many mincing little steps later, I remember: they’re torture. Every step makes the flesh on the balls of my feet burn, and the places where the bones press down threaten to blister before I’ve traveled a single city block, but do I go home? No. Of course not. I have things to do.

Taking tiny steps, I try to affect a casual stroll. My feet shriek in protest. I entertain the idea that the shoes fit my current mood of self-loathing: they are the hair shirt, the horse-hair flogger with which I will suffer for my sins, which are legion. Not only do the shoes alter my posture, tilting my pelvis forward and making my ass stick out, I notice that they also have an effect on my expression, but it’s not a grimace of pain that I’m wearing, which would be understandable and appropriate; no, as I mince along in the heels, I tuck my chin under, open my eyes wide, and pucker my lips as if I’m ready to be kissed.

Because I’m innocent and fragile in my very tall shoes, and desperately in need of a man’s protection.

I notice the other women out on the town on this Friday night. Many are also wearing shoes or boots with soaring heels. In my cruel shoes, I can’t imagine their suffering is as acute as mine, but, like me, they tuck their chins under and teeter along the sidewalk, taking little steps. I stop watching myself and watch them.

It’s the first time it’s been plainly visible to me, this performance of femininity, and I stand there in my clingy black pants and my ridiculous shoes, with my padded, push-up bra under my too-tight black top, and I watch the other trussed and hobbled females parade like corseted show dogs in a ring. Skinny jeans tucked into skinny boots with a glittery bag. White semi-sheer tights with black stiletto pumps and a pencil skirt. Beside them, their male companions seem steady and non-descript, like trainers.

I watch them, and I’m struck by the absurdity of human beings squeezing themselves into these uncomfortable costumes and perching atop precariously high heels with expressions of sweet dismay on their faces in order to appear—what? Weak, yet graceful? Docile, yet alluring? Constrained, yet compelling? Easily captured, I think, because the clothing and the shoes are antithetical to movement, least of all a sprint for safety. Hell, dressed like this, we can barely get in and out of a car without assistance.

I’m waiting for my Starbucks’ coffee when a young woman approaches with her beau. Spotting me in her path, she stops and gives me the giant doe-eyes and chin tuck of sexalicious deference until I give her the signal that it’s okay to pass. Oh, please. I think, watching her tiptoe behind the boy to a seat at the back of the cafĂ©. Must we keep up this charade? It’s too much. Do men really want this silly performance? Tonight it seems parodic to me. We are caricatures. We’ve made ourselves into barbie doll urban kittens, and how do we like the results?

I finish off my coffee, pick up a few groceries, and I’m making my slow and painful way back to my car when a pan-handler sitting at the base of a lamp post asks me for some spare change. He leans towards me as I walk by, and I step sideways to avoid him, shaking my head ‘no’. “That’s some boo-tay,” he shouts after me as I walk away.

I get home and kick off the dreadful shoes. I examine my feet. A couple of hot spots threaten to sprout blisters, and I decide that I’ve had enough: if I can’t get an insole that will protect my poor feet, these shoes are going in the garbage.


Aaron said...

I've always wondered about women and the crazily high heels that some of them affect. I understand that, in addition to simply making one seem taller (and therefore slimmer), they also alter posture in ways that are allegedly appealing to men, but I don't think that I've ever heard anyone say anything positive about them.

I've never dated a woman who would actually wear the things. (I had one girlfriend who owned two pairs, but she adamantly refused to wear them, and I didn't care if she wore them or not.) So I've never been able to ask what they see in the things. (That seems a personal question to ask a stranger or acquaintance.)