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Feeling the blues for high-heeled shoes
I was sitting in the car park, bawling. I had hurried out of the mall as fast as my patched right foot would let me, to the private space of my car, where I let rip. My plan for the day had been simple: to get me some shoes. I had not dolled up for a while. I broke my ankle (both sides on my right foot) and spent some five months recuperating and getting used to the feel of the steel plate and numerous screws that now hold my foot together.
When the offer came to facilitate at a seminar I jumped—well, hopped—at the chance. And what better way to make a comeback than with some stunning shoes? So, with my trusty walking stick I headed for the mall. I did not know her. But she was there and I needed someone. I turned to her. “Ma’am, I am going to cry.” And as if a stranger declaring such intent was the most natural thing in the world, she simply asked: “Okay, what’s wrong?” I began to weep, the prequel to my car park episode, and in articulating my situation to this stranger, I was forced into an admission. “I have been shopping for shoes all morning, but have not bought anything because I cannot wear high heels. I am confined to flats. “I don’t think I know how to be without my heels,” I cried. Literally.
It’s neither vanity nor triviality. I cannot imagine myself in a professional space—or any other space, for that matter—without my heels. For me heels are much more than an accessory...they are an extension of me. They contribute to who I am. When I was told I would have to give them up, I never let it register. Months of denial have now led to this. The surgeon initially told me he would have to remove my entire limb. I should just be grateful that I still have two feet! But not even that sober perspective gave me comfort. Instead of rejoicing for my limbs, I was grieving for my heels. I am a master at them. No matter the terrain—Carnival fete, trails through the bushes, horseback riding, chopper flying—all in heels! And it is not that I need the added height; I stand flat at five foot nine. I just need the heels.
I have always been cautioned that men don’t like their women too tall. Yes, they admire height on the unattainable model, perhaps, but don’t really pursue it for down-home comfort. The love of my life used to exclaim: “You are towering!” But it was not a criticism. Even as I stood a head above him, there was never a sign of insecurity. Real men know where the measurement matters. In her book Shoes: the Ultimate Accessory, Tessa Paul reminds us that shoes, in history, tell stories of “changes in politics, culture and technology.” High heels were originally menswear, a status symbol for the wealthy. We women had to muscle in on the action. When we got in on the act they tried to use heels against us.
Paul explained: “As liberated women of the 20th century grew more and more powerful, they were persuaded to wear extremely high shoes making it impossible to move with a free loose stride.”
But the plan backfired, because, Paul says: “Liberated women are also athletes, mountaineers and sailors,” so moving with a free loose stride in a pair of six-inchers turned out to be no challenge for us. But now I am officially out of the measuring contest. Whose heels are taller? Not mine. Some 20 years ago actress Sonya Moze said to me, “You need to be more flat-footed.” I’ve always pondered that. Flat-footed people, I assessed, must stand more sturdily than people who totter. Dealing with my teenage daughter, I have often kicked off my shoes, to “grind my heels in,” to make a point; putting my foot down. Strangely, taking off my heels in the living room, gives me the same power as having them on in the conference room.
Now, in my present circumstances, Sonya shared: “Ucill, it is something I say to women all the time. I have sessions where women cannot take off their heels. They cannot stand without them. We get addicted to all sorts of things, and high heels are just another addiction.
“There are some very attractive flat shoes to be had,” she offered. I scoffed. She insisted: “If you get yourself a really comfortable pair of flat shoes, it will change you.” That’s the problem—I do not want to be changed. It took me near half a century to become this me. And I like me just as I am—was?—with heels. Back to the stranger in the store: “I understand,” she said, “but don’t cry for long. The Lord brings us low for his own purpose. If he has brought you down from your height, it’s for a reason. He does nothing by chance. Not having your heels will affect your personality.” See, there it is again! “If He is changing you, he is doing it for a purpose,” she advised. She took my name and promised to pray for me. I thanked her. If her petitions are for God to reunite me with my heels, I’ll take all the prayers I can get.
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