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The siren song of high-heeled shoes



“It’s painful to be beautiful,” my mother used to say, easing herself out of three-inch heels after a night of dancing with my father or a day of shopping on Fifth Avenue. Her collection of stilettoed footware, a tantalizing mortification of the senses, hung in a shoe bag on my closet door (her closet wasn’t big enough). Thus began my education in the art of being alluring.

I learned to clomp around in one of her old pairs, six sizes too big, about the same time I learned to subtract—a skill that would come in handy years later when calculating the price of Italian-leather slingbacks versus, say, eating. My father, however, took a dim view of little girls playing grown-up, so I spent the intervening period shuffling between ballet flats and Pappagallos. It wasn’t until my twenties and my first real job that high heels and I became inseparable.

Nothing like it compared. I’d gotten cozy with boned girdles, gave up sleep for a headful of curlers, and still bore the marks of garter belts past. But the exquisite paroxysms inflicted on my entire being by lovingly crafted, elevated soles brought me to my knees. Literally.

Mere months into our affair, I jumped merrily out of bed and fell clumsily in a heap. It hurt to move. I couldn’t turn my head without pain shooting through every extremity.

“It’s your feet or the spikes” was the Hobson’s choice the chiropractor presented. Ha! What a fool. He had no idea the hold high heels had on me. Like Moira Shearer and her devilishly shod tootsies, I was in the grip of something bigger than both of us—something that ran around an 8½ B. And, veteran movie-watcher that I was, I knew they would be the death of me.

My head swirled with vis-ions of a future as an earth-bound, lowly creature. If I couldn’t swagger a teeter-tottering gait, why bother walking? If I had no burgeoning bunions screaming for a rubdown, what was my reason for living? More to the point, where would my come-hither come from now?

I knew what I had to do. Casting my demons to the back of my closet with a “Get thee behind me, satin, lizard, and peau de soie!” I marched to the nearest bridge to throw myself off, when a sign from above caught my eye: “Shoes Made to Fit.” I hesitated long enough to lurch, barefoot and hobbled, toward a promised land of arch supports, crepe-cushioned silhouettes, and pedestrian liaisons beyond my wildest dreams.

I was born anew. Gone were my sophisticated notions of beauty and womanliness. Never again would I suffer for my sex, even if it meant I’d die an old maid. But what ho? Who was that cute guy in hiking boots? Now that I could ambulate, I sashayed over to the mountaineering section and, as adorably as a woodland doe, pawed the carpet coyly. He countered with an appreciative glance at my D-rings—and lo, we were married while the rubber treads were still new.

Now, decades later, I am so over my youthful high; I have so outgrown that lame bunch of heels. What to do, then, when my 20-something daughter, who has never flirted with anything more precipitous than an Ugg, says: “Hey, Mom, look what I found in your closet. Can I try them on?”

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