I recently read about a woman who had her pinky toes amputated so that she could slip her feet into exceptionally narrow and very pointy high-heeled shoes.
Having not so long ago seen a History of Shoes exhibit in a London museum, I was not terribly shocked. Cutting off a little toe seemed trivial in comparison to the foot binding endured by Chinese girl children to insure that as grown women they’d have tiny, albeit deformed, feet. Over ten centuries, miniscule feet ensconced in delicately embroidered slippers, evolved from a status symbol among the wealthy to a widespread Chinese tradition. Small feet enhanced a woman’s beauty and were an important asset to attracting a husband.
Seeing those shoes in the museum, ones too small even for the feet of my four-year old grand-daughter, nauseated me. I imagined tiny toes deliberately broken and then bound tightly to the sole of the foot. Infections, sometimes resulting in the loss of toes, were common; but an advantage. The foot could then be bound even tighter, made even smaller. All this pain so that women, their tiny misshapen feet forever hidden in beautiful silk or jeweled slippers, would totter along with petite steps that men found alluring and sexy.
Sex appeal in shoe attire still drives women to endure great pain. Callouses, hammer toes, blisters, and even bunions are willingly risked by women who opt for the latest in shoe fashion. Four inch stilettos? Why not? For today’s woman, the higher the better.
What draws more attention to a woman than a slim short skirt, a bare leg and dangerously high, ankle- ribboned, black satin shoes? What man can resist the crossed legs of a stiletto wearing woman in the board room, the court-room, and, even, the classroom? And when she stands and walks forward with deliberate precision on her four inch, narrow stilts, is it not obvious that, in addition to being professional and competent, she is every inch a woman?
My shoe closet may not rival that of Imelda Marcos, but I have my fair share of thin heeled dress-up shoes that, although painful to wear, beautifully accentuate the toned curves of my calves and my narrow ankles. They work well also with tight jeans, giving me the extra inches I need to create the illusion of a long leg.
Such fashion statements, however, do not come without a price. When the party is over; when my feet, raw and throbbing, refuse to take another step, I slip into the black ballet slippers, always in my handbag, to walk to the car or subway station for the ride home. Also in my handbag, is a small pouch holding the band-aids I often need to cover the blisters caused by my eye-catching, but too tight and too high, shoes.
But it’s all worth it to feel so feminine.
I, therefore, was caught totally off guard when my gynecologist, a woman about my own age, said, “No more high heels for you.”
I shook my head. “No way! I’ve worn high heels to work every day for almost forty years.”
“Ok,” she scoffed, “If your shoes are more important than your bones.”
Of course, I heard her out. My bone density test showed osteopenia, the beginning of bone loss, in my hips and spine. I had also lost an inch in height. Unfortunately, the bone building medications I had been taking for several years had had little positive effect. In addition to a new treatment, she wanted me to do weight-bearing exercises, increase my calcium and Vitamin D intake, walk more, and give up my shoes.
Research, she said, suggested a connection between the wearing of high heels and a decrease in the joint fluids that keep bones from rubbing against each other and thus wearing them down. Not to mention the beating that knees and back take when forced into unnatural positions by high heel wearers. More sensible shoes seemed a no-brainer to her.
“Another thing,” she added. “Your bones are getting weaker. Osteoporosis may be next. Prancing about on high heels is foolish. If you fall, you stand a good chance of breaking a bone.”
“I love high heels!” I wailed.
“So do I,” she commiserated. “Save them for date night. Wear these to work,” she said, pointing to her sneaker clad foot.
“Sneakers with sequins?”
“It makes a statement,” she said. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
I bought red suede sneakers with neon purple laces.