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I Love a Real Heel: The Architecture of Pain 

Recently, after staring in forlorn adoration at the high-heeled shoes that (mostly) sit like pristine architectural exhibits on the shelves of my closet, I read the following advice:

"Walk properly. When wearing high heels, you should walk by pointing your toes straight ahead instead of to the side. Then, complete the step by setting your heel down. Keep your legs close together and swing your arms, right arm as you step with your left foot and left arm as you step with your right foot, to keep your body balanced. In addition, look straight ahead of you so you'll be able to see the spots on the floor or the ground where you could trip and fall."

In my early teens I wanted to be a dancer. Then I realized that I didn't—don't—have the kind of mind that could translate the steps of a dance from my head to my body. So there's just no chance that I could follow through with the instructions above. With every step I'd be thinking, "heel . . . down, legs far, no, close, arm back-woops-forward, lookup, look . . . down, arggggh"! and I'd still be standing in place.

 Which isn't to say that I haven't worn high heeled shoes throughout my life. I'm 5'2" so of course I've worn high heels. I try to squeak a little more on to my height even when describing myself (no, what—five feet two?—that's five feet two AND A THIRD, OK"?). I think I even tried it on my passport. Sometimes I've enjoyed being enveloped by a man taller than I am (and what man isn't?) but otherwise, I hate being short. I don't have a short personality and it irks me that my body is a living metaphor for less rather than more.

 I've tried to wear heels ever since I was sixteen and it became obvious that  no one was ever going to describe me as "statuesque." When I've managed to wear them successfully it's often been in the evenings on dates, when I had the advantage of riding in cars and walking only short distances; sitting as much as standing; dancing only for show. But by nature I'm a walker, even a strider. Like my (considerably taller) mother before me, I like to swing my arms vigorously and feel like I'm flying over the ground. Also, due to a mild neurological condition, I don't drive, so I often have to walk.  It just isn't practical for me to wear high heels, and never has been. Not to mention that I don't like being in pain and heels hurt; they just do, they always will, and no advances in design will ever change that.

 Some things that hurt are actually good for you. Wearing heels, however much or little they're subjectively causing you pain, is obviously not. There are reams of studies out that prove it; any casual search on Google will come up with things like: "scientists [have] found that heel wearers move with shorter, more forceful strides . . . a movement pattern [that]  continues even when the women kicked off their heels and walked barefoot. As a result, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles . . ."

And, well, duh. It's completely obvious that this is the case to anyone wearing high heels or watching someone walk in them. In addition, of course, there's the fact that high heeled shoes are mainly designed for the male gaze, they're all about sex and availability, and they do nothing to enhance a woman's ability to move through the world or have real and active power in a physical sense. I have friends who have never worn and would never wear heels, on principle, and I'm in complete agreement with them on all counts. High heels are stupid, unhealthy, a tool of control and sexism and . . .

and at their best are soooo incredibly gorgeous and playful! Plus, wearing them can make you feel ten feet tall (well, not me—I feel five foot six. But that's a great feeling from where I usually stand). When you're wearing them you just know that you can kick butt, which is a good thing since you can't run. And they make your own butt look curvaceous and architectural. They are wearable art, and I guess wearing them is a kind of art, or at least a subservience to the art that they are, a kind of devotion to form over function, beauty over efficacy.

So I have a closet full of high heels. Some of them—the only ones worth having—were expensive, though no doubt I got them for far less than their original price on sites like Ebay or Gilt. I have built outfits around them, but their soles are nearly pristine. Sometimes, especially when my limo hasn't shown up, the farthest I've gotten in them is the full-length mirror in the hall, where I look admiringly at the way they perfect and complete whatever else I'm wearing. And then I change them, with a sigh, to a pretty kitten heel (kitten! see how diminutive? I like the word "lioness" much better) at night, or to my tasteful, sensible, well-worn and not-bad-looking flats for day.

 But every once in awhile when the conditions are right I stick my feet into the high heeled shoes of my dreams, test the paradoxically powerful yet coy new arch of my feet, and sail (hobble) out the door. Without much practice in the wearing of high heels, only in the loving of them, I keep this bit of advice firmly in mind:

"Maintain a serene appearance in the face of embarrassment. Accidents happen, whether you like it or not. But if you see one on the verge of happening, like your dress catching on your heel, try to remain calm and smiling as you try to kick the fabric away from your shoe. It only becomes embarrassing when you make it look embarrassing."