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Modern Lives Number 209

Hazel Marshall

When I first put them on I felt fantastic, invincible and very elegant. In addition, I was tall, confident and assured. Why had I never worn high heels before? I was like a new person, one who could do anything. I strode up the road with confidence loving my new look. This feeling lasted as far as the end of the road and then the pain kicked in and suddenly things weren't looking so good.

I had to reconsider where I wanted to go. Walks that I normally would not have thought twice about became expeditions. I had whole conversations in my head about whether these walks were really worthwhile. And we're talking two blocks to the chemist here, not a three mile hike. Could I justify taking a taxi? And as if the normal pain wasn't enough I quickly reached the next test - cobblestones. I don't know who these were designed for, but they are impossible to walk on wearing anything other than trainers. My ankles were permanently in imminent danger of breaking.
I envisioned them as two twigs which could be snapped at will. Apparently there are fewer cobbled streets in Glasgow than in Edinburgh because the authorities lifted them or paved them over to stop the population throwing them during riots. Edinburgh people being less prone to rioting the cobbles are still here - unfortunately.

There was more. I couldn't run. Normally I like the feeling that I can run away from trouble or can jaywalk across a road, doing that funny little jog thing if a car approaches me too fast. Now I had to wait for the green man at every set of traffic lights and pray that it wasn't those stupid ones that expected you to cross the road in five seconds or less.

I got to my meetings. I was fantastic. Knowing that I looked taller gave me more confidence and I became a new person. I was a success - until I stepped outside again. By this time the balls of my feet were on fire. How do other women do this? How do they walk briskly along the road? I had to saunter at a slow pace whether I was in a hurry or not. There was no option. For me, high heels come in only one speed - slow.

In Glasgow, at the underground, a woman got out of one of the trains and tried to thump another woman. They had a fight. I hobbled out of the way. I felt vulnerable. If she decided to attack me I couldn't run away. Actually never mind running, I could barely stand. If she took a swipe at me I would have fallen over quicker than a set of ninepins. I longed for my old comfortable scruffy boots. At least with them I had a fighting chance.

More meetings, more success. There is little doubt that people do perceive you differently if you dress smartly (and high heels do fit into that category) but I'm not so convinced that the hassles that go along with it make it worthwhile. Or maybe I just need to get used to them. Other women in my family have long been proponents of high heels. They are obviously members of some secret society which I will never be invited to join. They swear that it is only a matter of time before I will find myself striding confidently (and more importantly, comfortably) down the street.

I went to a graduation ceremony. Normally I would be bored but instead I found myself looking with renewed interest at the shoes the female graduates were wearing. Like the graduates they came in all shapes and sizes but a large majority of them were high. I was impressed. With my new found lack of confidence there's no way I would be striding across a stage in heels on one of the most important days of my life, yet they all managed it. I found that I even walked differently. I walked with my knees bent. I found it hard to keep a good posture when I was walking. I had a brilliant one when I was standing but while walking I resembled a constipated duck with my bottom out and my knees bent.

It made me think about what shoes we wear and when. It is a generational thing to some extent. My mum has been wearing high heels since she was fourteen and everyone did in her day. To her, they feel comfortable. To me they feel like hell on earth, but then she thought my big boots and trainers were horrible. I suppose we wear the shoes that reflect how we feel at the time. I remember being told that interviewers always judge on the state of a candidate's hair and shoes. Despite knowing this I had always worn flat, comfortable shoes rather than high, stylish ones and maybe my career (or lack of it to date) has reflected that choice. I will continue to wear my heels partly because they are a challenge and also because I like the way they made me feel, but I will definitely choose when and where with more care. Short walks, no undergrounds and always in easy reach of a taxi.

© Hazel Marshall 2001

Now for some healthy advice about wearing high heels shoes

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