A spot of lesbianism is good for many things - from a bit of a palate cleanser to a lifelong revelation - but the thing it did for me was a gift beyond price. It got me out of high heels. It got me into sensible shoes, just like the cliché, and for that I will be forever grateful.
When I was 35, more than 15 years ago, I took up with a 25-year-old girl who had the looks of a showroom mannequin - a perfect sample size 8, with the endless arms, legs and neck of an Erte illustration. I had been looking around for an excuse to hand in my rapidly-waning Hot Broad credentials, and this girl was it. She became my living, breathing dress-up doll, and nothing pleased me more than to spend an idle afternoon taking her around the more expensive and recherché boutiques of London, decking her out in discreet finery. (Even if I DID retain enough of my bitchy Hot Broad persona to often think, as she walked for me, 'Lovely! But I looked a LOT hotter than that when I was your age...' We're only human!)
Since I was 15 I had always worn high heels, but now that I could buy them for someone else, I gave them up gleefully. To this day I love to take my 20-something friends on shopping sprees to Brighton's East Street, where the shoe shops hustle and jostle each other, and hear their delight as they squawk at their long-stalked reflections in an endless parade of Kurt Geigers and LK Bennett. But rather than perve at them, I'm looking fondly down at my own lame and misshapen feet - literally plates of meat; not so much feet anymore as simply where my legs end - and thinking how glad I am to still have them. Five years ago, I was struck down by a mysterious foot condition wherein my poor tootsies tried, somehow, to consume themselves. But I survived, and the process which started with my young girlfriend ended with my disease. Now, I wear the sort of shoes which would make a female prison warder run crying to Colour Me Beautiful.
I'm not against high heels per se. I think that they look perfectly appropriate on women who are in a) showbiz, b) the sex trade and c) the full flush of youth, as all these states perfectly combine the mixture of narcissism and self loathing that high heels are the material embodiment of.
But when I see a middle-aged woman wearing very high heels, I feel sorry for her. This isn't sexist - I'd feel the same way about a middle-aged man who wore a shirt open to the waist and tight trousers. It's about thinking that a woman on the sorted side of 40 should be 'empowered' by something other than staggering around on four inches of plastic. She should feel confident because she is kind, is clever, is good at what she does, has a sex life which makes her smile like a goon when she thinks of it, has a home life which makes her marvel that all the clichés could come true and still seem unique.
We strike out more boldly as we get older, but we don't walk so good. A young woman can stride out in high heels as though she was wearing trainers; a middle-aged woman, with failing vision and stiffening joints, teeters and totters with all the light-footed speed of a toddler on its way to a much-feared play-date. The average British woman apparently spends 400 pounds on shoes she never wears, which does somewhat contradict the idea that shoes are the cure for all unhappiness. Imagine if men did this with ties; said they were "better than sex" or wore T-shirts bearing the message I SEE TIES! We'd think they were 10 types of tragic. Well, if you're out of your twenties, the same goes for women and shoes. Get over it, weirdo!
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