No, it wasn’t a pair of Rihanna’s Manolos. The year was 2004. I was 13 years old, and at my Grade 7 farewell. And no, I didn’t fall flat on my face. I had rehearsed the heel-toe, heel-toe rhythm that helps first-timers maintain balance. At the time, I didn’t know that Christian Louboutin once said ‘Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally.’ But that evening, I felt the truth of his words.
When a petite 14-year-old Catherine de Medici wore heels in 1533 to make up for the height difference between herself and her husband, the Duke of Orleans, she did it because she felt insecure in comparison to the Duke’s tall mistress. Catherine was 14, in an arranged marriage with an unfaithful man, and she sought a sense of solace in a pair of two-inch-high shoes. I too found solace in shoes at an early age, but under different circumstances to that of a Duke’s young bride (thankfully).
I was awkward, suffocated by the burden of puberty, bellowing from the rooftops with insecurities, and comfortable only in clothes, but not my own skin. The experience of shopping for my Grade 7 farewell outfit with my parents was therefore one I approached with as much hope as Jay Gatsby. I considered it preparation for my big Cinderella moment, when I would finally just be … pretty.
What? Did you really think I was always this glam and self-assured?
Nope, my teen years were riddled with insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty – but with good grades nonetheless. So my transition from primary to high school had to be marked by a major fashion statement, like every other milestone in my life. This time, the statement came in the form of a pair of strappy, white, studded, open-toe heels from a little (used to be) high-end boutique in East London called Chez Lo (which stocked beautiful fake Louis Vuitton scarves by the way). These heels had a soft marshmallow-like pink in-sole, which must be the reason why I have since never been intimidated by any pair of heels – because my first pair was très comfy.
Anyway, I think that first evening, when I wore those comfortable heels for the first time – with my peers either oohing and aahing or telling me I’m overdressed from a few centimetres below in sneakers and Heelys – was the first time I actually felt like ‘confident’ was an adjective I could associate with my name one day. Now, over a decade later, I wear (block) heels every other day and while I’m not always confident about everything on a daily basis, one thing I’m sure of is that my confidence does not reside in the arch of a well-crafted pair of stilettos, which facilitate a slight sway as I walk.
Rather, what I’m saying is that when those 2004 shoes gave me better posture as heels do, they also served as a prelude to the elevated sense of self I would experience in my twenties. And now, I’m confident in a pair of Havaianas, kicks, brogues and even barefoot. But if you see me wearing anything higher than 4cm, please safely assume that Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Feelin Myself’ is playing in my head.
Signed, the Sartorial Podiatrist