I stood in front of the mirror, analysing my outfit. The buzz of cheap, pre-drink wine dulled the feelings of self-conscious doubt, to the point that I actually felt good about my reflection. Like Cinderella waiting for the ball, I had waited such a long time for a night out with the girls, and I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. Isolation had given me the time to work on loving my body again, and I had even bought some killer heels to celebrate this night of freedom. Cinderella was right: a new pair of shoes could change your life! Tottering to meet the girls, I felt a renewed sense of confidence in taking my first steps to a new normal.
The night was fantastic. We drank, danced, laughed… I had missed the girls so much. They all looked amazing, and we spent much of the night locked in the ladies’ loo complimenting other women’s dresses and sharing the excitement of a well earned night out. It may have been the 2-for-1 martinis, but I felt fantastic. My feet were sore, but when I staggered over to the bathroom mirror, I felt good. Pretty, even.
The night was coming to a close, so we left the pulsing club and entered the cool night air, laughing as we stumbled on the cobbles. I could really feel the pinch of my new shoes on the uneven path, and I almost lost my balance as we walked.
That’s when I heard you. I wouldn’t have noticed you otherwise. You had the look of something insignificant, and when you opened your mouth, your blurry figure transformed to something of a bug, a bee or wasp… but wasps can sting, and your words… that sting…
I wanted to challenge you. My mouth dried. I felt the fear freezing my body to the spot… I was no longer Cinderella; I could not run away from this. I couldn’t see or sense my friends… I had tunnel vision… I didn’t know if you were getting closer or just taking over my mind…
You blamed the shoes. They had drawn your attention, and what do I expect, staggering around in shoes like that? What do I expect? I should expect this. I should expect this? Not this… not again… but I do. I know you’re wrong. I know I shouldn’t have to expect… but I do. The expectation, anticipation, humiliation, devastation, never goes away…
But it’s not really about the shoes, is it? It’s not about my shoes or my skirt or my bra or my makeup or my legs or any other part of me that you want to objectify, destroy.
I wore those shoes to make me feel taller. I don’t just mean physically. I wanted to walk taller. I wanted to stride down the street with an air of confidence that would shatter your insecurity like a hammer to a glass ceiling. I wanted to tower over you, to let you know that you are just small. Small, weak, pathetic, wrong. I wanted to be so tall that you would be an insignificant bug on the pavement that could be squished with just one swift twist of my stiletto, no matter how precarious my balance. I wanted to destroy you. All of you.
But when I finally got home and took the shoes off… I held them and I sobbed. I cried for the innocent little girl wearing her mother’s high heels to play princess dress-up, still in sweet ignorant bliss of the world she would grow into. I cried for the trainers that could never be worn in public, but in private took a hammering from the woman who was too self-conscious of a body that didn’t belong to her. I cried for the discarded ballet shoes and the girl too worn down by comparison, rejection, degradation to make them dance into life. I cried for the worn-out slippers, a safe-haven from the never-ending fear of the old normal, new normal, forever normalised.
I cried… and now I cry out for you to take my shoes and wear them, any of them. Walk a mile in them. Know how it feels, the blisters, the ache, the balancing act of trying to stay on the right path… it’s a fine line. Maybe you’ll see. Maybe you’ll learn. Maybe you’ll realise that trying to play Cinderella is no fairytale.