The pursuit of beauty has always been a royal pain in the afterlife. I first discovered this at the age of seventeen when I wore a jersey dress and a pair of black stilettos adorned with gold safety pins in place of sequins. Two hours later, not only were my feet sore, but I had a new piercing when I sat down to relieve the pain. A safety pin had come undone and got stuck in my bottom.
I’ve spent my life collecting fractures and ligaments the way a hobbyist collects stamps, but I continued to fumble through a lot of peep toes and slingbacks. I even once asked my assistant for advice while getting ready for an event.
‘Zane, my ankle is still swollen, should I stop wearing heels?’
‘Yes, well today, even the men are wearing flats,’ came Pat’s reply.
Given that the men in question were not cool crossdressers, but my husband and a local politician, I was as taken aback by his answer as by my decision to go ahead and wear a pair of sparkly stilettos to that event.
The yearning for beauty probably began in 4000 BC when the first woman saw polished obsidian and immediately decided that whatever gifts nature had bestowed upon her were not generous enough.
The earliest historical records of make-up come from Egypt with eyeshadow and kohl made from lead and soot. I guess stuffing poison in your eyes was a small price to pay for what looked like a vision.
Lead continued to lead in the 17th century. Ceras, made from lead carbonite, was used to whiten the face and hide smallpox scars, but it also ate away at your face. In the 18th century, women used lard to lubricate their unruly hair. I don’t know if it attracted members of the opposite sex, but it attracted rats. The poor women had to lock themselves in a cage with their hair locked in a cage.
In the 21st century, we continue to chase beauty until we eventually cross the finishing line and end up as non-biodegradable corpses. Over the next century, archaeologists will dig up graves and find not only bones, but perfectly preserved breasts and Bollywood wives, as well as Real Housewives all the way from Matunga to Manhattan, because silicone can take more than 100 years to decompose.
Beauty, however, is not an acquired attraction, but an evolutionary tool. Even babies look longer at faces that are conventionally considered ‘good looking’. It is based on the selection of viable mates. This is the reason why peacocks have extraordinary feathers. Large breasts, small waists in women, and symmetrical features in both sexes are all signs of health and young fertility.
Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote, “Beauty is not free of hormones, the way it is of youth. It’s about who that person is.”
Instead of worrying about what’s going on as we grow up, we buy into the myths pushed to us by conditioning and clever advertising. Makeup that hides the flowering of time with the flow of youth. Using acid to burn fat and skin. Punitive Diet and Lash Extensions.
We pay attention and large amounts of cash to talented businesswomen with silver tongues and red soles like Christian Louboutin, who said, ‘The stiletto is a feminine weapon that men don’t have.’ A weapon we use to stab ourselves in the leg as we stumble along the pavement, moaning in pain.
Heels are only empowering when you mistake height for attitude. If heels were really that powerful, wouldn’t men be wearing them too? Jeff Bezos on the cover of Time magazine in Jimmy Choo Peep Toes. Elon Musk driving his Tesla in Versace stilettos. Putin posing bare-chested with a hunting gun and Manolo spike heels.
We can try to discard all aspects of the game of beauty, but what do we do with the human need to be inspired by beauty? The desire to grow plants that serve no utility other than to derive pleasure from their colorful blooms. Gaze at the starry sky and rainbows or paint them on your eyelashes. Immerse yourself in laughter and music. Run our fingers over silk and cashmere.
Let the monochromatic outline of our lives be filled with colors of joy.
Perhaps we need to find the beauty born of joy and not suffering. The balance between conditioning and true comfort.
I might have clipped nails that let me type and weed and strum, but I also enjoy painting my toe nails.
I can no longer keep those painted toes in a pair of heels. I’ve stored them for the rare occasion when insecurity wins a claw match against my confidence. Every other day, I live in an array of colorful flats, my go-to fast
Feet on gray roads, whirling circles.
I’m still willing to pay the price for beauty, but no longer through the currency of pain.
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