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Valerie Schultz

My feet are screaming at me. It's a silent scream, but the pain in my toes commands my attention. I did something that, every time I do it, like eating onion rings or giving birth, I swear I will never do again.

I wore high heels to a wedding.

High heels. Pumps. Stilettos. Why do we women torture ourselves? We crunch our toes down into a narrow little point and elevate our heels to an alarming height. We walk at an angle, putting all our weight on the ball of the foot, and try to glide elegantly rather than hobble. Why do we submit to the slavery of high fashion?

Actually, I know why I do: vanity. I like the way my legs look when I wear heels. My husband likes the way my legs look when I wear heels, which makes me like them even more.

High heels make us feel seductive, powerful, and taller. Even more explicitly, the high heel, according to famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, forces the female foot into the position it takes during arousal, when the foot extends "until it falls in line with the rest of the leg." By shifting the center of gravity forward, high heels cause the back to arch and the backside to protrude at an increase of 25 percent.

High heels, lacking comfort and common sense, make an extravagant statement. They insist on being noticed. Heels with added sparkle were known in 18th century France as venez-y-voir or come hither shoes. When photography inevitably stepped into pornography, the model often wore only high heels. High heels, then, are part style and part sex. That's why we continue to crunch our poor feet into them.

The history of high heels, surprisingly, belongs to men, most notably the four-inch lifts worn by the not-so-tall Louis XIV. His court, of course, followed his lead. Louis decreed that only members of the ruling class could wear his trademark high-heeled shoes with their ostentatious red heels. Nobility could wear silly shoes, because the servants who did all the work wore entirely sensible, utilitarian boots. Whether worn by men or women, frivolous footwear has long symbolized wealth and leisure. Even today, the temptation to blow a week's pay on cunning, adorable, designer shoes that promise to kill your feet is alive and well.

At my own wedding, I wore a pair of spike-heel pumps all day, and danced into the night. Then I changed to another pair of pumps that matched my going-away outfit (in the olden days, we changed into a smart traveling suit before leaving the wedding reception: the bride did not depart while still wearing her wedding gown). The second pair, I admit, pierced my exit with tiny knives of pain, and I did finally take off my shoes in the hotel lobby, although I would never have told my mother that. I recently came across my wedding shoes, nestled in my hope chest, with their scalloped edge and stiletto heels. Three decades later, they didn't fit. I could not force them onto my feet. Rather than reliving Cinderella's magical shoe-fit, I felt more like one of the ugly, big-footed stepsisters.

The most recent wedding to which I rashly wore high heels was only three hours old when I had to take off my shoes. It seems that each time I wear high heels now, the time I can bear walking in them grows progressively shorter. Fortunately, the dancing at the reception was outside on a patio, and a lot of younger women had already taken off their shoes, so I didn't feel too ill-mannered doing the same.

Everything about the wedding was beautiful, perfect and moving, except for my feet. Since my husband was officiating at this wedding, we had been invited to the rehearsal dinner as well, to which I'd wisely worn non-sexy, comfortable clogs: I suspected that my feet had a limit of one day of high-heel wearing for the weekend. Still, on both occasions, I was surrounded by well-dressed women in fetching high-heeled pumps and sandals. They had more panache and better balance than I. Or perhaps they had a higher tolerance for pain. Or just plain younger feet.

I'm back to my sensible work shoes now, but my feet are still hurting from my foolishness. My normal look, alas, is neither seductive nor venez-y-voir . But I'm sure the occasion will again arrive when I am tempted to take down the box from the top shelf in my closet, and, against all good judgment, wear those high heels for an evening, or an hour. Every now and then, the pain is worth the power.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz and not necessarily The Californian's.