I’m short. Five feet two inches, to be exact. That’s 1.57 m., for my metric-minded readers.
In terms of body-image and whatnot, I’m fine with it. I always have been. I’ve never wished for a few more inches for appearances’ sake. I’m good with my 5’2″ view of the world.
Seriously, I’ve never had an issue with my height (or lack thereof), even when I went to high school with boys who towered over me. Our small school boasted a nationally ranked basketball team, so most of the boys in my class easily surpassed 6 feet and some were pushing 7 feet. My closest tall friend was actually a 6’4″ baseball player, but I also counted among my friends basketball boys like the 6’6″ British guy and the 6’9″ Lithuanian. Several guys literally had to tilt their heads to the side just to walk through a regular doorway. I remember walking out of the cafeteria once behind one of the tallest basketball players (a 6’11” Nigerian) and realizing I was disturbingly close to being eye-level with his belt.
So while I didn’t have a problem with being short, I decided I didn’t want to be navel-level to my classmates, either. Tall heels became a staple of my high school wardrobe. I remember wearing four-inch heels on a regular basis, since the extra height helped me get above belly button level on the guys in my school. I don’t remember the shoes being uncomfortable, either. I’d wear them all day and never have a problem. Maybe it’s because I chose thick, chunky platforms which offered a modicum of support, despite the height. However, my relative comfort was probably more due to the fact that I wasn’t actually on my feet that much, sitting through classes and whatnot. Whatever the reason, I wore those heels a lot and never felt the painful consequences.
However, when I moved away to college, I went with the intention of leaving much of my high school existence behind. The four-inch heels stayed in my closet, replaced by flats and flip-flops, with maybe the occasional low heel for more formal situations. I did wear tall heels on my first date with my husband, but that was only to keep my long dress from dragging on the ground. He actually liked the fact that I could wear four-inch heels and still be shorter than him! Because unlike my high school classmates, the man I married is not ridiculously tall (5’8″, to be exact). It’s great. He likes that I’m shorter than him, and I like that I can look into his eyes without hurting my neck. So with him as my significant other, I entered adult life without a wide range of high-heeled shoes.
Then I became a teacher and an authority figure to teenagers. At age 23, I stood in front my first class and saw 18-year-old linebackers looking back at me. Even some of the freshmen stood a head-and-shoulders taller than me. Very few students looked up at me instead of down. Plus, I’ve always looked younger than my age. Six years into the professional world, and people still ask me what grade I’m in. That first year, students occasionally forgot I was a teacher and treated me as a peer. I had to constantly think about my professional image in order to remain a respected authority figure to my students.
So the heels returned to my wardrobe. Pumps and blazers combated my young appearance and small stature to help establish me as an adult in the school. The extra few inches were nice, but the heels served a more symbolic purpose than just making me taller. They set me apart as a professional.
However, as a teacher, I’m standing, teaching, moving on my feet all day. I don’t like sitting still when I teach. I pace the front of the room and move between the desks. Sometimes I’m teaching from the back of the room, sometimes writing on the board, sometimes working with individual students. I like the click of the heels on the tile floor, but I also begin to feel the physical repercussions of my footwear more quickly than I did in high school.
I once had a conversation with a physical therapist who told me that she sees a lot of older teachers as patients. They come to her with problems caused by years on their feet in the wrong shoes. I can see why. My ankles start complaining first, and then my back, and at some point my hips join the conversation, wondering why I chose to wear those shoes all day.
So as my first year of teaching wore on and my authority became more tied to my relationships and reputation than my physical appearance, I slowly returned to wearing flats. This pattern repeated itself many times over the years. I’d wear heels in a new school until I established myself, and then I’d return to more supportive flats for daily wear. I realize my authority has more to do with who I am as a teacher than my footwear choices, but still. Try getting a surly teenage boy to do something he doesn’t want to do while he’s looking down 8 to 10 inches at you. It’s weird. Unless I know that young man already respects me as an authority figure no matter what, I’ll take the extra few inches and the business-like image that a closed-toe high-heeled shoe can give me.
I’m running into a problem this year, though. I’ve subbed in public high schools before, but this one is bigger. Huge. The student body is split between two massive campuses, though they’re still considered one school. I work for both campuses. Some days I’m at one, and some at the other. I barely ever see repeat students. I’m no closer to “establishing” myself to the student body than I was on day one. The secretaries, other subs, and a few teachers know me by now, but they don’t need to see me as an authority figure. The students do. So I wear the heels. A lot. I think I’ve worn flats once, and that was one of the days I covered study hall. Every time I face a new class, I want the heels.
It’s October. I should be rotating the flats into my teacher wardrobe by now, but I haven’t yet. And my body’s mad at me now, evidenced by the ache in the ankles and the tightness between my shoulder blades. I actually noticed it most on a day off, when I realized how much of a relief it was to slip into athletic shoes and take the dog for a walk. Maybe it’s time to try the flats anyway, and hope for the best.
But then again, a security guard asked to see my student ID the other day, even with the heels. *sigh*