04.26.12 Truth & Wisdom
21 years ago today my legs stopped moving. No warning, no gradual decline or deterioration, just bang – one second they worked and the next they didn’t!
This piece is perhaps a little more personal and much more intimate than any of my previous writing. It’s been triggered by a number of factors; I recently read and later watched a great play written by an old friend of mine, Those Legs by the hugely talented writer/ actor/director, Noel Clarke which features a young woman who is coming to terms with paraplegia. I hadn’t seen Noel in years until recently and it’s remarkable how insightful certain aspects of his play were. There was one scene that particularly resonated with me where the female lead is looking longingly at a new pair of 5inch stilettos bought by her friend. It reminded me that even though I can still wear those shoes I can’t really garner the attention they create; they can’t alter my gait to flex my calves nor can they make my bum or bust more prominent whilst sitting in my wheelchair.
Whilst away recently I was enjoying the obligatory people watching in Paris – observing women teetering precariously along the dust and gravel in the Jardin des Tuileries wearing knife edge stiletto heels. I love seeing a woman who can walk and run confidently in high heels – it’s an acquired skill – but I can also recall the pain of an uncomfortable pair. Nothing quite like the sympathy you feel for a woman clearly walking in agony, all out of kilter in heels. Seriously girls, carry a pair of flat pumps in your bag, leave the ‘car to bar’ shoes for exactly that; for walking from the car into the bar.
I can see why some men and women love stilettos; they give the illusion of slimmer legs and long calf muscles leading to toned curvy thighs and sexy hips that bang and pop from side to side. I see how great a full firm arse looks that fills a pair of jeans, while those same girls say “does my bum look big in this?” Apparently Marilyn Monroe used to have ½ an inch chopped off one stiletto heel in order to amplify the effects of her famous wiggle.
When I was younger I would spend the first night of my summer holiday trying on every single pair of shoes in my grandmother’s wardrobes; parading around her apartment in my own mini fashion show; she had more shoes than Imelda Marcos so it took a few hours! I used to love the clicking sound of the heels against the tiles on her floor and would frequently try to go out in them but was told nothing higher than 2inches, anything more made me look like ‘jailbait’ apparently!
I have a photo that I treasure, it was taken outside her apartment the night before my accident, it’s a full length photo of me aged 14 in a dangerously short skirt, but I’m so glad to have it as a memento of how my legs last looked whilst ‘perfect’.
The other thing that got me thinking about the significance (or not) of working legs was reflecting upon a personal situation from earlier this year. I had been on a few dates with someone and as my interest in him grew, I noticed my self confidence shrank. I found myself feeling insecure about my body and comparing myself to other walking women. It is one of the few times that I have found myself envious of the physical abilities of women who can walk.
Most of the time I don’t give a flying f*ck about walking, it’s really not the be all and end all, and those of you that still believe it is have an awful lot to learn about life and the human experience.
However I realised that there was a pattern and that I’ve felt this way when dating other men, not that most of them will have known it; I have a tendency to behave slightly aloof, cool and detached for self preservation. Sometimes I think I’m more confident when I’m single, no need to worry what someone else thinks of me and the insecurity that breeds within me because I can’t be perfect. Don’t worry, I realise this is stupid thinking, I know no one is perfect and perfection is unattainable and as I noticed the change in my body confidence, it was then I knew I was going on dates with the wrong person. The right partner should inspire confidence in yourself, not deplete it.
But…I see how beautiful strong sexy legs are in heels and I just worry any potential partner will too. I fear he might lust after women who can walk, run for a bus, skip down a beach, screw standing up, do the ‘snap & bend’, strut down the street in red soled Louboutins, or wriggle their bum into a pencil skirt. I’m scared he’ll miss that and long for something that I can’t provide because my body is different now. I can’t wiggle as I leave – hoping he’s watching. I can’t walk arm in arm with hands in each other’s jeans pockets. They’re the tiny little things I sometimes mourn, but have never really shared…. until now.
I guess I have an objective appreciation of the human form. I see the endless potential of bodies and I love seeing the work people have put into making the very most of the gift they have. I stare in awe at the physical abilities and mental dedication of ballet dancers, acrobats and athletes, how they sculpt their body for their craft and push their body to extremes. From the Amazonian legs of Beyonce and Gisele to the shorter curvier legs of Lily Allen and the muscular legs of Serena Williams, I love the look of their legs, in awe of the beauty of the simple flexion and extension of a firm, well toned thigh muscle.
So yes, I miss creating that click clack sound across the floor that a pair of high heels make as they strut across the floor. I miss not creating the accompanying wiggle that turns heads. However, I still love my legs, their ridiculous length. I like that they look nearly the same as they always did (just less muscle tone), but the freckles are where they always were, like familiar friends reassuring me that I’m the same person with the same legs but different. I wouldn’t swap them for anybody else’s.
A model, actress and writer, Shannon Murray is also paraplegic due to an accident as a teenager. She writes and lectures on positive body image and the representation of disability in the media. (Oh and she’s a trainee lawyer). You can read more from Shannon on her website and on Twitter.