The image of Sarah Jessica Parker teetering on heels as she crosses the cobblestones of New York’s meatpacking district is as integral to turn-of-the-century pop culture as Paul Giamatti sipping wine in “Sideways.”
So when Parker announced last week that she was giving up heels for sensible shoes after her altitudinous footwear damaged her feet, news of the declaration quickly spread. Parker, who played Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s “Sex and the City” from 1998 to 2004, was seldom seen without her spikes — the taller the better. She unapologetically did (almost) everything in heels.
A nation of women followed suit. Today you can see the effects of “Sex and the City” everywhere. Go out on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll encounter stampedes of young women in towering stilettos. “Sex and the City” gave women the idea that the higher the heel, the closer to their beloved Carrie they’d become. And given that the show is seen endlessly in syndication, no one wants Carrie to go away.
But all good times come to an end, and Parker told Net-A-Porter last week that unless the label on the shoe reads “Manolo Blahnik” or “Christian Louboutin,” she is done with heels. A doctor informed her that the heels that made her famous have been less than kind to her feet. According to Parker, the doctor’s exact words were: “Your foot does things it shouldn’t be able to do.”
So after hooking young women on the sexiness of heels, Parker could soon become a podiatry poster girl.
This is starting to sound familiar. A woman gains fame by turning a country on to something that is not particularly good for its health, and then comes forward to talk about the consequences.
I contend that Sarah Jessica Parker is the Paula Deen of shoes.
This is not as improbable as it sounds. Parker made running around in heels look fun and effortless. What ill effects could possibly come of wearing frothy tulle dresses and delicate high heels when you’re dating cute guys and penning a popular sex advice column?
Meanwhile, Food Network star Deen became a celebrity by showing us a parade of delicious treats such as Krispy Kreme bread pudding, bacon cheeseburger meatloaf, peanut butter cheese fudge, and Twinkie pie. You knew that Deen, a sweet woman dripping with Southern charm, would not serve you deep fried macaroni and cheese unless it contained some kind of nutritional value, right?
And even if it was bad for you, Deen was quick to point out that everything should be eaten in moderation. Like Parker, she made it all look like so much fun. Parker has a fabulous life in her heels, Deen has a kitchen spilling over with laughter and saturated fats. But like Parker, Deen eventually came forward to confess that all of that fun came at a price. In Deen’s case, it was diabetes.
I’m not a dietitian and I’m not a podiatrist, but I probably could have guessed that a closet full of 6-inch heels or a pantry full of Crisco would eventually pose some kind of health issue. Are our pop culture idols to blame for the public following their lead? Perhaps. We were drawn in by the glossy veneer. But Deen’s diabetes should not have surprised us, and the news of Parker’s poor feet should not have caused such a fuss.
It all reminds me of what my mother told me when I saw something — usually unrealistic — that I wanted on TV. “It looks good because it’s all smoke and mirrors,” she’d say. “It’s their job to make it look good so you’ll want it too. Now turn that thing off and go out and get some fresh air.”Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.