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Women: In some ways, you haven't come a long way, baby

There are three magazines on my desk. I've been looking at them for 15 minutes and trying hard to avoid throwing up my hands, smashing my computer and indulging in a paroxysm of despair. What's behind this feeling are shoes. Yes, shoes.

Two issues of Family Circle, one from March 1975 and the other from September 2005, bracket O, The Oprah Magazine. Oprah's slick contribution to the world of women's magazines is dated March 2006. The dates are not unimportant.

The now-31-year-old FC carries a full-page ad on the inside back cover for Virginia Slims, a brand of cigarettes still on the market. A photo--designed to seduce women into lighting up--captures a skinny white model jauntily striding across the page. She holds a cigarette between two long, slim fingers while her other hand attempts to keep her tousled blond locks in place.

She wears shimmering red knee-length boots with the type of heel guaranteed to cause her body distress. And this is 1975, not long after women burned their bras and decided the use of Ms. rather than Miss or Mrs. would usher in a world of change. The ad's text? "You've come a long way, baby."

It takes little reflection to conclude: a) babies don't get very far because they are limited to crawling, and b) shoes reveal just how far women have yet to go. If anything, we may have taken some giant steps "backward" in our blind leap "forward." Today, a child of the anorexic model who whored for a tobacco company could very well be wearing the same shoes her mother did in 1975.

By 2006, we see an alarming number of women willing to submit to an absurd array of cosmetic surgeries in their sad attempts to conform to some external notion of so-called beauty. And some are going so far as to have a toe (maybe more) removed so feet designed for walking on earth can instead fit into those pointy exercises in vanity masquerading as shoes and made oh-so-popular by assorted cultural icons, including Oprah. (No, I did not make this up. Just google "cosmetic toe removal," and don't say I didn't warn you.)

Down the road, say in a year or two or five, pointy shoes will be passé. Women who surrendered common sense in order to fit into once-stylish shoes will be lamenting how their artificially created skinny feet don't feel at all comfortable in the roomier styles. (Squared toes? Rounded toes? Who knows?)

Shoes made a radically different statement about the same time women were shedding their bras in the interest of what they believed was liberation. "One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you," is the refrain from "These Boots Are Made for Walking," a Nancy Sinatra song popular when women were getting "uppity."

Walking all over someone (unless you're engaged in a form of Asian massage) is not the most enlightened sentiment. But maybe the popularity of shoes with 4-inch heels and 3-inch dagger toes is a manifestation of the same old story: females fearing a fall from fashion's lockstep.

These achingly dumb shoes are not some kick-ass cowboy boot; they are crippling, body-deforming, foot-cramping obstacles to getting the hell out of the way when the situation screams, "Move it!" It's been more than 30 years since women took to the streets (for the umpteenth time) to demand equal treatment under the law and their right to die alongside their brothers in some fool's war, but these shoes remind us women have yet to develop the strength and self-confidence to say no. No to shoes hobbling one's mobility. No to surgery substituting for self-esteem. No to overpriced "beauty" products. No to cosmetics laced with carcinogens. "Thin for life!" screams the cover of September's Family Circle, while O's promises "The workout that does it all." Between articles dedicated to fashion and weight loss, both periodicals have variations on the required "how-to-live-a-more-satisfying-life" pieces with FC's emphasizing family and children. Noticeably absent from the glut of women's magazines assaulting our senses and sensibilities at most every turn is an article along the lines of: "All you need to know to discover yourself, be at home in your body, get the fashion monkey off your back, develop your capacity for humor, empathy and compassion, learn not to take yourself so damn seriously and never need to read this type of article again."

As soon as I wrap up this column, I may just write it myself. The trouble is, I doubt it would sell.

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