This column scares the heck out of me.
Because the last thing a chunky, boringly dressed guy like me should ever do is offer fashion advice to women.
Especially by writing a column about women's shoes and the scary things American women may be doing to their pinky toes, so they can cram their feet into ridiculously expensive, high-fashion shoes like Jimmy Choos.
"Fashion is the third rail of column writing for men," a female editor warned me years ago, when I mentioned that I was thinking about offering women some fashion tips. "You? Women's fashion tips? You'll kill your career. You step on that third rail, you'll get fried like bacon."
The prospect of frying myself like a sack of bacon was indeed terrifying. So for years I stuck to safe subjects, like Chicago politics, the Outfit, rogue cops, Combine bosses, gangbangers, race hustlers and the occasional poultry recipe. And coward that I am, I never touched dangerous women's fashion.
But then I heard about a frightening story on TV news and the Internet —- a story that may even be true — about a disturbing new trend: Fashion-conscious American women getting their pinky toes lopped off so they can fit into expensive high heels.
Or they do something almost as scary, removing the bones from their longest toe, allowing the shoes to fit, though this can leave the toe quite floppy, like a boneless veal roast, only much, much smaller.
"I saw that on TV too!" said a fashionably dressed young woman standing with my wife and me the other day. "They cut the pinky, or they cut the long toe to get into the shoe. Not the big toe, but the second one. I should know. My second toe is so long, my husband has a name for it."
What does he call it?
"He calls it E.T."
Like the Extra-Terrestrial?
"Yes, but I'd never cut E.T. off for a shoe," she said. "I love my E.T."
So I called the renowned podiatrist Dr. Michael Byrnes, of Oak Lawn. Full disclosure: He's also the Kass family podiatrist, and once he saved my life during an attack of gout.
"Why don't we call it what it is: mutilation for fashion," said Byrnes. "Thank God it's not being done in Illinois. We have very responsible podiatrists in Illinois. I won't do it, and no podiatrist I know would allow it. This started as an East Coast thing, then it became a West Coast thing, but not here. Not in Chicago."
He explained that sometimes the pinky toe is cut down. And other times the bones in the longest toes are removed, "although if you remove too many, and try to put a sock on, your toe could fold over and you wouldn't know it.
"Some people need such surgery, to repair structural damage, to relieve pain," he said. "But we don't do it for fashion to fit into fashion shoes."
Yet aren't Chicago women as stylish as the flyover people from New York and LA.?
"Sure, they're fashionable," said Byrnes. "They're just not crazy."
He said that on occasion, American female feet are often too wide or too long to fit comfortably into high-fashion shoes like a pair of Jimmy Choos.
"Jimmy Choos tend to be very difficult to fit for American women. They have a very narrow toe box. Have you ever seen a Jimmy Choo shoe?"
No. And I hope I never will.
"Thank God my wife doesn't fit in Jimmy Choos," said Byrnes. "At $800 a pair, it would kill me."
We reached out to Jimmy Choo to see if they'd care to put out a warning, telling women not to chop their toes in LA or New York for fashion's sake. But they didn't respond.
Byrnes wonders whether this phenomenon may be America's version of Chinese foot binding, a hideous bit of misogyny now outlawed in China. Years ago, wealthy families or those with pretensions to the upper classes would bind a girl's feet from infancy, to make them tiny and distinguishable from the feet of peasants.
"It was a class thing. It was anti-women. It was terrible," Byrne said. "Men wanted to show they were so wealthy, their wife didn't have to do common labor, so they'd bind the feet to limit the bone plates from growing. The tinier the foot, the more attractive. Is that where we're now as a culture, with these high-fashion shoes? I don't know. But get real, men have nothing to say when it comes to fashion."
No, we don't. If we're smart, we just shut up. Yes, it's awkward. And at awkward times like these, guys could at least take refuge in talking football. But on Wednesday, Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall had to open his big mouth and tell reporters that some NFL players use Viagra to get ready for games. He said he'd heard they use the male sex enhancer "because the blood is supposedly thin."
So if a Bears game lasts more than four hours, should players call their physicians immediately?
You may think that pinky toe lopping and Viagra on the gridiron are just two more signs of the coming apocalypse. But if football players have gone mad, at least Chicago women haven't lost their minds.
"You don't have to worry about Chicago women," said Dr. Byrnes. "They're too salt of the earth, too grounded to cut their toes for fashion. This is Chicago, not LA or New York."
Chicago: where E.T. is safe.
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