If there were a scouting report on me, I think it would be “good hands, bad feet.”
I have fairly typical writers’ hands – smooth, not too plump or thin, without a mark or line on them. Indeed, you’d never guess my age by looking at them, and, as any dermatologist will tell you, hands – not faces – are what give your age away.
My feet, however, are another matter – size 8½ D tootsies – the width of which condemned me to blue or black lace-up Oxfords as a child and, if I was lucky, Keds. I’ll never forget how excited I was when I got a pair of cutout white shoes with an eyelet pattern for my First Communion, until this bratty classmate – with banana curls no less, think Nellie in “Little House on the Prairie” – informed me that my shoes were ugly and old-fashioned. All I can remember is peering at my feet over this albatross of a puffy bridal getup and feeling, well, horrible. I can’t help but think that’s why I’m obsessive today about pedicures and stylish pumps. There’s a part of me that will always be that child.
In a world of war veterans, cancer survivors and victims of terrorism and accidents who would be happy to have any kind of hands or feet, we can be terribly silly about our extremities, can’t we? Women in particular torture themselves, even removing toes, to fit into the latest styles. But then, world culture has often used footwear as a way to control the so-called fairer sex. China expert Audrey Ronning Topping – who has added immeasurably to WAG with her recollections and insights of the East – has a particularly searing piece this month about how her missionary grandparents helped end the torturous practice of foot-binding in China. The description of the practice and the images are horrifying. (The practice reduced the feet of upper-class girls and women to gnarled hooves capable of only the most mincing of steps.)
Yet when it comes to feet, it’s not a case of ignorant East, enlightened West. Few aspects of Western culture are more beautiful than the ballet, as the stunning work of street and dance photographer Luis Pons attests. But as New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin tells us, too, dancers pay a price for that beauty in terms of pain and the need for vigilant foot care. So does Sheila Stanton DePaola, also profiled here, who steps lively as an Irish dancer.
Thank goodness for cover guy Stuart Weitzman, whose gorgeous, innovative shoes and boots come in four widths not only to accommodate less-than-ballerina feet, but also generous ankles and calves. Once I discovered Stuart Weitzman shoes, I knew that my days of lace-up Oxfords were over. So needless to say, I was over the moon at the opportunity to meet the man behind the footwear and I must say I found him to be as distinctive and elegant as my moody blue, deep purple, peep-toe Stuart Weitzman pumps, pictured here.
Of course, our “Extremities” issue isn’t all feet. It’s feats, too – the breathtaking theatrics of Cirque du Soleil, the artistry of Andy Warhol, the accomplishments of hand surgeon Beverly Guo and educator and soccer devotee Anthony Davidson. It’s about being comfortable in the skin we’re in and going to extremes mainly in service of others.
Few people exemplify this more than Kurt Kannemeyer, whose August quest to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to draw attention to the special education children at St. Christopher’s in Dobbs Ferry, where he’s director of development, has been a favorite WAG story.
Kurt almost made it to the top, stopping some 2,000 feet short when altitude sickness set in. But he remains undaunted and primed for another attempt next year.
Kurt reminds us that we all have our “Kilis” to climb and we’ll get there together by putting one foot in front of the other.