The girls were beautiful, every one of them. And I don't mean "beautiful" in the generous sense of the word, the "beautiful" we use to describe babies that look like Mr. Potato Head. I mean beautiful in the magazine cover sense of the word.
They had gathered before the homecoming dance, so that parents could take photographs. Their dates were there, too, handsome in their suits and ties. But where some of the young men shuffled awkwardly, still waiting to grow into their ears, the girls had fully arrived.
"I didn't look like that at sixteen," I told the mom standing next to me.
At first I couldn't describe what was so different and striking about these young ladies. All teenagers are lovely, in the way all children are. Their bodies are on the upswing, their cells forever popping forth to a rosy glow. These girls had that.
But there was more.
There was not a fashion misstep among them. Their dresses were bedazzled and spangled and, in one case, feathered, and yet the frocks managed not to be gaudy. Their tresses were soft and shiny. The smiles were wide and sparkling: When all 20 girls lined up for a photo, you could see a hundred-grand worth of orthodonture right there in front of you.
But there was still something I was missing.
"It's the shoes," the mom next to me said. And as the girls stood and smiled for the camera, it was evident. Every one of them was wearing heels of at least four inches. If they'd taken them off, the camera tripods would have had to be lowered.
The shoes were remarkable, stiletto pumps and skyscraper sandals and a pastel chiffon pair I'm still thinking about. More remarkable, though, was that the girls were walking in them. I mean comfortably walking, as if they were wearing their Ugg boots.
"How do they do that?" I asked my friend. "They don't even look like their feet hurt." The young ladies walked around using a normal heel-toe foot placement and not the hoofy tiptoeing I'd need to manage shoes that high. Their posture was excellent -- not pitched forward like the rest of us would be. Nobody tipped over, or, as I would have done if I even dared to try such footwear, removed them to go barefoot.
And that's when I figured it out. Teenage girls these days have tons of confidence. When I was sixteen and going to my first formal dance, I wore a polyester chiffon gingham frock so baggy that, if it weren't pink and my head were cut off in the photo, you would be hard pressed to correctly identify my gender. I remember the shoes: White Mary Jane flats.
Kids are more sophisticated now, of course, and by age 16 most girls have seen a million internet photographs of well-dressed starlets. They all grew up with princesses. My daughter spent almost every day between ages 3 and 7 stomping around in high heels and a boa. So maybe it's found its way into the DNA.
"I love your shoes," I told a young lady as she walked by. She looked down at her feet and thanked me.
"But how do you walk in them?" I asked.
She just shrugged. It was a dumb question from an old lady.
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.