High Heels: Beauty Is Pain, Apparently

High heels, love them, hate them - but I’m sure we can all agree they’re not the most comfortable of shoes to wear. A quick Google search shows that when we type in ‘Why are high heels...’ the first automatic search terms that appear are ‘so painful’ and ‘dangerous.’ I’m not here to tell you that ‘high heels are bad for you’ (although it has been clinically proven several times).

The Spinal Health Institute recently published an infographic called How High Heels Hurt Your Body. According to the data, 77% of women who wear high heels will wear them for special occasions and 31% wear them for work. Only 28% of women never wear high heels - which makes me think are women wearing them mostly out of a subconscious societal expectation to be ‘feminine’ and ‘ladylike’ or are they actively choosing high heels because they themselves like them. Of course, it’s important to only wear them if it’s to make you feel good and not for the aesthetic benefit of other people or because you have been made to wear them. Feminism is, rightly so, giving every person the choice to be masculine, feminine and everything in between. So if you want to wear high heels then go for it! If you don’t, then you shouldn’t have to or feel pressured to.

That leads me to the the fact that women are outright mocked in some workplaces for not wearing heels. A lot of women like them because they make them feel powerful and in control - especially in the workplace. But what if you don’t wear high heels in workplace - are you forfeiting your authority? Your femininity? No, of course not.

It becomes a problem when women are expected to wear heels and if they don’t then it seems people, men and women alike, are outright offended when it really isn’t any of their business. Just last year Nicola Thorp, a receptionist for PwC, was sent home for not wearing high heels. She wore smart flat shoes to the office but instead was turned away because the company insisted she wear shoes with a two to four inch heel. Nicola asked whether or not a man would be treated the same and the company allegedly laughed at her. She said, “I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes. Aside from the debilitating factor, it’s the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.”

It doesn’t make sense that Nicola must meet and greet clients and assist them to the board room all day if she’s wearing shoes she personally finds uncomfortable. Supermarkets, such as Morrisons, actually ensure employees wear comfortable safety shoes. Sure, they may not look particularly attractive but they can save a lot of aches and pains throughout the day. Nicola was also required to be on her feet throughout the day, and even though she’s not exactly in a health and safety heavy environment like a supermarket, she should have the choice of comfy smart shoes.

Again, it’s a person’s choice whether they wear high heels. I don’t understand why society is offended by a woman wearing flats to a wedding or to work. It also may make some women feel ashamed of not wearing high heels, especially when the most bizarre of psychological studies was published by Paul Morris and his team on how heels determine a woman’s attractiveness. It’s quite laughable that this study was published in 2012 and not 1952 - the team looked at 12 women of various ages and sizes. The women wore heels and walked on a treadmill in the dark while sporting glow in the dark spots across their body. They then wore flats for the treadmill. The observers could only see the way the glow in the dark spots moved and were asked to judge each woman’s attractiveness.

They found, quite unsurprisingly, that when the women wore heels there was a change in posture, reduced stride and tilting of the hips. This was interpreted as ‘more attractive,’ feminine and girly than when they wore flats. If that isn’t ridiculous enough, the team asked a completely different panel of observers to guess whether the all-female subjects were male or female. Of course, anyone who guessed male actually chose a woman in flats.

This shows that a woman must contort her body into an unnatural position in order to be deemed a female, let alone attractive. It’s very reminiscent of the ancient Chinese practice of footbinding. It may be a very dramatic contrast but the sentiment is still there - women must suffer physically so they can be beautiful. After all, beauty is pain darling. Most people would call foot binding ‘barbaric,’ after all it’s essentially soaking the feet in animal blood to soften the feet and then bending the toes back into the soles of the feet making the bones break, the toes are then held tightly against the feet in cotton bandages. It’s worth checking out this short documentary if you’d like to find out more.

I do not wish to belittle the ordeal of these Chinese women by stating that there were / are similarities elsewhere. In Imperial China small feet were a symbol of beauty and wealth. In Victorian England women with small feet were a valuable currency when it came to marriage. Women with a three inch foot were called a ‘golden lotus’ - the most desirable foot size. A four inch foot was still a respectable ‘silver lotus’ but if your feet were five inches or more in length then they were called ‘iron lotuses’ and deemed hard to marry off.

And nowadays? It doesn’t make sense that in modern society men’s shoes are shaped like human feet, but women’s shoes a narrow, tight and restrictive. Footwear designers and manufacturers seem to want to deny reality; take the width of a shoe even a sports trainer, although systems vary from country to county, in the west a shoe width is typically designated using the letters A being the narrowest through to H. Were you aware that a man’s shoe width default is D but a women’s is a B? Just because women have smaller feet it does not follow that their feet are proportionally narrower. Challenge - send me proof that there is a statistical correlation between XX/XY chromosomes and foot width and I will send you a free shirt.

How have we moved at a glacial pace when it comes to women and footwear? We’re living in a progressive modern age, yet women are only largely told they’re attractive if they’re wearing heels.

It’s not all bad news - it seems people are starting to realise that you can still be feminine and beautiful and wear flat shoes. Two years ago, the fashion retailer JD Williams revealed that flats outsold heels by 148%. And let us not forget the male support women have in favour of choosing your own footwear. Swedish floor layer Emil Andersson released a video supporting Nicola by wearing pink high heels to work. He asks “Imagine if everybody had to wear high heels to work. It’s just as nuts as a waitress for a floor layer. Why should there be a difference?”

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