Shoes That Kill (Your Dignity)

So many women love their high heels. They say the shoes make them feel sexy, confident, sophisticated, thinner, and more powerful. They say that high heels make their legs look better, make their butts look better, and pull their outfits together. They say that men love the look of high heels.

The women devoted to Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, and all the lesser-known latter-day foot binders leave out some of the other effects high heels cause: knee osteoarthritis, stress fractures, dislocated, rigid, and painful joints, back pain, hammertoes, ingrown toenails, bunions, corns, and calluses.

Remarkably, women do know this. Heel-wearers often admit that heels hurt. They can feel that the shoes are not doing their bodies any favors. Still they strap them on and teeter bravely forth, for reasons that mostly boil down to one thing: they believe the shoes attract men.

One enlightening if only semi-literate web discussion on the topic suggests that men really do like women in high heels, and that men understand heels as a message saying roughly, “I want to be your sex kitten.” A male contributor to the discussion opines that, based on women’s posts to the discussion about their love for their high heels, “it really seems as though the whole feminism movement is dead. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing.” And then he marvels that most “women don’t seem to realize that” high heels and pantyhose “is [sic] the ultimate turn on! LOL!” Apparently his logic goes like this:

1. Women wear high heels to look sexy to men.
2. Trying to look sexy to men is antithetical to feminism.
3. There are no more feminists.
4. Therefore, the only possible motivation for women not to wear heels is that they don’t realize that men find them sexy.

I admit that based solely on the comments women posted to this discussion his conclusions are not without foundation. Come to think of it, the first point seems right on given the reasons women offer for voluntarily crippling themselves. The second point is where he veers off the rails. Heterosexual feminists, especially after a couple beers, want to lure men to their beds just as much as heterosexual men want to lure women. The self-respecting women among them just don’t want to disfigure themselves in the process, which takes care of point four – women’s motivations for not wearing heels may include their health, their comfort, and keeping their feet pretty, rather than not understanding the male sex drive. As for point three: I’m still here, motherfucker, and look out – unlike you, I know how to punctuate.

But seriously, point three: where has all the feminism gone? Remember when women threw out their girdles, false eyelashes, “women’s” magazines, and – what’s this? – high heels to protest the Miss America pageant? Well, neither do I, I wasn’t born yet, but the protest made history. Feminists dumped the “objects of female torture” into a “Freedom Trash Can.” Then their daughters rummaged through the garbage and emerged holding high a shiny red stiletto. And feminism wept.

Most women are no longer willing to identify as feminists, even though they happily take advantage of the many advances feminism fought to give them – little things like earning decent pay in jobs that don’t involve making coffee for men, access to higher education, and the fundamental realization that domestic violence is a bad thing. But plenty of feminists remain, and even some of them wear high heels. This baffles.

Some will accuse me of being a “sex-negative” feminist. Without divulging too much I will say simply that that is bullshit, and besides, I like to feel pretty too. The point is what, if anything, I am willing to sacrifice to do it, and I have drawn my line at knee replacements and broken bones.

Sexiness is a social construct, not an immutable legacy from our pre-verbal ancestors. If men really do like high heels, they can learn not to like them. After all, they got over liking to wear skin-tight leggings with pantaloons, powdered wigs, and many other fashions that were once de rigueur, and they no longer balk at the sight of a woman not bound up in a corset or at lipstick. If women stop wearing high heels, high heels will go out of fashion, pretty much by definition.

And if men really do like high heels that much, it says some very scary things about how men want to see women. High heels make a woman’s foot appear smaller as her heel blends into her leg and her footprint shrinks to just her toes and the ball of her foot. This harkens back to foot-binding and to Cinderella’s sisters chopping off pieces of their feet to fit into her freakishly tiny pump. Even more disturbing (if possible), high heels make women vulnerable. They walk more slowly (some netizens applaud this effect because it accentuates the sway of their hips) and much less stably. They can’t run (at least, most of them can’t), they are easily knocked over – in other words, they are easy prey. As I said, disturbing.

Should women never wear heels? That is between them and the god of their choice, but if they do decide to mince around on deformed toes of an evening, I’d advise they keep two things in mind: the message their shoes are sending, and the kind of men who like that message. Besides, designer high heels are insanely expensive. Better to save that money for something healthier and safer, like breast implants.

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6 thoughts on “Shoes That Kill (Your Dignity)

  1. Steve S. says:

    Very good post. I agree that high heels are the modern-day equivalent of foot-binding. It is interesting about the “sway” — there was also something called the “lotus” sway that women with bound feet had that was very arousing to many Chinese men.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I live in flats, but I do have a few pairs of moderate 2″ heels. I studied costume design in college, love the look of 1930s T-straps, and used to make bodices and corsets for Ren Faire and friends. But my tolerance for voluntary pain is extremely low, so my corsets don’t inhibit breathing or eating, and my shoes (which I’m rarely in for more than an hour) don’t blister, wobble, or slip. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I think there’s enough room in feminism to appreciate aesthetics and historical design. It’s when it becomes debilitating that I draw the line.

    Also, I find that I wear heels in situations where I’m likely to feel intimidated. I’m small by American standards, so a few extra inches closer to being eye-level with someone does make me feel more confident.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Oh, snap. This is definitely the wittiest article I’ve read on this subject, especially the last and the third to last paragraphs. You have my gratitude.

  4. T.M.M. says:

    I love high heels and lived in them for most of my 20’s and into my 30’s. I was an exotic dancer so I spent 8-10 hours a day walking, running up and down stairs and standing on 7 inch heels with a 3 inch platform. Even when I was off and just running around doing errands I still wore a shoe with a heel. That was all brought to an end when I broke my ankle and I wasn’t able to put heels on again and feel safe and comfortable for almost a year. I was getting used to wearing flat shoes!! I was getting dressed for dinner the other night and opted to wear a new pair of really high heeled boots that have been sitting in my closet and I instantly felt sexy and alot like my old self. I have been schlepping around in sneakers and Danskos for way too long. Of COURSE men like heels, and so do I and I like men so it’s kind of a no-brainer. Looking good equals feeling good in my opinion. Great article!

  5. I had been arguing with my close friend on this issue for quite a while, base on your ideas prove that I am right, let me show him your webpage then I am sure it must make him buy me a drink, lol, thanks.

    – Kris

  6. another dancer says:

    Looooove T.M.M.’s comment. I too was an exotic dancer and tottered around in fantastically high lucite heels sober, drunk, happy, depressed, and incredibly stable. I have little to no tolerance for badly made heels, and wear inserts in every pair of shoes I wear to prevent them from causing pain. I have a harder time in flats – they don’t wear right, and often I can feel the ground through them. My balance is incredible from all that practice! I now work in an office and wear heels to work EVERY DAY. Just like before, only shorter heels and no lucite. 🙂 Also, I’m now in fashion design. So it works. A lot of the other girls at the office wear heels but people outside of fashion or strip clubs just stare when you tell them. “Heels. Every day, you say?” Why yes. I like them. I like the way heels make me feel around other women. Powerful. Prettier. Superior. And my husband doesn’t care what shoes I wear, I’m always changed into sweats by the time he gets home. So it’s for me. And I like that. 🙂 And I also agree with T.M.M. – great article!

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