Here's a little secret I wish every woman knew: Our legs don't need to be elongated, clenched or upheld at a particular angle to be beautiful and embraceable. I've thought a lot about this fact since last May, when I decided to stop wearing high heels for a year.
My decision was inspired by news that women had been turned away from the Cannes Film Festival for wearing flats. While I was infuriated to hear that women had been shunned for wearing supportive shoe, I was also in awe of them; I would never have shown up to the upscale event in flats.
The answers are as simple as they are complex -- and not merely for me. Women are encouraged and, arguably, pressured to wear heels from the time we first learn how society perceives beauty. Thanks to the multi-billion dollar fashion and entertainment industries, we learn that the tall, angular shoes make us more attractive, sexy and powerful. While privileged men were the first to wear heels back in the 1700s, they went out of fashion for them as careers that required stability flourished. Because women were considered less capable professionally and more useful as eye candy, there was little perceived need for such stability.
Since then, high heels -- often the higher the better -- have differentiated the casual from the classy. If a woman wishes to move up in the world, suggests society, it's best she literally raise herself up. All of this comes at a cost.
Since shifting to only lower, supportive shoes (which, I admit, wasn't easy), I've gradually felt stronger in numerous important ways. I've also learned that high heels cause a whole lot more than a bit of temporary pain.
Women should have every right to wear whatever shoes they wish, without judgment. (This is important to note, since women are also "slut" shamed for wearing high heels.) I think it's important to know what we're getting into, however.
Common Risks of High Heels
- Your feet contain 25% of your bones. Stress or misalignment of any of these bones or the surrounding tendons, ligaments or muscles can affect the rest of your body.
And yet, almost no one suggests not wearing them.
I find it interesting that virtually no articles on high heel risks suggest giving them up as a viable option, much less the one sure way to prevent or minimize these problems. Most simply suggest cutting back on how often you wear them and lowering the height--I'm guessing because they realize that for many women, giving them up is simply not perceivable. Perhaps some are concerned about personal profit; fewer shoe-related injuries means fewer needed treatments.
Trust me, I'm glad there's plenty of information out there for high heel fans to wear them more safely. I just wish women were encouraged to consider comfortable, health-promoting shoes without any sense that doing so might end their world, style- or confidence- wise.
Many women who switch to lower shoes do so because they've already experienced problems. Imagine if we prevented these issues to begin with.
We really can feel sexy and confident without heels. It may take effort (it has for me), but it's worthy. There's tremendous value in feeling strong and authentic as we are, no shape/height/weight altering devices required.
A version of this post originally appeared on August McLaughlin's blog as part of her #HeelFree series.