Years ago, while at university I attended an army ball in the UK. The reason I specify an army ball, is that they are famous for their length and intensity; starting in the early evening and finishing around 6 am the next morning. Of course I wore high heels to match my ball dress! After 12 hours (seven hours of which were spent dancing), by the time the birds had started their dawn chorus the following morning, my feet were on fire and I was ready to collapse. We were students in Manchester, a city known for it's rather rough neighborhoods, so when I announced, hands on hips, standing barefoot on the grass outside the barracks "I'm not putting these shoes back on," I was told that that was simply not an option given the glass strewn streets. We couldn't afford taxis in those days, and strong as the lads were, the thought of carrying me two miles back to dorms was probably a bit much. However, my friend had a brainwave, found a shopping trolley just outside the gates, picked me up and put me in it. "There we are!" he said brightly, and off he ran, pushing me in front of him. "Morning!" we called happily to the early bird jogger who ran past us with a rather shocked expression, on seeing a man in a dinner jacket rolling me towards him with a champagne bottle in one hand, a pair of high heels in the other, my bare feet spilling over one side of the trolley.
Why do I recount this tale? That was a fun and romantic Audrey Hepburn-esque ending to a high heel experience, which is perhaps what high heels are supposed to evoke and indeed sometimes they do. But let's be honest, most high heeled days and nights do not end up like this! Which begs me to ask, is the discomfort really worth it? The other day I saw a woman tottering along on a pair of spindly thin heels. She was attempting to run for a tram, and what would have taken her a couple of seconds to achieve in flats, was proving to be the challenge of the century in the contraptions that she was wearing. No shopping trolley for her, just a potentially twisted ankle and some sore toes. It allowed me to remember once again, why I avoid high heels.
I grew up in Western, British, urban society where "sexy" appears to be more of a priority than "beautiful" or "practical" (just look at our marketing) and one wore high heels to work as a part of "dressing the part" (particularly in finance, where long legs, slim ankles and being tall was considered beautiful and part of "power dressing.") So I wore my high heels and adapted myself around them, I still ran for buses, and did everything I enjoyed and needed to do in heels and was pretty adept. However, as I grew older, and I'd like to think a little wiser, I started to realize that beauty amounts to much more than convention. Does making yourself taller or your legs look longer really equate to beauty? Is wearing shoes that make our rear ends and chests stick out really the best we can do? ("Hell no!" screams the feminist in me). What about Eastern women who look absolutely beautiful in their saris or salwar kameez with sandals or slippers, or Native American women in beaded flat moccasins? No high heels required there, just comfortable decorated footwear.
In my late 20s I moved to a rather practical, outdoorsy country: Switzerland, where a great amount of time is spent walking or cycling, and high heels became more and more cumbersome and frankly more trouble than they were worth. I now live in a place where pretty dainty ankles are much less exciting than a pair of sturdy calves that can get you up a mountain hiking or skiing (thankfully winter city boots in Europe are also designed to expand for the slightly bigger calves we have.) I also went to Denmark not long ago and am happy to say I hardly saw a high heel, just a lot of attractive women, riding bikes and walking around town in sensible and pretty shoes and boots. They looked beautiful, elegant, practical and very comfortable and happy!
Below I'd like to offer in summary several reasons why I now avoid high heels and choose to liberate my feet
1.They hurt my feet. Generally speaking, walking or standing on the balls of my feet starts to get pretty tiring after an hour. As far as I am aware my foot is designed to start off parallel to the ground to allow it plenty of flexibility to do what it needs to do. Have you ever had to stand on public transport carrying shopping bags, and trying to balance in your heels? Why would I buy a shoe that prevents me from a basic human right of walking or balancing naturally?
2. They are expensive. Yes of course you can buy high heels cheaply that usually feel like pieces of lead, are completely inflexible and make your feet sore after 2 minutes. I regularly see women with plasters stuck to their feet, bracing the pain of high heels in order to look "beautiful." You can also spend a fortune on "comfortable" high heels "a là Jimmy Choo." I did in fact once pop into Jimmy Choo and asked them to prove to me what was so great about their shoes to justify the price. They got me to try on a pair of 6 inch heels on. They were surprisingly comfortable given the ludicrous heel. I still can't imagine spending more than an hour walking around in them and they also cost 500 Euros.
3. They are dangerous. I've had my foot bruised and fractured by high heels. Believe me it is excruciatingly painful when the full weight of a person is concentrated into one thin, knife-like point which lands on the bare skin of your own foot. Ouch. Likewise I have also injured others accidentally. It's not a good feeling. It's also very easy to twist your ankles when your feet are precariously teetering on thin pillars.
4. They constrain me. Even though I would, and have run in heels, either to catch a bus or to get away from a bad situation, my running ability is much lower than in flat shoes and the likelihood of a twisted ankle or tripping and falling flat on my face much higher. I also can't walk efficiently in them; particularly on cobble stones where I end up looking like a giraffe or antelope picking it's way across the savannah, to avoid my heels getting stuck.
5. They are generally speaking completely impractical. They get stuck in tram doors, in elevator doors. Recently I saw a lady in a tight skirt and incredibly high heels who couldn't actually lift her foot onto the curb. Her gentlemen friend had to help her. Not very practical and frankly a bit ridiculous.
6. They look a bit odd. When you look at people walking in high heels objectively, isn't it a bit strange to see women balancing on stilt-like shoes? When did we decide that tiptoeing around all day was attractive? Rather unnatural wouldn't you agree?.
My friend and I were discussing, how we intend to advise younger women to avoid high heels and save their feet. I'm just grateful to have given up wearing them often early enough in my life to have given my feet a chance to remember how to walk naturally and freely. I can certainly feel the difference. My feet feel happy, healthy and liberated to move as fast or as slow as they wish in any direction they choose! I am free to choose my own ways of being beautiful, which for me now has to incorporate natural, practical and comfortable ways of looking and feeling that promote health and joy rather than pain and suffering. There are plenty of shoes and boots out there that still look great and cater to my ideals.
Now I'm not saying that we ban high heels or anything like that. Not at all! If you like your heels for goodness sake wear them and be happy. I like wearing heels for dancing as they help me spin. They also do indeed make some dresses look more elegant than flat shoes so for certain occasions I will wear them. My dance shoes are specifically designed for dancing so feel good for hours and the few other heels I own are not particularly high. When I do wear heels I make sure they are as comfortable as possible and keep spare flats in my bag.
My main point to you dear reader, is to check in with the intention behind your heels. What is your main reason for wearing them? Are you wearing them because they make you feel good and happy? Or because you think you must, in order to fit in? Are you wearing them because everybody else is? Are you wearing them because you feel that in order to be sexy or beautiful that's what one must wear or because you equate being taller with being more beautiful? Please remember, you really don't need to wear heels or feel pain to look professional, beautiful or feminine.
My parting piece of advice: If and when you do feel the need to wear high heels, make sure you can afford the taxi fare home or can find someone to give you a fireman's lift (there's always room for chivalry), and if you're into risk management, please pack a pair of flats!
Some questions to reflect on:
What does beauty mean for you?
What do you think about high heels?
I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Feel free to comment below. If you wish to contact me directly you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website