You may have thought the weekend’s biggest news was the hurricane, but there was something even more shocking afoot: People magazine reports that Victoria Beckham had been spotted in flats! Forget telltale signs of climate change via drastic weather patterns; the apocalypse is surely upon us when Posh Spice is willing to be caught on camera without her signature stilettos.
Okay look, at the risk of being typecast as a fashion allergic feminazi, I have to just come right out and say it: I am, generally speaking, against high heels. Why, you might ask, have I joined the ranks of sensible aunts and foot doctors everywhere? It’s about as simple as this: I don’t think women should participate in activities that physically harm them or curb their capacity to get up and go should the situation call for it. I believe there are less limiting ways to look pretty.
I get that they’re sexy as hell.
I’ve been socialized just like the rest of the media-exposed world to see calves perched up and thinned out on little stilts as attractive. In fact, I spent years puzzling over how I could possibly convince myself that I too, despite all indications otherwise, could be a heel-wearing sexy girl. In my early 20s, I bought a few pairs, clenched my teeth and went out for the night saying a little prayer as I left my messy apartment that whatever magic power allowed other women to dance all night in these death traps might suddenly be bestowed on me. By 1am I would be barefoot and rocking out, determined that whatever foot-borne diseases might exist up in the club would be preferable to sitting on a stool with a big ass frown on my face for the rest of the night.
One friend told me that if I would only spring for more expensive heels, I would find that they were actually more comfortable. I didn’t even have to shell out the obscene amount of money required to participate in that experiment to know it just wasn’t true. While I’m sure well made heels are more comfortable than cheap, shoddy ones, no one can truly take away the pain.
Another friend attested that, while she recognized the physical pain involved in sporting a pair of heels, the power she felt while strutting around in them overshadowed the blisters. I’m the first to support any person’s right to participate in whatever beauty rituals and fashion trends make him or her feel truly hot, but I can’t help but wish that this lady could find some less expensive, pleasurable ways to externalize her inner sexy than a pair of life-threatening Noritaka Tatehana’s.
One might logically argue that a lot of beauty rituals, not just high heels, are a little painful. Am I advocating that we stop waxing our bikini lines and plucking our eyebrows? Well, sort of. I think every woman has to figure out what pain she’s willing to endure to fit into cultural norms. But there is no denying that more than an occasional evening in high heels is pretty bad for you.
Here are the facts: Knee joint pressure increases by as much as 30 percent in women that wear heels. Teetering and tottering down the street forces the weight of the body to be redistributed in such a way that the hips and spine are out of alignment, and lead to joint pain in the ball of the foot. The toes get crunched so much so that women who wear high heels habitually often can’t even straighten their third and fourth toes.
Blame it on my crusty old age of 31, but I just don’t want anyone I love going anywhere in shoes that, albeit sexy, don’t allow her to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on a surprisingly beautiful night if the mood strikes or, God forbid, prevent her from running away from anyone without her well-being in mind.
And forgive me for getting deep on this, but I actually think the recent resurgence of really high, ridiculous heels is more than just a cultural embrace of the truly fabulous Lady Gaga. (When’s the last time you saw a girl in line for the club on a Friday night in a replica of her meat dress? I rest my case.) I think it’s an outward symbol of our ongoing inner conflict about femininity, beauty, and power.
We’re making strides in so many areas, and yet we’re still trying to fit into the same, old ill-fitting shoes so as not to seem too radical, too masculine, too ugly. If we’re assertive in the boardroom or whip smart in the classroom, the least we can do is wear our high heels to flag that we’re still not one of those girls. High heels have become, for too many strong women, a safety blanket of weakness.
So kick ‘em off girls! Get liberated! There are plenty of creative and undeniably alluring ways to tell the world that you’re a sexpot and you know it that don’t involve hobbling around all night and scrunching what your momma gave ya.
Courtney E. Martin is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and the co-author of Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors . Read more of her work here.