Thursday, 15 January 2015

High heels

Today I write about a topic that has left me feeling alienated and inadequate since I scuffed my way through adolescence in a pair of fake (flat) Kickers.

As an issue of inequality goes, high heels is pretty trivial, but it affects the ways in which many of us wealthy, privileged women comport ourselves.

I have a lot of admiration for a woman who can walk well in heels: a beautiful, poised and elegant creature, she is sophisticated and in control.

Then there are the other ones, who sway gently in the breeze, lurch about and cling onto their boyfriend's jacket in a desperate attempt to stay upright.

I don't know how you acquire this skill, whether it just comes naturally or takes hours of tottering about at home before you can pull it off. I never even tried. I know which camp I'd fall into.

High heels and femininity

High heels are a powerful symbol of femininity. They change the way the entire body moves, pushing bits out, pulling other bits in, making you look slimmer and taller.

A 2012 study (reported by the Independent) found that women wearing heels were rated more attractive than those who wore flat shoes, by both men and women. So they make us look hot. Agreed.

Heels and me

I am a total heel-refuser. I've never even owned a pair. That part of the shop just isn't for people like me (actually that's most of the shop). Can't wear them. Don't want to. 

I once had to learn to walk in heels for a play. It was beyond the comprehension of the women in the cast that I wouldn't be able to do this. The men were more sympathetic and coached me through. All credit to them that I was able to stumble inelegantly around the stage in a borrowed pair of ill-fitting white court shoes.

And I was lucky that on the two occasions I have been a bridesmaid my lovely bridal friends were understanding enough of my stiletto peccadilloes to be tolerant of my choice of footwear (although generally brides don't want their maids towering over them anyway).

If you are a heel-refuser, there is one conversation you will encounter from time to time that will make your heart sink: 'You need to wear heels with a dress like that.'

This is the common assumption that you can't go out in a nice evening dress without wearing high heels. This means I can't go out in a nice dress ever. I will never look properly feminine, ergo, I am not a proper woman.

If you don't wear high heels, you're not a proper woman. It's one of those things, like having your first period and getting your first bra. 

High heels and feminism

On the one hand, heels make you taller, and that can make you feel more powerful. and feeling more powerful is being more powerful, making high heels the ultimate feminist accessory.

If you choose to splash your hard earned (by you) cash on a pair of shoes that make you feel you can take on the world and win, then that there is a feminist act.

On the other hand, high heels make us less stable, more fragile, and vulnerable. and it's more difficult to run away. Never underestimate the importance of being able to run away.

They make us stronger and weaker all at once.

Heel-refusers

One bonus to the not wearing heels thing is short men. There are plenty of vertically challenged blokes in the world, and there are lots of women who don't want to go out with then because of this. They want their men to be not only taller than them, but taller than them when they're wearing heels.

For an average-height-heel-refuser like myself, this is where we clean up (if that isn't an unpleasant metaphor). Presuming I want to be attached to a bloke taller than myself (actually I don't really care), there is a vast swathe of possibilities who are considered short but are at the very least the same height as me. Hurrah for the average-height heel refusers.

Heels make you taller, and that can make you feel more powerful. and feeling more powerful is being more powerful. Some days, maybe that would be nice.

But tell me I have to wear them and I say one thing in return: cobbles.

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