Why Do Women Wear Killer Heels?

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On Wednesday I was in the car listening to ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program and the topic was bad shoes and the women who wear them, and again on Friday the program covered why women wear heels and what it does to our feet.

Given that every podiatrist in the world would tell you that wearing high heels is bad, bad, bad for your feet, but we women continue to wear them anyway. Given that heels tend to be way more uncomfortable than flat shoes (unless of course we’ve been wearing heels so long like a friend of mine, she now finds bare feet uncomfortable as she’s shortened her Achilles tendons from wearing heels all the time) so why do we persist?


Petite women I’ve talked to like to wear heels as they make them taller.  I like wearing heels for the same reason, it brings my eyeline closer to that of the man I may be speaking with, giving me a more equal footing.  Does being taller give women more power?


I asked a couple of males why they liked seeing women in heels, and of course for the both of them it came down to an attractiveness, sexual reason.


“It’s harder to define what makes heels attractive – far more difficult than I expected.  But they can certainly turn ordinary legs into legs worth looking at. Perhaps heels belong in the same category as push-up bras and make-up – tools to enhance and draw focus. I don’t think they’re 100% for walking in, and maybe there’s the part of the brain that imagines those heels pointing at the ceiling fan?


Or as another put it “The stiletto is a masterpiece of engineering and art; it should be considered one of mankind’s triumphs.” (The rest of the ode to the stiletto by this guy is actually unprintable).

The reality is that most heels hurt our feet, give us bunions and can do all sorts of other damage to our feet, knowing this we continue to wear them.  Why do we do this to ourselves?
 
Lots of us love the leg elongating effect of heels, others the height, there is often an elegance in the heel that is not seen in flatter shoes.   Also heels make our feet look shorter and more ‘feminine’ and dainty.  
 
Interestingly when I asked the same men about platforms, they both said that they didn’t like them and they look stupid.  Is that because they are less delicate than a stiletto heel? Or because we often see images in the media of women falling off extreme platforms, a la Naomi Campbell for VivienneWestwood

I classify my shoes into all day, 3 hour and ‘sitting only’ shoes.  All day shoes are flat, 3 hour shoes have a heel  up to about 2 1/2 inches, they can be worn for more than 3 hours as long as there is no more than a 200m walk in that time and most of that time is spent sitting.  Sitting shoes are the really high ones that are OK to wear to walk in somewhere, maybe stand around for up to half and hour, then sit down for the rest of the time they’re being worn.

Do you feel that heels give you more power?  Why do you choose to wear them?

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25 Comments

  • I'm one of those petite (well, short, anyway 😉 women, and the power thing is big — those 3 inches are the difference between looking up like a supplicant at every.single.man, and being able to look many of them more or less in the eye. In a workplace that can be a big deal.

    But mostly I have extreme (and idiosyncratic) shoe fit issues and I have, in fact, never been able to find a reasonably attractive, dressy or work-appropriate, pair of flats that won't make my feet start bleeding inside of half an hour. So I have the extremely comfortable and well-built pair of 3-inch heels (that I have walked miles in), and one or two other pairs of shoes I can use for work or nice events, and then I live in them (when at work), because until the magical Affordable Custom-Made Shoes Fairy descends on my house, that's what I've got.

  • (I can find casual flats that…don't really fit, but don't make me bleed, which is close enough for me. And mostly that's what I wear when not at work — it's not as if I'm in heels every minute of every day; I'm usually in something sneaker-like, or whatever sneakers are called outside of the US. I would like to have pretty shoes…I just mostly can't. And on the rare occasions I can, believe me, I am more than OK with a 3-inch heel.)

  • I've also got fit issues. My big toes pokes up slightly more than the rest. The net result is that flats pinch my feet in an inexplicable way, and by the end of the day, the front of my feet are aching (though no bleeding!). I fairly distinctly remember the wonderful experience of my mother deciding I was finally old enough for 'heels' in second grade (and before some of you go off, these were clearly children's shoes, with an extremely chunky and slight heel roughly an inch or so). After wearing them, my feet did not hurt. As an adult I've found several low wedges that blend with the shoe in such a way that it is not immediately apparent that they aren't flats, and I can avoid that awkward "why are you wearing *heels*?!" conversation. I don't wear flats, I don't consider them heels unless they're at *least* two inches tall, and I like to point out that all of my favorite casual shoes with the exception of my birkenstocks all have a slight 'heel' to them–including my doc martins.

    I can run in a well made pair of heels. Not long distances, but I can't really run for very long *anyway*

  • Heels are pure power and appeal. I am more attracted to MYSELF in the mirror when wearing a flattering pair of heels! (That is to say, not all heels are flattering.) Because I'm an I shape, but I'm 5'9", my legs are my best, and easiest, asset to show off, without seeming sleazy. Thankfully, I have small ankles, too, and great heels accentuate this. Many (shorter) women at work used to ask me why I wore heels; I think it made them uncomfortable that I towered over them at 6'! My reply was always, "The same reason you do. They make me feel like a million bucks!" It also automatically tucks in my pelvis and flattens my tummy – and great benefit.

  • Another problem with very high heels is that they are back for the back, not just the feet. Also, I see young girls whose dates cannot afford taxis out and about trying to walk to the pub from the bus in these stupid shoes. They look great other than the pain and patiences etched on their faces. The boys look patient enough, but I suspect only because they have a fantasy going on in their heads. I often found 2-2.5 inch heels were relatively comfortable, but I tossed any that caused blisters or pain of any kind. My mom always wanted me to wear fitted clothes and look attractive, but she also taught me that it was important to take good care of my feet. At 5'3" I understand the psychological advantage of a couple more inches, but I equate uncomfortable shoes with foot binding. I like pretty shoes, but I draw the line at hurting myself.

  • I'm with Meg (with the exception of the 5'9" bit – unfortunately!) I think I look different in heels as I carry myself differently – pelvis tucks in as does the tummy and the shoulders go back. I don't see it as being any different than how you feel when you wear a favourite dress or shirt. You just like it, feel better/sexier/nicer/happier in it, and sometimes exactly *why* you feel that way can be a bit hard to pin down.

    But I always do buy good shoes that fit properly. Synthetic materials, poor workmanship etc are worse than killer heels (IMHO). Buy the best you can afford in the style that you prefer. We're all different?

  • Why? Because I love heels. Even if I was the only living creature on Earth, I'd still wear heels. It has absolutely nothing to do with men.

    My height is average and my legs are relatively long, but I don't mind being taller in heels. It's just a personal preference.

    I'm fully aware of the health issues. I have many pairs of heels, but all are very comfortable; I can walk and run in heels too. I wouldn't buy an uncomfortable pair of shoes regardless of heel height.

  • It's definitely a power thing for me, too. Not sure that's altogether positive, as I should be able to feel powerful no matter what I'm wearing … but in all honesty, I feel more in control when I'm nice and tall!

  • I feel more pain in high heels. Pain and power don't go together for me. I feel more powerful when I can run to what I want and away from what I don't want.
    xo+pbc

  • I don´t wear killer heels, nor do I wear platform heels ( because they look ugly). For me 8 cm heel is the maximum height, just impossible to wear higher ones. The shoe has to fit with the outfit, and usually some cm´s of heel makes the whole outfit much nicer.

  • At the risk of giving up whatever feminist cred I possess (which isn't much), wearing heels makes me feel sexy, and, let's face it, ladies: sex is power. I feel sexy, confident and capable when I wear great heels because I know I look good in them. I wear them because

    1. They are wearable art
    2. I like looking men in the eye
    3. I like getting compliments from other women
    4. I like it when men look at my shoes and seem a bit intimidated, as if I know something they don't.

    I know, I know. We women should be valued for our intelligence and wit. But when a great pair of heels starts a conversation during which another person discovers that I'm smart and funny, and sexy to boot? All the better.

    And enough of "all high heels must be uncomfortable". I constantly get asked, "How do you walk in those? Don't your feet hurt?" What do you mean, how do I walk in them? I put one foot in front of the other, just like you do. If your shoes hurt, you are wearing the wrong shoes. Poorly designed shoes made of cheap materials will hurt your feet no matter how high or low the heel is. I wear high heels almost every day and have no foot problems. (Well, not yet, anyway.) I can walk, nay, GLIDE, in all my heels, and if I try a pair that is uncomfortable in any way, I won't buy them. Yes, I have pairs of heels that I wouldn't wear to stand around at a cocktail party for four hours, but after standing for four hours, my feel will hurt no matter what shoes I'm wearing. *Whew!* This is a topic near to my heart, as you can tell.

  • I am quite tall and yet I still wear heels. For the most part it's because I love shoes, and I think shoes with heels are the most artistic, attractive shoes out there. (Personally, I prefer chunky heels to stilettos, and your male friends can bite me.)

    But second, when I find a flatter shoe that I find compelling enough to wear, it often throws the proportion of my outfit out of balance. I think most styles are meant to be worn with a heel and that's just our reality.

    That being said, I do compromise and wear flatter shoes on the weekends to make up for my weekday abuses.

  • I do not wear high heels ever….I did for a couple of years in the mid-80's. They are bad for your feet, uncomfortable and I like comfort! I'll do 2" at most!
    I don't like or wear flats either, they don't do anything for your feet either. A slight wedge is perfect!

  • Being an old voice and opera student, we were always instructed about posture and projection of our voice, which was impossible in heels – we were told. Then there's no telling what it does to your back. That said, there's nothing like walking into a board room with my high heel red boots and I feel like I could do just about anything. Like those SUV's it's great to sit up high! 🙂

  • I'm quite short (5ft4) and heels make me feel more powerful too – I always wear them when I'm meeting a client for the first time. And I agree that some outfits just look better in heels (knee length dresses and skirts, for example). But I wear flats more and I refuse to wear anything that makes me uncomfortable (except for special 'car to bar' heels :)!).

  • I wear heels for a few reasons, but mostly because I just like the way my legs look when I wear them. Secondly, I like the boost in posture when wearing them, and I don't usually have to have my pants hemmed as long as I wear them with heels!

    I don't have any "sitting" heels, seems silly to buy shoes you can't walk in. If I'm commuting to the city, I'll wear flats and change there at times.

  • High heels are pure social conditioning. I wore them till my late 30s, gave them up when I realized how they hobbled me. I can still admire a pretty pair, but a woman grimacing and wincing down the street (and I see this most days) reminds me- I'm over them.

  • I'm with Duchesse on this one.

    What does it say about society that we EXPECT women to tolerate painful clothing? I love personal style, but I want functional clothing; women weren't put on this planet for decoration.

  • heels come in much better construction and style than flats do. they are just more interesting. and when you can wear them well people think you have some sort of secret power and ability lol 😀

    I prefer platform stilettos. gets me taller, more feminine, and the platform takes the edge off the heel making for a more comfortable shoe.

  • I am six foot tall and yes, I wear high heeled shoes and tower over most people. Why do I wear them? They make me feel sexy, feminine and on top of the world (tongue in cheek). Flat shoes are often unattractive and I feel dumpy when I wear them and completely ruin the outfit. I wear during the weekends and during the week, I wear my heels.

  • Time & time again I hear petite women say the same thing: They do NOT find short men attractive & HATE getting hit on by short guys because they are short. Put on a 5"-6" heel & no longer short= no longer hit on by those short guys.

  • I’ve never had a choice, I have a disability and have never been able to wear heels, big bother boots and flats it’s always been, I am not much of a man magnet .As for short men I love them. I am tall and love a small man.

  • I’m definitely pro-heel for many of the reasons already mentioned. I’m young and petite, and men in the office treat me quite differently depending on my outfit.

    Some of your commenters mentioned pain. It’s essential to “work out” your feet just as you do the rest of your body. I use Yoga Toes at the end of the day for a fantastic stretch in the ball of the foot – these were actually recommended to me by a doctor friend of mine who is on her feet all day. The Achilles is another important tendon to stretch.

    Also, find a brand that suits your foot type. I go for Jessica Simpsons quite a bit because like me, she has small feet and short legs, and her shoes suit me. Michael Kors is another I like – style plus sturdy structure (to another commenter’s point). And finally, some women forget to go up a half size when they try on heels, because the ball of the foot will widen a bit from the added pressure.

  • I am interested in the top photo on this post – stilettos with Spurs. I would like permission to use the image. Are you the owner or can you tell me where you got the image? I’m an author and want to use the photo as part of a book cover. Thanks.
    EtCee Fraser

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