About High Heels and Personal Power

“Women’s willingness to tolerate discomfort, even pain, in the service of fashion is often chalked up to the desire to attract a mate or to rise a step in the social hierarchy. But today’s extreme fashions may have more to do with expressing power and control — control over one’s own body, and the power to use one’s body to draw the gaze of others”.  (Nancy Rexford)

Rexford, author of “Women’s Shoes in America: 1795 to 1930.” is one of several prominent women who commented on the question of why we love the shoes that hurt us in the New York Times.

I’m 4’10”, and wear high heels every day because to me, they’re practical. Without heels, I wouldn’t be able to reach normal height shelves, or look  into people’s eyes comfortably during conversation.  I own a single pair of flip-flops for the beach, and one pair of running shoes. Compare that to  100+ pairs of sandals, slingbacks, pumps, wedges and platforms, and you could easily place me in that odd camp that favors “painful” shoes.

Admittedly, very few of my shoes actually hurt me, and those that do (usually stilettos) are reserved for black-tie special occasions like weddings and fancy parties. In other words, they’re not designed or meant to be worn for more than a couple or hours at a time.

Of course, not all heels are stilettos.  Some can be comfortable enough to wear every day without causing me any discomfort.  Such shoes are not rare in the market, but you do have to be an experienced fashion shopper to spot them.  (block heels, substantial soles, comfortable and thick inner-soles, light weight).

I always felt that a strong personal style that makes a clear fashion statement is a powerful way to express my creativity, my values, and myself.  Fashion in that sense is not different for me than painting, drawing, cooking or writing poetry.  However, I do draw some lines, and firmly believe that if I’m not comfortable in whatever fabulous piece I’m wearing, than I’m not fashion-concious, but a fashion victim. That said, I think that people wearing only very comfortable yet shapeless clothes are fashion-victims as well, albeit of a different kind.

As for the question of why we love the shoes that hurt us, I revert back to the New York Times series of articles, this time quoting Robert H. Frank, a professor of economics at Cornwell University:

“You can’t be too rich or too thin. Or too tall. Height isn’t always advantageous, of course, but it usually helps. Taller people earn more, for example, and command greater attention in social settings. And hence the attraction of high heels.”

As a small person, in body shape, bone structure and especially in height, I can relate. Already at primary school I noticed that my smallness makes me practically invisible. To be seen, and heard, I had to develop a strong leader-type extroverted personality that accompanied me through high school, army service, university and my career and manifests itself in professional settings only. With my family or friends, my smallness  usually isn’t an issue, so I don’t have to be loud, and I can even go barefoot, which I often do.

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