Stephanie Goward questions whether the high heel is actually worth the squashed toes, the crippled feet, the sore blisters that girls endure when strutting around town in our favourite new pair.
Clomping through the moonlit streets of Cardiff in my ever-comfortable, yet perhaps a little unsightly Doc Martens, I feel empathy for the girls tottering by in their vertiginous structures. I feel empathy because I, too, have been there. I have wobbled my way home on many an occasion and have prised the suckers off my feet come the end of the night; it isn’t pretty, no matter how expensive the shoe. Although it hurts, playing dress-up is super fun, so I continue this torturous past time.
Many women claim that bearing the pain of heels ‘betrays’ the sisterhood. Sheila Jeffreys, author of ‘Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West’ and Professor in Political Science at the University of Melbourne expresses her disdain: “Men have traditionally demanded that women walk and dance in pain and gained great sexual satisfaction from this. The fashion industry that creates the rules is dominated by men.” Jeffreys sees our fashion fetishism as a form of self-harm and on par with wearing tightly-laced corsets and even foot-binding.
Of course, this is just one point of view and one that not many girls on St. Mary’s Street on a Saturday night would agree with. She does, however, make a great point. Thousands of British women are rendered immobile by high heels and corrective surgery is costing up to £29 million a year through treatments for bunion or corn removal, toe straightening and joint replacement. Shockingly, up to 20,000 women a year are hospitalised due to accidents caused by their frivolous footwear.
But it isn’t just the aftermath of wearing heels that is worrying; ‘foot-jobs’ are also on the rise. Treatments range from padding the ball of the foot with dermal filler injections to provide better cushioning for those towering tootsies, to Botox injections that help firm-up damaged tissue. The terror goes even further with prolonged use of the footwear leading to stress fractures, back and hip problems, incontinence and even issues with fertility. As an out-and-out feminist, my reaction to these crippling constructions should be one of disgust. Why is it then, that I am so enamored, and feel no desire to surrender my stilettos?
Shoes that are easy on the eye never fail to improve your image, regardless of how one feels about said image, anyway. Whether you feel fat or thin, or even just a little glum, a good pair of shoes can lift your spirits and make you feel that little bit more confident. Indeed, men partake in indulging their paws too. The dulcet tones of Paolo Nutini declare that he “put some new shoes on and suddenly everything was right”. Both men and women share the ritual of ‘dressing for occasions’, but the important distinction is how.
If we think about the way a pair of heels alters your stance, they sexualise the frame by accentuating your boobs and arching your back, instantly granting them the lofty status of aphrodisiacs. We stalk around like elevated peacocks with the angle of our buttocks altered by 20 or 30 degrees, creating a more youthful (thus fertile) looking figure and we do it for the fellas – it’s a tale as old as time. Perhaps the self-harm aspect to it can be brushed aside as just another sacrifice made in the effort to up the mating stakes.
What, then, are the alternatives? Well, flat shoes aren’t just the domain of the elderly or Germaine Greer. The beauty of the perfectly formed pump or classic loafer mustn’t be underestimated, despite their inability to produce that coveted flat tummy like a cracking set of stilettos are said to achieve. Heels allow us a little homo-vestite indulgence. Indeed, the stiletto takes its name from a weapon – a knife with a long, slender blade and needle-like point. So, who says women can’t use it as such? It is a weapon of strong femininity, of standing tall and looking a man straight in the eyes. Heels are objects we can now transform into something to exploit and enjoy. We can hack away at that glass ceiling with the killer edge of those killer heels. A few blisters (or a broken ankle) will never get in the way of that.