Heels: Embrace Them or Shun Them?

Have high heels become an integral accessory in the “boss lady” style in today’s workplace or are they still a symbol of a culture that objectifies women and defines standards of beauty that are strict and unforgiving?

That’s a tough one to answer given the hot emotions this functional, yet fashionable accessory elicits. Love, hate, excitement, obsession, indifference, relief, and regret are just a few that can sometimes be felt all at the same time whether you’re male or female. In fact, the high heel’s history is a checkered one.

Real Men Wear Heels

According to an expert at the Bata Shoe Museum, high heels were first used by Persian soldiers in the 10th century for a perfectly functional reason—to keep their feet in the stirrups as they brandished their swords atop their war horses. The new “elevated” shoe spread across Europe and by the 17th century it had developed into a fashionable accessory that still only graced the feet of men. But women were not to be left behind. The style was copied, and both sexes were enamored with the high heel.

Alas, enter the Age of Enlightenment and that small slice of equality withered under reason, science, and rationality. Ironic? Yes. Men secured the enlightened, rational, flat shoe-wearing position in society for themselves and women were left with the frivolous, irrational, high heel wearing-role. By the 19th century, the high heel was deeply ingrained as a feminine icon.

Do These Make Me Look Thinner?

The heel has risen and fallen throughout the decades based on women’s fashion but changed drastically in the 1950s when (male) designers abandoned wood in favor of steel in the construction of heels. The stronger material allowed heels to be slimmer but still sturdy and led to our modern-day Stiletto heel.

Fashion experts agree that high heels can make your legs look longer and your calves thinner provided you choose wisely. Why? Heels engage the muscles of your calves when you walk, so they appear tighter and more slender while adding inches to your height.

But this does come at a cost as any woman can attest. Not only physically, but also culturally by reinforcing the tall, thin, willowy standard of beauty only found on runways.

My Feet Are Killing Me

A high heel places your foot at an angle that pulls muscles and joints all the way up through your back and shoulders out of alignment. Talk with any orthopedist and they’ll tell you alignment is key to a well-functioning body.

In addition, a high heel causes you to walk on the balls of your feet which shifts your center of gravity. To compensate, your back arches pushing your chest out and therein lies the image of the wobbly, stiletto-wearing woman.

And men are more than willing to lend a steadying arm. According to a French study conducted in 2014, men were twice as likely to assist a woman who had dropped a glove on the sidewalk if she was wearing high heels. While not the most scientific of experiments, it does shed light on the “power” of the heel. Now who’s enlightened?

By the way, the American Podiatric Medical Association has stated that anything higher than a 2-inch heel is medically unsound. However, it’s still a personal choice and one that encompasses many layers. So here are some tips to ease discomfort if you’re slipping on a pair.

But I Have to Wear a Tie

Yes, in today’s offices with a strict business dress code, men are usually asked to wear a tie. But I’ve yet to find a medical study highlighting its ill-effects. In fact, there is a current movement in Japan spreading via #KuToo to ban employers from making women wear heels as part of an enforced dress code.

And of course, Canadian British Columbia has already passed a law banning mandatory heels in the workplace. Proponents argue that enforcing a certain height of shoe is unreasonable and medically un-safe.

Some employers have dodged the whole issue by adopting more casual workplace dress codes. However, the red carpet is still littered with higher than high heels. And if you attended Cannes this year, you didn’t get in unless you had a pair on. So what is it that keeps us coming back for more?

Do Real Women Wear Heels?

Numerous scientific studies show that your appearance and attire can strongly influence a person’s perception of your trustworthiness, intelligence, success, and even your suitability for a promotion. If you feel confident based on your clothing, so the studies say, then you act more confident.

Clothing, including shoes, can act like social armor making the world think twice before giving you the slip. Most workplaces are competitive and (based on the past two years of #MeToo) sexist environments, so do women armor-up defiantly to compete or eschew the whole heel debate?

I did everything he did but backwards and in high heels. —Ginger Rogers

For my part, I do wear heels to work because I love them as a vintage fashion accessory. Do I feel more confident when I put them on? Maybe. But I get the same feeling with a blazer and a flat loafer. And among my co-workers, feeling pulled together, whether in heels or not, generally makes everyone feel more comfortable, confident, and ready to get down to business.

For most women, heels come out for special occasions, and then only for a limited amount of time. The bottom line—wear what’s fun, what fits your mood, and makes you feel good. It’s your choice and whatever you decide to put on each morning, don’t apologize for it.

How often do you wear high heels to work?

Do you feel people treat you differently when you’re wearing high heels? If so, how?

Do you feel more confident in high heels or flats?

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