Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Empowerment of the Heel

I am a woman who wants to admit early on in life that actually I don’t like shoes all that much, well specifically I don’t like high heels. For an outing last night, such a rare delightful evening with numerous cocktails, I beautied myself in my usual pretty and decided to wear my favourite little tan kitten heels. What I realized this evening, was that this might possibly be one of the last occasions I EVER wear heels. And yet, I know I can never give them up. Giving up heels would be like loosing a part of my femininity.

My decision isn’t simply because I have returned home with blistered heels or sore toes. The decision comes with my unlady-like grace that did not enhance me in any way but an extra 2 inches that, as a 5ft 9inch woman, I don’t actually need. I only own a fair range of shoes- converses, boots, flats and a hand full of heels- but in all honesty, I rarely wear the heels. Whilst I university, I strived to wear heels whilst out with my peers, trying to desperately fit in with the leggy ladies that strutted with a lot more grace and confidence than myself. As much as I tried, I have come to admit that I struggle. BOY do I struggle.

Heels on a night out during university.

First off, I believe I am a woman of good height. The extra height heels give me means that even with kitten heels, I can start to match, or even tower over, fellow men. A fairly daunting idea to be honest. I once spent a relationship banned from heels, as my partner was already shorter than me without the extra boost. I think that my feet were fairly grateful for the break from the blisters, sores and wonky strides.

Secondly, I have big feet. My flippers are a good UK size 9[EU 43], and if I am very lucky I can drop down a size. The pain I have shopping can be beyond frustrating; it is like finding the right length jeans or particular size furniture to slot into that particularly awkward gap in the living room.  Some shops are coming to realize that there is a niche for us well endowed ladies, with high street shop New Look being my own, possibly only, source for well fitting shoes. For a good few years they have stocked a small range of shoes that go up to a 9, and even having a wide fit range on more shoes. I have noticed the rise in trend to celebrate the big-footed women in magazines over the last couple of years. Paris Hilton. Cameron Diaz. Nicole Kidman. These struggles probably come easier to them with endless cash flows, they could have someone make them a pair with no problem. But unfortunately for me, and other regular ladies, the struggle continues.

Don’t get me wrong, I like having a pair of shoes that much a new dress or outfit. However, with shoes comes great responsibility and skill. Heels can be extremely empowering with a feeling of indestructability whilst they can also be a major downfall in an instant. Anybody can spot a woman, or indeed man, who cannot walk properly in heels; the wobbly strut and that awkward leg shape that doesn’t look quite natural. And when you see that female struggling past you, you empathize with her determination to be seen as a real woman. And I think back to so many nights out, and even interviews, where I have lumbered myself painfully about, wanting to be accepted as a woman who can work heels. I can’t folks, I haven’t been graced with balance or elegance.
 My sister, a regular clubbing fanatic, goes out in her heels dancing and often comes back a little soar carrying her shoes, like so many young women do. Once she came back aching, heels in hands, and was blessed with large blisters on her heels for weeks. Seriously, weeks. She could not stop moaning, but unfortunately for her, my attitude was simple; the pain was self-inflicted like some kind of foot binding fetish.  And for some people, that is exactly how it is seen. The foot binding can be seen as self-harm like tightly worn corsets in the 1800’s, which often caused problems such as deformity, respiratory problems and even fertility issues.

Alexander McQueen shoes with an awkward heel.
A friend last night mentioned in conversation that men dig a woman in heels, that it is ‘sexy’. And I know what she means. In a Guardian article by Hannah Betts, she talks about her own experiences and lust towards the high heel, and speaks to Dr Gad Saad, author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption.  He states that:
"High heels may well be the most potent aphrodisiac ever concocted… The height sensuously alters the whole anatomy - foot, leg, thigh, hips, pelvis, buttocks, breasts. Men are perfectly frank in admitting that high heels stimulate their sexual appetite, and women, consequently, assign to stilted shoes all the magic of a love potion.”
 In her article, Betts covers some history of the heel, as well as health issues that seem to be more and more common. Cosmetic surgery for the feet is increasing, with Dr Michael O’Neill, a podiatric surgeon, listing the potential damage that prolonged wear might lead to; ‘ incontinence, stress fractures, back and hip problems, in addition to more than the odd broken ankle. Jaw, neck and head pain may also be a consequence, with menstrual dysfunction and fertility problems completing the lamentable package.’  Is walking in heels really worth the pain, distress and even surgery?

 There is no denying that a woman who can elongate her legs and gracefully glide along with her head held high can be a stunning look. That is, unless the heel becomes too great that it is painful to look at. 

 Take former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham who has made herself known in the fashion industry and continuously glides in astonishingly high heels that my feet weep at the sight of the heels. The worst occasion was at the Royal wedding last year when heavily pregnant Beckham wore extreme heels that made me wince at every step. Even TV personality Amanda Holden was spotted in dangerously high heels whilst heavily pregnant. As a health conscious person, I am not sure what would possess a woman to want to wear such high heels when carrying a child. The sight of these women makes my feet cringe and my mind wanting to give them a lecture like I am some old nagging geriatric.

But really, what it comes down to is how it makes us feel; woman and men who wear heels, be them kitten heels or towering stilettos, feel empowered, sexually or physically. It is my awkward determination to stride tall as a woman and to feel the empowerment of the heel that I continue to battle with my shoes. For some the high heel is an everyday object with no fuss, whilst others will struggle to find their footing quite literally. Although I know deep down I will still slip on a cute kitten heel for those rare special occasions, I also know that I can still walk tall as an empowered woman without the heels.
Why Woman Still Torture Themselves with Heels by Hannah Betts at Guardian

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