A sleek, pointed tip with five little piggies squished inside elongates to a steep arch, traveling up to the top of the structure via a squeezing, narrow hallway. Anything less than humble, this structure dramatically drops straight down 5 inches, a narrow, beveled passageway. If it sounds ridiculous, well, that’s because it’s the high heel.
The biggest Catch-22 of women’s shoes is: You can have comfortable shoes and you can have cute shoes, but you cannot have both.
High heels like pumps, wedges and stilettos are hell-sent. For some reason, these shoes have become a cultural beacon to what a successful, powerful woman is. It’s a business shoe, it’s a party shoe, it’s a formal shoe – it’s a forced essential. Not wearing heels is not an option; you will eventually wear them.
I decided to wear some 3-inch heels for the day, to test the women’s shoe conundrum.
First couple of hours in, I’m fine. I feel like Tess McGill in “Working Girl,” infatuated with this newfound power. My newly vaulted foot has allowed me to tap into the sheer, visceral power of my inner womanhood I didn’t know I had.
But at the end of the day I’ve toppled down from my on-top-of-the-world throne. My toes feel claustrophobic, the ball of my foot is twinging and my heel feels unrepairable.
It’s more than mild discomfort and blisters in the 24-hour aftermath of wearing heels. Stuffing our phalanges into these uncomfortable chic cages can have serious consequences.
Dr. Liviu Pasaboc, a podiatrist at Bakersfield Heart Hospital, said, “Shoes should have three components: a thick sole for shock absorption, arch support and a wide toe box.”
Heels have none of these features, let alone women’s shoes, unless you’re wearing clunky, chunky, clown downtown shoes.
Pasaboc said that we should put comfort before fashion. By squeezing your foot and its digits into ungodly sized spaces, Pasaboc said you’re subjecting your foot to conditions like hammer toe, bunions, blisters and long-term things like joint pain or metatarsalgia.
Beauty is pain.
It’s not just the strain on the ankle or ball of the foot from the heel itself. Wedges and platforms have almost done away with that problem. But the toe box has practically stayed the same. It’s borderline fancy foot-binding almost. Your toes need personal space, too.
“Shoes should be worn based on foot structure and they need to be appropriate for the activity,” Pasaboc said.
If worn aggressively for a long time, heels can even cause foot deformities that might require surgical correction. Even Pasaboc relates wearing the ideal shoe he described initially as something that “no one, unless you’re an athlete, would go for.”
But I can’t deny the transfixion of power that wearing heels that day made me feel. It seems as though we’re compelled to subject ourselves to pain by some otherworldly force: fashion.
Fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Kevin Jones, said that fashion dictates what we wear.
“Fashion rarely has anything to do with comfort. if you’re not close to the idea of fashion, you have to morph,” Jones said.
Heels are the eternal zeitgeist of fashion. Comfortable heels? Fat chance at that, according to Jones.
“After the invention of the metal shank, everything changed,” Jones said. “Heels, like those worn by Marilyn Monroe, now made you look like you were teetering on the edge of nothing.” These heels look like most stilettos and pumps worn today, the ones high up on the uncomfortable spectrum.
Initially, the heel was meant to go into the stirrup for horse riding. Heels had some utility to them; how they lost that functionality over time is stupefying.
“High heels were invented for men first; they were status oriented and aimed for those of shorter stature,” Jones said. “Anything for fashion. It’s fascinating the strength that fashion has.”
Teetering on the edge of nothing a la Marilyn Monroe for a good-looking outfit that can result in painful foot contortioning like metatarsalgia sounds ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the heel. But so long as fashion exists, so will heels. It would be foolish to deny the hegemonic influence of heels.
Boots may have been made for walking, but these heels sure weren’t. But they’re not going away for a while so we might as well get used to it.