I’ve done it, y’all! I’ve gone a full year without wearing high heels.
*pauses for applause*
KIDDING, about the cheering part!
Honestly, I feel a bit silly proclaiming that as though it’s some grand accomplishment. It shouldn’t be. They’re just shoes, after all, right?
Well, no. Not exactly.
While there are far bigger issues than what shoes anyone wears, what I’ve learned this year has blown my mind.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
We’re pressured to wear heels from toddler-hood on.
Our cultural obsession with high heels runs deep, and their popularity has more to do with societal pressure, sexism and repression than fashion.
From early childhood on, women are pressured to wear shoes that contribute to everything from disfiguration and arthritis to chronic pain and injury—all in the name of perceived empowerment, and society’s definition of beauty, power and sex appeal.
Even Target sells “princess shoes” with a small heel for young girls. Fairytales’ leading ladies many girls emulate wear high heels. Heck. Stilettos made of glass draw Cinderella to Prince Charming and a whole new life. Common prom shoes have gone from dressy flats and small heels to platform high heels in recent decades—with 3-inch height being on the modest side.
There can be a fine line between doing what feels empowering and what we’re brainwashed into believing will empower us at a significant cost. I believe heels fall into the latter. They appeal because we’ve been taught to prize them.
High heels are a lot riskier than I’d realized.
As heels have grown taller and more plentiful, related injuries have grown more common. (Go figure! ;)) High heels have been compared to foot-binding, for good reason; they cause similar problems.
They change the way we walk and stand, shorten our calf muscles and Achilles tendons, cause pain and inflammation and contribute to knee arthritis, bone fractures and more.
They aren’t namely for “short people.”
Numerous people told me I was lucky that I didn’t “need” heels to begin with because I’m taller than average. But here’s the thing. No one needs heels.
I’ve done a ton of people-watching over the past year, and spotted heel-wearers of all heights. Interestingly, average-height and taller women seem to wear them more often than shorter folks—at least in LA.
What we wear should be our own choice, always.
I still won’t tell anyone what to wear, or criticize anyone who opts for high heels. Those decisions are 1000% our own. Even if I felt otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense to shun someone for doing what society has cajoled them into doing. Just as we’re pressured to partake in risky diets and determine our value based on shape and size, we’re pressured to wear heels.
I’ve heard from many women who aren’t able to wear heels due to illness or injury (some caused by heel wearing), and people who’ve been shamed for wearing heels or not wearing heels. If we wear them, we’re more likely to be “slut” shamed. If we don’t, we may be perceived as less sexy, professional or chic. But none of that is valid or true.
Feeling stable and comfortable is hugely empowering.
At first, giving up high heels was as challenging as I’d imagined it would be. There were times I felt “less than,” as though I’d given up my power suit or superhero cape. But gradually, I began to feel more connected to myself and more present with others.
I hadn’t realized how much even the low heels I’d been wearing a few hours per day at most had been hurting me. The knee stiffness I’d attributed to past overexercise left completely with high heels. During and after upscale events, I have more energy and zero foot pain or stiffness.
The small bunion I have on one foot hasn’t bothered me at all this past year; now I know it won’t worsen, leading to more severe foot deformity that’s incredibly common in older women. I feel less physical and emotional stress overall—which really surprised me. It’s a lot like caffeine, IMO: We can’t know how or how much they affect us until we go without.
Feeling stable and comfortable now makes me feel stronger than high heels ever did. While the empowerment I used to perceive from heels was short-lived and superficial, I now rest easy, knowing that the supportive shoes I’ve chosen facilitate lasting self-care, allow me to challenge hurtful stereotypes and let others know that non-heels are a-okay. In fact, they’re groovy.
My flatter, more fabulous future
Needless to say, I don’t have any plans to wear high heels again. Imagining my feet in high heels makes me cringe nearly as much as the thought of my hands and wrists being forced into a hurtful angle. (As a writer, that says a lot.) I value my health and wellbeing too much to risk them with Jimmy Choos.
If you wear heels, please do so with caution, educating yourself on the risks and ways to minimize them. If you don’t, kudos. I’m cheering for you all the way.
Psst! I’m currently seeking a feminist artist interested in creating artworks out of high heels to collaborate with. Interested folks can contact me here.
Prudence MacLeod says
August, I have enjoyed the journey to heels free with you and I’m never going back. Flats are where it’s at! Thanks again for the idea and support. You rock, lady.
August McLaughlin says
Cheers, Prudence! That means so much to me. Flats are where it’s at indeed. (I adore that, BTW! Great for a t-shirt. ;))
Times flies when you’re having fun…in FLATS! So proud of you.
August McLaughlin says
Aw, thanks, lovely! Means tons from you. XO
KM Huber says
For me, this says it all: “High heels increase pressure on your forefoot from 30 to 240 pounds per square inch for a woman weighing merely 120 pounds (i.e., most popular princesses). For most women, the pressure is far more.” Such a powerful statement; every woman can read herself in it.
I never wore high, high heels nor was it for a longer period of time. For myriad reasons, they never suited. Thank you, August, for initiating #heelfree; undoubtedly, it has changed many women’s lives.
Melanie Hooks says
Another hurdle cleared with grace and style, August. I’m amazed at the physical changes you describe after this choice. I’ve never been a heels gal, citing my well-known clutziness and lack of depth perception, and now I’m doubly glad. I have seen women fall and injure themselves numerous times, and now there’s no reason to attribute any of that to clumsiness. Heels really are dangerous. But more than that, I love the idea that you’re more connected to the earth and yourself. Lovely indeed. Thanks for bringing attention to this!!
Karen McFarland says
High heels have never been the most comfortable of shoe. I am suspicious that men designed them for their own benefit, namely the shape of our calves. So I am proud of you for sticking to your resolution August. And I see a trend in flat sandals this summer which is a good thing. Lots to choose from. Yet, I still like my wedges and sneak in a pair of heels every now and again. (The hubby likes them.) lol. But for all around footwear, you cannot beat the comfort of a flat. So keep preaching it girlfriend! You’ve started a trend!
August McLaughlin says
Men actually wore heels first – crazy, right?? I wrote more about the history here, if you’re interested. Since then, good old society/the media has been teaching us that our calves are more attractive in a clenched position. (GEEZ! :)) I keep growing fonder of calves above flats—though all are lovely!
It’s so wonderful that you namely wear comfy shoes and keep heel-wearing to a minimum. For people who love and want to keep wearing heels, that seems like the best option. Thanks for the support, Karen!!
Aurora Jean Alexander says
I’m glad I slowed down on wearing high heels for quite a few years now. Once in a while at a particular occasion I need to, unfortunately… but I have also slipped I admit. I tend to wear nice business suits, all black with a black blouse… and add my hot Cowgirl boots. LOL
Who said I’m normal?
August McLaughlin says
I love it, AJ. Boots are my fave!!
Brava August! After a career as a professional dancer, I had to give up heels due to various foot and knee issues. I missed them at first, partially for some of the things you mentioned in your post. But now I’m so much happier, healthier and more comfortable that I’ll never go back!
Kassandra Lamb says
I was told by a podiatrist to stop wearing heels when I was in my forties. At first I wore shorter, chunky heels (now totally out of fashion but they were “in” then) for “dress” and the office. Then I went to all flats about 13 years ago. I have never regretted it. As you say, much more comfortable but also more stable. Who needs a twisted ankle!