Harriet Walker: France's High Heel Race is anything but dignified

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The Independent Online

Only in France, a country where even adverts for compost mulch include gratuitous nudity, could a high-heel race signify the apex of egalitarianism. Every year in Paris, teams of women jostle each other on the edge of a giant pink crashmat, before hurtling up and down it dressed as fairies and nurses in teetering stilettos.

A good number of them land on their faces, a smaller demographic suffer sprained ankles. But the winners are crowned (although the French take a dim view of coronations) impératrices and invariably get hit in the face by a stray champagne cork. Dignified, it is not.

I naturally assumed that any race in Paris would be several laps of the Champs Elysées, Tour de France-style, and the balls of my feet ached in sympathy for these courageous Mariannes, all tottering towards the Tuileries to raise money for women's charities, or to end domestic abuse. The prize they're actually all staggering 200 metres towards is £2,500 worth of shoes from the race's sponsor. Sigh.

I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't mention at this point that I regularly fall off high-heeled shoes – though I recognise that this is déclassé and chastise myself whenever it happens. But running a race in high heels – running anything at all in them, in fact, apart from a FTSE-ranked multinational company – is completely antithetical to the concept of a spindly shoe.

Heels are for women in control, not women who are late for the bus. Heels are for those who sashay sleekly around, never missing a deadline or fearing a wibbly ankle. They're like hot summer days – only enjoyable if you don't have to do a single thing of any import. I have a pair of YSL courts with a 10cm heel, in which I can just about stand still without swaying. Needless to say they look amazing, but sprinting in them would require the sort of aid flotilla that surrounds people swimming the Channel.

If you're one of the chosen few who can run in heels without breaking a sweat – or a limb – or losing your cool, I applaud you. But I also assume you are not the sort of person who would zig-zag along an inflatable mattress with tinsel in your hair in the name of a freebie.

For those who remain determined (and who really want free shoes), the High Heel Race is recruiting on this side of the pond for the first time this year. Squeal! Lucky British teams will be selected to compete against the French in Paris at the end of November. So if the idea of taking on some ice-cool Parisiennes doesn't put you off, nothing will. Never pick a fight with a French women, especially not one who can run in heels.