High heels are holding women back in business

We've been fed tall tales about heels making us sexy and powerful, when instead they are crippling us
  • @FelicityMorse

High heels are to feet what cages are to canaries: as much as they show off the canary, they enslave and damage the bird. For years women have been infatuated with this form of footwear, yet now we're realising we’ve been writing love letters to our own prison guards.

Sex and the City's Kristin Davis is the latest high profile figure to turn her back on stiletto servitude. Earlier this week she apologised for encouraging women to wear high heels, telling the Sunday Telegraph:  “I do feel guilt about the heels. It did seem we were trying to say to women, ‘You should be wearing heels like these’. But we definitely weren’t. Were they beautiful shoes? Yes. Were they appropriate for the characters? Yes, that’s what women like that wear. But it became a bigger picture thing, where it seemed women should be wearing them every day.”

Squeezing our feet into these fashion bastilles can lead to irreparable damage. High heels force our spine and hips out of alignment, they pile pressure on our fragile knee joints, they cause abnormality in the heels (the gruesome sounding affliction ‘Haglund’s deformity’) as well as inflaming tissue on the soles of the feet and shortening muscles. Up to a third of women suffer permanent problems as a result of wearing high heels.  Sarah Jessica Parker recently admitted going to a foot doctor who told her “‘your foot does things it shouldn’t be able to. That bone there – you’ve created that bone. It doesn’t belong there’.”

We are told sliding into high heels makes us feel powerful, taller, stylish, and more feminine. Manolo Blahnik has said that heels "makes life more exciting.. it's about elegance...If you are a woman, it's a way to appeal to the male species, it's a way to attract." Christian Louboutin even told us that high heels put ourselves into "an orgasmic position." Even scientists have set out to prove that high heels make us look sexier.

Historically it was never so, but for generations now, high heels have been associated with eroticism.  This form of footwear has moved from being a fetish into a fashion item and now high heels are practically an obligation for some working women. It is this that is most worrying, and has the potential to do the exact opposite of what retailers promise when they sell us their tall tales. This consumerist construct has teetered so far into la-la land that women are now choosing to wear high heels for interviews, believing heels make them look “business like”, well-presented and competent. Some bosses even expect us to wear heels, as a TUC report highlighted. But the truth is, we’re crippling ourselves. Plus there’s nothing well-put together about trotting ten paces behind your male colleague to make it to a meeting on time. Or having your handbags stuffed with a pair of flats instead of a laptop. It's concerning that our daughters are copying us too, with one primary school in Inverness reporting that children as young as eight were turning up to class in high heels.

Today, high heels are one of the only items of clothing (excluding lingerie) made exclusively for women. There is nothing empowering about that. Let’s get men to look us in the eye because they respect us, not because we’re in six inch heels.