To me, high heel shoes are the modern equivalent of foot binding – the ultimate fashion over function – that led to immense suffering for mere aesthetics. After all, our feet are the very things that allow us to maintain balance and support our physical selves. What does it mean if we purposefully make that harder and/or impossible?
My Dad was an older Dad (miss you!) and had gone without much medical care as a child, and so was determined to make sure my feet grew properly. Yes, my father was so neurotic that he took his 10-year-old daughter to a podiatrist to get their feet checked out.
On late Tuesday afternoons, Dad would pick me up after school we would walk to the doctor’s office a few avenues east of our Hell’s Kitchen apartment. They would diagnose me, take casts of my feet and send away for individualized support pads for my little lady arches, which were not keeping pace with my tween growth spurts.
This led to an easily hidden secret: As a kid, and through my teens, I wore foot supporters in my shoes. Now, they have dozens of generic products for this at Duane Reade, but then, not so much.
These snug little pads were curved in just the right way and meant that I was constantly walking on shock absorbent cushions, a godsend when you grow up in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan. Yet all around me, women would be doing this balancing act on stilettos, pumps, you name it, and I couldn’t figure out why. They certainly weren’t protecting their big lady arches, I thought, as a judgmental 12-year-old.
Through high school and college I would stick to my requisite beat up Vans, vintage boots and yes, even creepers -– which definitely were the punk rock equivalent to heels, with their Frankenstein-esque platforms that didn’t budge. I stuck most often with my Vans -– the supporters fit perfectly.
The first time I bought a pair of high heels was at the very end of my senior year of college. They were black, pointy, medium height, and from Nine West. I bought them in Harvard Square as I was graduating from college because I thought I was “supposed” to have a pair for the upcoming round of job interviews I was about to endure.
After walking to one of those interviews in the new duds (rookie mistake), the shiny leather pair was repacked with tissue paper and plastic shaper and returned to its box, where it remained for years until a fateful trip to Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg. Just the wrong pair, I thought.
My second job into the post-college employment world was working for a congresswoman, and she certainly wore heels all the time –- enduring the pain, and when she couldn’t, wearing sneakers and thick white gym socks to ease the sores she had likely developed. An outing with an intern who had worn stilettos to an event (another rookie mistake) ended with her shrugging, and telling me, “Fashion over function.”
I wondered, "Why in the world are women doing this to themselves?" It’s clearly for outward appearance, not personal comfort -– and don’t bullshit me on this point. You may get used to wearing heels over time, but it’s reasonable to consider that if your survival depended on comfortable walking, not career-oriented fashion, even the staunchest stiletto stylists would not be wearing heels.
It’s just like when women who wear thongs tell me, “I never notice it.” Right, because you don’t notice that thing that’s shoved up your ass crack. Sorry, I don’t buy it -– but more on that other time.
I’m not trying to be holier than thou in this description of my heel history. I have worn uncomfortable shoes, slipper shoes that don’t support my back, and have made "fashion over function" sacrifices throughout my life. But now I’m sick and tired of doing it.
It also helps that I don’t have to go to an office -– I work at home –- and that I really like vintage boots that can be resoled for comfort, season after season, the way a good shoe was meant to be.
It’s as if women who wear heels degraded their feet at the same pace as the degrading quality of our footwear manufacturing.
Case in point: have you had blisters on your feet? Sure. How about ones that appeared not because of your choice to wear new shoes, high heels or while doing sports? How often have you intentionally inflicted this pain upon yourself to look fashionable, fit in, or otherwise make yourself feel good? Why do you do it?
I will concede – I live in New York City, so I certainly walk more than the average person, and probably more than the average New Yorker, since I enjoy walking long distances to think and explore the ever-changing blocks of my hometown, so I need comfortable shoes more than most people.
Recently, on our first 80 degree spring day of 2013, I took a nice long walk in a comfortable pair of Tom’s – their lady boots, which are some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned. My boyfriend and I walked from Union Square to the East Village and then down through the Lower East Side to Chinatown, our last stop for some delicious and cheap fresh veggies. By then end of it, I was toast. I could have slept for a weekend.
The next day, I sat around my house, really tired, and thought about how a J. Crew salesman once told me I have “fat calves” as I was trying, and not fitting into, their latest leather tall boots. My friends are slightly nicer about it; they often tease me for having “muscular calves,” which I realized probably developed atop the support of my little lady arches.