I have a confession for you: I’m short.
Not short the same way my mother is short — she stands at exactly five feet, a perfect example of what 150cm looks like, and I have been taller than her since I was twelve. She has to ask assistants to get things from the top shelves when she’s out shopping, and needs a footstall to reach the cabinets in our kitchen. I am forever grateful I’m not quite that short. No, like all things in my life, I don’t quite fit neatly into measurements, and hover somewhere between 5’3″ and 5’4″ — slightly below average height, but it’s enough for my slightly-above-average-height friends to call me short. They use their additional inches in a way which implies they have some sort of authority over me. “I’m taller than you, so there.”
In the run-up to prom, talk in my circle of friends always came back to shoes. My highest heels were a paltry two inches, and even those made walking in a straight line after a few drinks a precarious exercise in providence. So, surrounded by my tall-friends discussing their high heels, I decided that I didn’t want to look six inches shorter than my best friends. I wanted to look awesome.
This led to the purchase of a pair of prom-worthy shoes, stiletto-heeled black faux-suede ankle-boot-shoe things, with no grip on the soles. The sort of shoes that look more like an antiquated impliment of castration than footwear. The sort of shoes that I sometimes see career women wearing when I’m in London, and I find myself mesmerised by the way anyone can walk that fast while balanced on anything quite so small.
Walking up to my friend Emily’s gravel driveway in these shoes, I nearly broke my ankle. But it was fine, because when her brother opened the door he said I looked great. And, of course, prom itself was an event fueled by freely-flowing wine, compliments, and complaints about the state of everyone’s feet.
There is no good reason for us to wear anything that seem so counter-productive to the task they were designed for. Shoes are made for walking, so why wear shoes that it hurts to walk in? If you’re at a high school dance, why wear shoes you can’t dance in? And then you start taking your shoes off, and walking around in only your stocking-feet, and before you know it someone has accidentally stabbed their stiletto through your squshy toes and you spend the rest of the night in hospital, the hem of your dress stained irrevocably red.
I understand the appeal of high heels. I really do. They make your legs look longer. They add to your height without affecting your weight, so your BMI appears reduced. They close the gap between you and a potentially-taller significant other. The act of being taller can increase your authority, so if you’re in a room where you need to be the boss, they can help. Sometimes, they’re fun to dance in. They make a really sexy noise rap-rapping across a stone floor.
They are still bullshit.
All clothes are performative. What we wear is our conscious statement of how we present ourselves to the outside world. Women have to go through enough extraneous painful crap already — plucking and waxing and bleaching and straightening and curling and dieting and exercising and squeezing — that to add another layer to the proceedings seems ludicruous. We know you are very attractive. You don’t need six-inch rhinestone-encrusted platforms that render you barely capable of hobbling to let us know that. Who are you trying to impress?
Really, the whole thing faintly reminds me of that traditional Chinese practice of foot-binding, where women with small feet were considered desirable — so women’s toes were bent underneath, and their arches crushed to stop their feet from growing garishly large. Sarah Jessica Parker noted that wearing high heels as Carrie Bradshaw had wrecked her feet. Why are we voluntarily injuring a pretty vital part of ourselves just to look “hot”?
I’m not calling for all women to burn that one pair of Louboutins you have that were totally worth the $400 price tag because they make your calves look great. I am equally not implying that all high heels are greviously painful and impractical (though the abundance of articles in women’s magazines called things like ‘The 5 Comfiest High Heels For Summer!’ makes me wonder). I just feel like we ought to think about it a bit more. Why are we making such an effort? What is wrong with going out in flats?
Either way, my own pair of killer heels are now sitting, dejectedly, at the bottom of my wardrobe. I feel like, considering the amount I spent on them, I ought to wear them again — and then I remember the horrible pain in my feet in the day after prom, and think maybe not. I would rather be short and able to walk than artifically tall, and unable to enjoy myself for the night.