If you wear high heels, you probably don't need me to tell you how incredibly bad they are for you, destructive to your feet and spine. If you've been wearing them because you feel you must in order to appear well-dressed, or because you feel it's required for your job, there's never been a better time to challenge those assumptions and kick the high-heel habit forever.

I've mostly avoided high heels my whole life. I have seriously flat feet, bad balance, and I'm overweight--not a good combination for high heel wearing. But once, years ago, on a lark, I wore a pair to a party and my boyfriend at the time told me they made me look "50 percent better." 

I'm happy to report he's not my boyfriend anymore, and hasn't been in decades, and that I've left behind all thought of wearing spiky heels as well. But it certainly is true that many women and men--even me--tend to find women wearing heels more attractive. It makes them appear taller and thinner, two qualities our society prizes in women and absolutely requires of our professional models. Because high heels thrust out the buttocks and make it impossible for most women to run, high heels also make women appear more available for sex and thus more appealing to many men. In fact, according to a fascinating Quartz article on the history of high heels, in modern times, high heels were first worn by pin-up girls in pictures, and then made their way into elite fashion.

If you love wearing high heels, feel comfortable in them, and maybe can even run in them, as Sarah Jessica Parker claims she can, and if you're not concerned about their health effects, then that's great--keep right on wearing them. But for the rest of us who dread putting on high heels and hate the expectation that we will, now is the perfect time to start asserting our fundamental right to wear flats. Here's why:

1. There's an anti-high-heel social movement happening right now.

The movement against high heels has been building some momentum over the past couple of years. A year-and-a-half ago, the British Parliament came out with a report saying that a company that required an employee to wear 2-to-4-inch heels was breaking the law. That finding, of course, has no bearing on legalities in the U.S., and it seems highly possible that American companies which require female employees to wear them could be within their legal rights. But a courtroom challenge could change that quickly, and the mood of the times, with the #MeToo and Time's Up movements going strong, seem to trend against any such requirement.

In 2015, the Cannes film festival faced intense criticism after a woman with a foot injury was turned away from a screening for wearing flats, even though she was elegantly dressed and the flats were studded with rhinestones. At the time, festival officials insisted that the only requirement was for formal attire, that high heels were not obligatory, and that the employee who barred the flat-wearing women acted in error. Still, many people believe that heels are an unwritten rule at Cannes, and some of Moviedom's most famous actresses, notably Julia Roberts, have voted with their feet by walking the red carpet barefoot. A couple of weeks ago, Kristen Stewart, who's been outspoken against the heel requirement, made a big show of arriving at the red carpet in Cannes wearing Christian Louboutin heels. She then took them off in front of all the cameras and climbed the staircase into the theater barefoot.

2. Fashion is on your side--for the moment. 

"Ugly" fashion is being celebrated at the moment, and while that can refer to odd combinations of plaids and polka dots or clashing colors that defy the usual norms but are still intriguing, it also refers to clothing that's a whole lot more comfortable than fashion usually gets. Birkenstocks, Uggs, and Crocs all fit nicely into this trend--and onto the feet of high heel haters like me. 

Fashion tends to be cyclical, and a couple of years back, Rachelle Bergstein traced the rise and fall and rise and fall of flat shoes over high heels over the decades since the 1950s. The lesson you can draw from this history is that wearing flats has been out, then in, then out again. Right now it's in again so if you choose this moment to ditch your heels you'll have fashion on your side. Eventually, when wearing flats goes out of style again, you can decide whether you want to go back to the heels, but by then you may have gotten used to being comfortable and able to walk everywhere and you may not want to.

3. It really will make you feel better.

Just ask August McLaughlin, a health and sexuality writer and former model who--with some trepidation--gave up high heels three years ago. A former anorexic who has struggled with body image issues and wore heels nearly all the time to try and appear both thinner and taller, "breaking up" with high heels was difficult for her. 

But after she went public, she began hearing from some of the several thousand American women who suffer high heel-related injuries every year. In addition to the expected strains and sprains from twisting ankles and falling off of high heels, high heels can cause plantar fasciitis, spine problems, chronic low back pain, bunions, and general inflammation. The can be especially dangerous in situations where you suddenly find you need to leave an area quickly or walk a long distance (if a car breaks down, for example). Plus, there's evidence that regularly wearing high heels can deform your feet permanently. 

Although she felt decidedly underdressed when performing her podcast or speaking to an audience in flats, McLaughlin persisted in her heel-free experiment. She missed her heels, but was surprised at how much better she felt, especially since not wearing heels put an end to knee pain she'd thought was the result of running. Eventually, she realized she could feel pretty without them. "I now find more beauty, sexiness and strength in feeling comfortable and standing strong on my own two feet, in shoes that I could sprint away from disaster in if I had to," she writes." Makes sense to me. What about you?

Published on: Jun 5, 2018
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