High Heels: Are the Inches Worth the Pain?

I am only five feet tall, a full four inches shorter the average woman in America, according toLiveStrong.com. For the better part of the past decade, I have worn high heels at least four days a week, most weeks closer to six. Like many women, I wear high heels for a number of reasons: I like the way my posture looks, they make clothing fit better and they’re a fun accessory to an otherwise plain outfit.

But my number one reason? The most obvious of all – heels make me taller. Wearing heels keeps my extreme shortness from being so obvious, not to mention that it allows me to reach things on high shelves without having to ask for help.

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Are they worth the pain?

The frequency with which I wear high heels puts me in the minority of heel-wearing American women. A study from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) shows that “only two percent of women say they wear high heels every day, and just five percent say they wear high heels five days per week.” The same study concluded that 46 percent of American women avoid heels, wearing them “rarely or never,” leaving 54 percent of women who wear them at least sometimes.

Whether we are aware of it or not, heel wearers have been shown to have an advantage over those who wear flats, at least when it comes to the responses from men. A French study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior last year revealed that the higher the heel a woman is wearing, the more likely men were to engage with them, professionally and socially. Nicolas Guéguen, the study’s author, had women alternately wearing flats, two-inch heels and three-and-a-half inch heels ask strangers to complete a survey. The study also recorded how often people walking behind a woman who dropped her glove returned it and, lastly, how long it took the women to receive attention from men in a pub.

“It was found that men’s helping behavior increased as soon as heel length increased. However, heel length had no effect on women’s helping behavior. It was also found that men spontaneously approached women more quickly when they wore high-heeled shoes.” The reasons behind these conclusions are still being studied, but the results remain the same: women wearing heels receive more aid and attention than those in flats.

But many rush to judge women like me who, knowingly and intentionally, put our feet at risk for an extra three or four inches of height. A frenzied Twitter war broke out when an attendee at a reverse-demo event in New York shared a picture of a woman in high heels with the hashtag #BrainsNotRequired, leading the Atlantic’s Megan Garber to write an article questioning if women in the tech industry (an industry, it’s worth noting, dominated by males) should wear heels at all, and what it means when they do.

“Stilettos are Lady Shoes. And, as such, they carry, along with an actual lady, the baggage of hundreds of years of freighted femininity.” She concluded that while women can, and should, wear what they are comfortable in, we should also be aware of the stigma associated with our fashion choices. “Once you’re in the C-suite, you can wear heels as high as you want; until then, heels may earn you a creep-shot and a “WTF?” from men who are meant to be your peers.”

While it would seem that the professional and social benefits, or drawbacks, of wearing heels may depend on the circumstance, the physical damage these shoes do to women’s feet is well known. The previously mentioned AMPA study reported that 71 percent of wearers are affected by foot pain, yet more than half of us continue to wear heels anyway. Even 38 percent admit that when heels hurt their feet they “wear them anyway, if [they] like them.” Why we do this may never be fully answered, because it is likely different for every woman, but at least for me, the extra inches are priceless.