The Yes Woman: The self-imposed oppression of high heels
I prefer to walk tall in a pair of scruffy old Converse
‘I can live a full life without ever wearing shoes that bring me four inches closer to the clouds.’ Photograph: Thinkstock
I have always mistrusted women who can wear high heels without their faces betraying even a whisper of the agony biting at the balls of their feet. You know them, those svelte, abstemious- looking women who wear stilettos to Tesco on a Wednesday afternoon.
I gawp at them, wondering whether they are anatomically different to me. Surely they are in horrible pain. They must be. Is there some method of walking about on tiny little sticks without falling over or wanting to fling the shoes as far from you as possible? If you’re tempted to do that, don’t: they are far more effective as weapons than footwear.
When discussing heel-wearing with a friend of mine, I was promptly told to shut up.
“You’re probably right,” my friend said. “But really, what the hell would you know about it? You haven’t ever worn heels in your life.”
This statement was followed by a look of burning scorn aimed at my feet. They were lovingly adorned, as usual, with a pair of battered old Converse, my flat feet sprawling languidly inside them like an ageing dog allowing himself to lie before the fire.
One wobbly night
Little did my friend know that I had worn heels. I do, in fact, own a pair. A very beautiful pair. But I was deeply traumatised by them. When I got home after being dressed down by my friend, I went to the drawer where the shoes live. They are a pair of blue, round-toed LK Bennett Mary Janes, and they are exquisite. I wore them just once, on a date with someone who felt worth the effort, and was much taller than I am. Why not limit the distance between us in a stylish fashion, I thought.
It didn’t quite work out that way. I forgot that walking in heels isn’t something the body does naturally, and spent the evening falling out of the shoes and clutching at my date in wide-eyed panic on my way towards the ground.
The embarrassment was total. I felt as though I had failed to represent some central aspect of femininity.
And so I head to Arnotts. Their Shoe Garden is the biggest in the country. I go there when I need to buy new shoes; I fondle the heels, then leave with a sensible pair of brogues or more Converse. This time, however, I leave with heeled Buffalo boots and some impractically high sandals. Both are beautiful, and both frighten me.
When Germaine Greer asked how a woman could know how fast she could run, or how far she could walk without taking off her high heels, I’d agreed with her, and still do. Wearing heels to the point of harming yourself because you fear what people will think if you don’t, or in order to win the slowest and most painful race imaginable, is a form of self-imposed oppression.
But having rejected heels for the entirety of my adult life (bar one wobbly night), I already know how far I can walk. I already know I’m happy to be considered inappropriately dressed almost all the time, because I’m comfortable. I can happily live a full life without ever wearing shoes that bring me four inches closer to the clouds.
Anyway, I end up wearing my new boots to Bloom. In homage to the gardens, I put on a floral dress – another rare occurrence – and realise that I have, in my comfortably gender-neutral trousers , created a new fear. By dressing in a way that advertises femininity, I make myself uncomfortable.
After years of dressing neutrally, I feel bizarrely conspicuous in heels – even sensible ones – and a dress (the sort you would commonly see someone wearing on the street any afternoon).
The heels are comfier than I expected, but by the time I get the bus home, my feet hurt after hours of walking. I whip the battered Converse from my bag and change my shoes inelegantly on the bus. I’ve learned to embrace more than one side of my own femininity, but I’m still never wearing the blue shoes again.
- Yes to . . . femininity in every form. No to . . . agony