Comfort or style? That is perhaps the question that many ask and will continue to ask in the heels versus flats debate. For some, shoes should be about their functionality, practicality, and comfort, while others prefer style, fashion, and the sex appeal that comes with shoes—specifically heels. Heeled shoes have a rich history, having had a practical function in the medieval period. At the time, both men and women wore high heeled shoes, whose purpose was to raise the wearers, shielding them from filth of the then medieval streets (Barnish, Morgan and Barnish n.p.). Today, however, heels have transcended mere functionality to become fashion symbols. Moreover, with fashion operating through the capitalization on social compliance and conformity concepts, there lies a possibility that women’s choice on wearing heels, as opposed to flats, are not free, but mere projections of cultural conformity. Truth, however, is that while it boils down to personal choice on whether to wear heels or flats, the risks posed by prolonged and regular use of heels far outweigh the perceived fashion sense, comfort, and sex appeal that come with wearing heels.
Heels are a must in most women’s wardrobes. Over the years, heels have moves from their medieval functionality in relation to raising the wearer from the filthy state of the streets at the time to become part of female gender identity (Barnish, Morgan and Barnish n.p.). Coming at a time when slavery was commonplace, the height of the heels (platform shoes) was a show of social status. Thus, the higher the shoes the more affluent one was. Moreover, slaves made walking in such high shoes possible as they would provide the much-needed support.
Similarly, although absent of slaves, heels provide some form of attractiveness for its wearers. As a preserve of females, heels have been known to increase the confidence and attractive levels of its wearers. In a study on the effect of high heels on the attractiveness of women, Morris et al. found that high heels had a tremendous effect in how men found women in heels more attractive than those in flats. The study additionally discovered that wearing heels gave women an extra boost in confidence in addition to making their legs look longer (Morris et al. 176). A different study on the effects of high heels discovered that high heels “increase physical stature and create an optical illusion that makes the leg appear longer by shortening the foot and slenderizing the ankle thereby, it is theorized, these optical changes provide an advantage in natural selection for the wearer” (Atilola et al. 1983). Essentially, the results of the study point towards a sense of attractiveness in instances where the wearer has high heels.
Another study on the level of attractiveness for women with high heels found out that women not only felt confident in high heels in comparison with medium and flat heels, but also felt more attractive (Gue´guen 2229). In the same study, men rated women in high heels as more attractive than those in medium and flat heels. High heels heighten the level of attractiveness for women by increasing the femininity of women’s gait (Morris et al., 176). Modification of gait occasioned by wearing heels included reduced length of stride, an arched back, increased tilt, and increased rotation of the hip, collectively increasing attractiveness.
Conformity is an additional benefit of wearing heels. Some women wear heels for social and cultural reasons. Some offices require that women wear heels to work; essentially making heels the standard work attire for the offices (Barnish, Morgan and Barnish n.p.). Such offices want to project an image of professionalism, particularly among female employees. Gue´guen’s study on the effect of high heels showed that men and the society at large found women in high heels more attractive, conforming to the societal and cultural concepts of sex appeal.
On the other hand, flats may not be the everyday choice of many women, particularly those concerned with sex appeal and attractiveness. However, flats have benefits that far outweigh the general perception of sex appeal and attractiveness that comes with high heels. Studies comparing high heels and flats have shown a general fast attraction of men towards women in high heels in social places such as bars (Gue´guen 2229). Ideally, some of the attention can be unwarranted, unpleasant and intrusive. Women in flats need not worry about such troubles given the general perception of them being “chill” and “low maintenance.” Such perception is perhaps the reason the average time between getting to a bar and the first approach by a man for women in high heels and flats stands at 8 and 14 minutes respectively (Gue´guen 2230). Women in flats can therefore enjoy longer levels of peace and quiet without an unwanted stranger’s intrusion.
While high heels may increase its wearers’ attractiveness, they usually give a subliminal message of “high maintenance” and intimidation, particularly for taller women, despite the attractiveness edge (Barnish, Morgan and Barnish n.p.). Tall women are especially intimidating to men; adding heels into the mix makes them even more intimidating. Flats on the other hand, tone down such intimidation, aside from their practicality especially for tall women.
Healthwise, flats accord the greatest benefits including their role in helping keep the spine straight in comparison with high heels that cause bends on the spine (Atilola 1984). The level nature of flats aids in the relaxation of calf muscles. Such relaxation ensures an even distribution of the body weight on the soles of the feet. The even distribution is not only healthy, but also offers a lot of comfort and freedom, allowing the individual to move freely while at the same time giving security.
Despite their attractiveness, their ability to boost self-confidence, and their projection of power, long-term wearing of high heels has negative health consequences. Bunion is the first among the negative consequences. Prolonged wearing of high heels turns the toes out of the mid-line of the body axis. The result is usually red-swollen and painful sensation on the inside of the foot (Domjanić et al. 244).
Heels are additionally the biggest culprit in Musculoskeletal pain. Studies show that continued and prolonged wearing of heels cause alterations to the neuromechanics of walking gait and “the kinetics and kinematics of bodily structures from the toes to the spine in ways that could be seen as biomechanical markers of MSK conditions such as hallux valgus (HV) and osteoarthritis (OA)” (Barnish, Morgan and Barnish n.p.). developing such conditions mean that women will not only endure long bouts of pain, but also regularly visit health care facilities for orthopedic treatments later in their lives.
High heels additionally cause injury to the wearer, while at the same time being hard on the sole. Most high heel shoes habitually come with narrow toe boxes (Humble n.p.). The boxes usually squeeze the toes causing not only pain but also lead to acquisition of hallux valgus (Domjanić et al. 244). The long thin heel of high heels, particularly stilettos mean that the wearers have insufficient balance. Lack of balance puts the women at risk of falls, dislocation, and injuries resulting from missteps, breaking of the heels, or tripping. Moreover, studies show that heels distort foot soles in addition to distorting and displacing landmarks and semilandmarks of the footprint (Domjanić et al. 244). By shifting the body weight from even distribution on the forefoot and heel to the forefoot, high heels alter the body posture, shifting the hips and spine from their original alignment, while at the same time altering gait and foot landmarks.
While attractive heels pose a health risk. Altered gait, shifting of the body’s mid-line axis, hallux valgus, and osteoarthritis are just among the health risks posed by prolonged wearing of high heels. Such risks exert particularly expensive pressure on the pocket, even with health insurance. It is important, therefore, to alternate between heels and flats, using flats on commute. Alternatively, wearing wedges and medium heels instead of high heels can also work to not only maintain attractiveness, sex appeal, boost confidence, and project power, but also keep the health risks at bay. One should not risk their life for sex appeal, and neither should one deny themselves the feeling of looking good, just so as not to appear intimidating or high maintenance.
Atilola, Emma, et al. “Effects of Wearing Six-Inch Stilettos Vs. Wedges on Muscle Activity.” IIE Annual Conference.Proceedings, 2013, pp. 1983-1989. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1471959706?accountid=1611.
Barnish, Max, Morgan, Heather, M., and Barnish, Jean. “The 2016 HIGh heels: Health effects and psychosexual benefITS (HIGH HABITS) study: Systematic review of reviews and additional primary studies.” BMC Public Health, vol. 18, no. 37, 2017, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-017-4573-4.
Domjanić, Jacqueline, et al. “Increasing women’s attractiveness: High heels, pains and evolution—a GMM based study.” 8th International Textile, Clothing & Design Conference, Dubrovnik, 2016
Guéguen, Nicolas. “High Heels Increase Women’s Attractiveness.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 44, no. 8, 2015, pp. 2227-2235. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1731482342?accountid=1611, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0422-z.
Humble, Will. “Heels or flats? Your health may depend on it.” The University of Arizona Health Sciences, 2015, https://uahs.arizona.edu/blog/2015-05-29/heels-or-flats-your-health-may-depend-it.
Morris, Paul, H. et al. “High heels as supernormal stimuli: How wearing high heels affects judgements of female attractiveness.” Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 34, no. 3, 2012, pp. 176-181.