In "Why We Love Shoes That Hurt Us", fashion historians, professors of economics and gender studies and podiatrists debate why women wear high heels and other extreme shoes.
"Are high heels all about sexual advantage, since they elongate and exaggerate the female form?", they ask. "Or is there another explanation? What liberates women and what shackles them, when it comes to shoes?" (Room for Debate - Blog, The New York Times)
According to Nancy Rexford, author of Women's Shoes In America: 1795-1930, it's all about expressing power and control, "control over one’s own body, and the power to use one’s body to draw the gaze of others."
Most of us are familiar with the saying "You can't be too rich or too thin." And, social scientists agree that language reflects a society's values. Rexford echoes this idea when she argues that "thin is a mark of status, and high heels emphasize the advantage by lengthening the leg. Add platform soles, and you rise superior to a wasteland of waddling sweatshirts and dumpy athletic shoes."
Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell University and author of “The Economic Naturalist’s Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times" adds that you also cannot be "too tall". He explains "Height isn’t always advantageous, of course, but it usually helps. Taller people earn more, for example, and command greater attention in social settings. And hence the attraction of high heels."
In the context of the fashion business, he adds "heels have grown taller as fashion markets have become more competitive. On Paris runways this week, models had to wear five-inch heels atop two-inch platform soles to get an edge."
Marlene Reid, podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medicine Association, offers a medical perspective. "When it comes to shoes, women should not have to choose between fashion and foot health. However, most women do need to make healthier shoe choices. According to a recent survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association, far more women (87%) than men (68%) have suffered foot pain due to footwear. Most foot conditions stem from the type of foot we inherit, yet the footwear we select can negatively contribute to the condition’s development. For example, flat feet are the main cause of bunions, but footwear, such as pointed shoes, can contribute to their progression and pain."
One important theoretical perspective that was not discussed in this debate is a biosocial explanation.
Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is in the camp of those who think that sky-high heels are just too sexy for most workplaces. “High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into a natural mammalian courting — actually, copulatory — pose called ‘lordosis,’ ” Fisher said. “Rats do it, sheep do it ... lions do it, dogs do it. ... It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness. [Heels] are a ‘come hither’ signal. ... “When women wear high heels at work, they send sexual signals that should be avoided if they want to be taken seriously.” (Do high heels empower or oppress women?)
Do high heels empower or oppress women? 23 September 2009 TODAYShow.com
Why we love shoes that hurt us. 8 October 2009 Room for Debate - The New York Times www.roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes