If High Heels Are Horrible, Why Do Women Still Wear Them?

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About two years ago Meya Laraqui, an ambitious young lady fresh out of college, got some career advice from an older colleague that changed everything: Wear high heels.

Laraqui was eager to be taken more seriously at the small private equity firm in Manhattan where she works. So she took the advice severely. Now the 25 -year-old wears 4-inch stilettos — easy-to-maintain patent leather in black or nude — to all her sessions. She keeps them under her desk.

Of course they’re uncomfortable. “The trick is you set them on right before you go in, ” she said. And when you do, “you feel like a boss.”

Laraqui has since been promoted and gotten a create; she was accepted to the Wharton School.

“I’m bound to a career in heels, ” she said. “I don’t mind it.”

This week a woman in London constructed headlines for refusing to wear high-heel shoes, as required by her employer’s “female grooming policy.”

The uproar that ensued was so intense — a petition advising Parliament to amend the law so employers can’t require workers to wear heels rapidly garnered more than 100, 000 signatures — that the temp agency that hired her reversed its policy and now says women can wear flats.

The story drew attention because in 2016 almost no one thinks it’s OK to force a woman to wear heels to run. And, with a few exceptions — like this restaurant in Canada — most employers don’t.

“I’ve never in 19 years come across a company that requires high heels, ” said Melinda Alison, regional president at OfficeTeam, a global staffing bureau that places professional temporary workers across a range of industries. Companies are more apt to have standards around open-toed shoes, sneakers or jeans. And many firms have relaxed their dress codes in recent years, she said.

In the U.S ., the law is on women’s side, too.

“That could be sex discrimination, ” a spokeswoman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told The Huffington Post. “Employers may not necessitate specific types of dress based on gender stereotypes.”

Yet in certain professional circles, the pressure to slip on painful footwear is a lot more subtle and permeating than a formal dress code. High heels for women in statute, finance and consulting are often just part of what’s considered a professional look.

“Everybody wears heels. Even at women’s seminars I go to, ” Laraqui said. “It’s only a convention. It’s like wearing a tie.”

On HBOs “Veep, ” President Selina Meyer is always in high heels publicly — chances are, she kicks them off under the desk.

At one corporate law firm in New York City, most of the female lawyers said they wear heels — particularly to argue in tribunal, according to a woman I spoke to who surveyed her peers, but wished to remain anonymous.

The lawyers said heels construct them feel more professional and polished. Some expend as much as $600 on a pair of shoes. They simply appear better in heels, they added. When my source asked if “better” entailed more feminine, some said they hadn’t considered that.

But of course, heels are the ultimate feminine accessory. Placed atop those teetering spikes, a woman’s butt and breasts jut out just so — “high heels exaggerate sex specific aspects of female gait, ” is how a 2013 newspaper in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior sets it.

Claire Underwood on “House of Cards” is almost never seen without spiky stilettos.

It’s notable that to feel more powerful at work, particularly in male-dominated fields like finance and statute, girls slip on stilettos that induce them appear, well, hot and conventionally sexy.

“Because females managers can be thought of as threatening or bossy by male counterparts or subordinates, a woman’s garb can work to soften the blow, ” Maddie Crum wrote in a HuffPost piece about powerful women and high heels.

Not everyone agrees with that sentiment. There are plenty of women who would say that high heels just make them feel good, tall and strong. And many of us don’t go near them.( In journalism, spiky heels only aren’t a thing. You’ll find me in some wedges most days, and a lot of my colleagues are wearing sneakers .)

Even though merely around 30 percentage of women still wear heels to run, according to data Crum quotes, there’s still a dominant notion that powerful females wear power heels.

Look at Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and the author of Lean In , the ultimate playbook for the professional female looking to climb the ladder. In her 2010 TED talk — the one that ran viral and stimulated her famous when she was still working at Google — Sandberg is tottering around on what look to be at least 3-inch spikes. She wore similarly tall shoes to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this January — the ultimate power schmoozefest in the business world.

In the fictional realm, we have Claire Underwood on Netflix’s “House of Cards” — a terrifying, cunning first lady who is almost never seen without sharp spikes. On HBO’s “Veep, ” President Selina Meyer is always seeming maximumly powerful in body-hugging dresses and super high stilettos.

Hillary Clinton, poised to become the world’s most powerful female, stands out for not subjecting herself to such painful footwear. She mostly wears flats or close-to flats while campaigning.( And I should add that Arianna Huffington, my boss, is a self-proclaimed “flat shoe advocate.”)

Adrees Latif/ Reuters
Hillary Clinton’s feet in flats.

Things are changing: There was a global freakout last yearwhen women at the Cannes Film Festival were allegedly told they had to wear heels on the red carpet. And plenty of models and actresses are speaking up about how awful it is to cram their toes in these medieval appliances. Julia Roberts demonstrated up on the red carpet at Cannes this year barefoot.

Sixty-eight percent of the people who responded to my unscientific, wholly random and marginally serious Twitter poll said that they didn’t have to wear heels to run. But half of the remaining respondents said they did have to wear them and the other half said “it was just better” if they put on heels.

The women at the law firm told my source they had detected heels that “don’t hurt.” Honestly, that is more or less a lie we tell ourselves. How do I know? All the lawyers also said they carried flats in their bags.

Women just can’t stay away from heels. “Heels are consistently a top-selling category for us, even as trends have shifted towards casual the past several years, ” a representative from Zappos told The Atlantic, in a must-read deep dive into high heels.

“Women will always have a need for heels. They are the ultimate feminine accessory whether in the office, a special occasion, or out for dinner, ” Zappos said.

Laraqui says the advice to wear heels was pivotal to her career, but stops short of crediting her success to a style of footwear.

“I was hungry for more, ” she said. “The heels were just one factor of a mindset and a willingness to achieve.”

Sarah Grossman contributed reporting .

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December 16, 2017
December 16, 2017
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