I used to think I hated weddings, then I realised that what I truly hate is having feet so sore that my neutral facial expression becomes a constipated scowl that acts as a forcefield against potential friends, and I want to deck anyone who’s having a blast on the dance floor. This tends only to happen after a particularly galling general election result or when I’m wearing heels because, to me, like many other women, wearing high shoes feels about as natural as wearing a bustle, a corset and a great flashing lampshade.
Thankfully though, it is very rare that I am forced to wear high shoes because this is the 21st century and we’re not in the middle of a twisted nightmare. The weddings at which I have had the most fun have been those when I just thought “sod it” and wore flats. Following one particularly joyous event, at which I wore a decent dress and flat sandals, my spouse sweetly informed me that I looked like a Florida retiree (though I had left the tennis visor on top of my Bing Crosby records so Lord knows what he was on about).
Nobody should be made to wear heels if the don’t want to unless they’re a model and are being paid stupid money for it, and even then, it’s a bit ruddy weird, isn’t it?
This week right-thinking people all over the world cursed into their coffees when it emerged that a woman had been turned away from a Cannes Film Festival red carpet event because she wasn’t wearing high heels. Vicci Ho, a former film festival programmer in her 50s, turned up in a formal outfit, wearing very smart – no doubt expensive – flats and was told by the security guards that it just wouldn’t do. This random sartorial standard, by the way, is particularly laughable coming from an institution that drinks greedily from the publicity generated by starlets who often look like they’d planned to show up naked but thanks to an opportune gust of wind half a dozen Quality Street wrappers had got stuck on their silky skin.
Only after a ten-minute argument in which Ho explained that she had an ankle problem and physically couldn’t obey their ridiculous dress code did they relent and let her in.
There were reports of other women being rejected from the glitter-fest for similar reasons, and actors including Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro have threatened to walk the red carpet in high heels as a protest against this outdated stupidity.
I have no problem at all with women choosing to wear killer heels if they like them and look or feel good in them but, as a former tomboy who would rather wear shoes I can run away and climb a fence in, I find it hard to believe they are not torturing themselves. As well as ruining your mood, high heels can really mash up your feet, causing bunions and callouses, as well as bringing on spinal problems. If you wear them too often they can interfere so badly with your arches that walking barefoot feels alien. A lot of us have memories of elderly relatives who only ever wore formal shoes and their poor twisted toes ended up looking like the roots of a plant that should have been repotted years ago.
To me, wearing heels is disabling – as one like-minded colleague puts it, they make some of us feel like the lame impala who’s definitely going to catch that hungry lion’s eye.
Of course I’m not blind: I can appreciate that some beautiful shoes are works of art and that legs and ankles look prettier and more slender when toes are pointed, and, as someone who has put more money into make-up than my pension pot, I’m guilty of trying to improve on nature, but are high heels worth the hassle if they actually hurt you? And who are women doing it for? Is it to appeal to the sort of men who use the term “women in comfortable shoes” as a disparaging euphemism? Because I, for one, don’t give a curled-up Compeed about impressing people like that. Or is it a contemporary display of alpha femalehood? Who knows?
I reckon a woman looks much more attractive and elegant when she’s strong, happy and relaxed, and while there are some who can achieve this in heels, there are many whose feet and legs are clearly so stiff and uncomfortable it looks like they’re pushing invisible wheelbarrows.
I’d say most of my friends – raving, hairy feminists, the lot of ’em – err on the side of comfort. But one especially formidable colleague wears five-inch heels nearly all the time. She’s been in training since she was 11, when her mother had her walking with books on her head and perilous footwear. She always looks perfectly groomed and has perfect posture, and nobody but nobody messes with her.
My best friend, who is taller than most men I know, is practically always in heels, and would probably wear them into the gym if she was allowed. I suspect both these women feel flats would make them look underdressed, and trainers would make them feel scruffy.
Lots of women I know, particularly those who as kids weren’t tall enough to go on the good rides, feel empowered when they’re in heels: it gives them valuable extra height and makes them feel ready for potentially challenging workplace situations. And some industrial relations studies show that women in flat, comfortable shoes are taken less seriously at work because they somehow appear to be less driven.
Then there’s the sexuality issue, which so often rears its daft head. Biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fischer has said that heels force a woman’s body into “lordosis”, or what we might euphemistically term a “courting pose”. Sexual readiness, basically. Which is fine if that’s a state you are trying to communicate but, Christ on a bike, nobody should be forced into it, particularly at work, which is what Cannes is to most people there.
A lot of my irritation with the pressure to wear shoes that hurt – in normal life or indeed in Cannes – boils down to the simple but valid question: if men don’t have to do it, why the bloody hell should we?