Deliberate Handicap

High heels x-ray
High heels force the bones into an unnatural position

Given I am in a feminist mood, here is my feminist rant. It is not related to Sandberg’s ideas, and it is directed against women. Or, to be fair, directed against a handicap that women deliberately impose on themselves, for cultural reasons that both genders have constructed over the years. The phenomenon I wish to debunk is so deeply engrained in our society that although we are exposed to it daily, we rarely give it any thought. Hopefully when taken aside and scrutinized it will prove erroneous and ill founded to the rational mind. I am talking here of high heel shoes. Personally, I am always appalled when I see other women awkwardly limping along in their “footcuffs”. Although not as drastic as the nightmarish foot binding historically reported in Imperial China, high heel shoes are a physical handicap along the same lines. Beyond any doubt, wearing such apparel amounts to deliberately handicapping oneself, both physically and socially. Here are some arguments, which I hope will shake a couple ladies back to their senses.

High heel shoes are obviously a physical impediment. They are anything but ergonomically designed. By propping the heel upward and slanting the foot down, the ankle movement is severely restricted from its natural 60degree range. This immobilization leads to atrophy of the Achilles tendon and calf muscle. Not only does that make you much more susceptible to develop a tendinitis, but once the damage is done you need to either continue wearing your high crutches, or slowly stretch your legs and relearn how to walk. The abnormal incline in the feet induced by high heels also results in high pressure to the toes, which are propped up relative to their natural position. At first, the skin tears and blisters with the strain. Then, as it hardens, painful calluses and corns are bound to arise. The toe phalanges twist and deform; hammertoes and bunions develop. At the joint level, inflammation and pinched nerves are inevitable. In the worst-case scenario, high heels can lead to stress fractures of the bones. Importantly, by now most people will agree that good posture starts with the feet. Improper balance on the lower appendices will be propagated upwards along the entire spine. The knees will try to compensate for the falling forward position and the thigh muscles will become unmatched with the hamstrings. If the basin doesn’t make a constant effort to stay upright, the lower back is prone to develop a lordosis. Not to mention that any tension in the spinal area can lead to inflammation, pinched nerves and headaches. More obviously, wearing high heel shoes shortens the stride and makes it uneasy to keep balance. Falls and sprained ankles are frequent. The calves and thighs may get an intense workout, but the antagonist muscles just melt by lack of usage. Walking with high heel shoes is hard and running for any sustained amount of time is out of question. High heel shoes are just plain uncomfortable. As a result, women wearing them avoid physical effort. They dart to their desks and stay seated all day long, because their shoes are unsuited for moving. No need to do a lecture on all the perverse side effects of this resulting inactivity.

Moreover, and less obviously, high heels are a social handicap. No need to be a podiatrist to assess and feel the physical detriments of wearing such shoes. Yet even female doctors fall for the vanity game and can be seen limping around in these torture devices. How many girls have complained, in a concert or ballroom: “My feet are killing me”. No. YOU are killing your feet. Why? To fit in, to please, to seduce… Somehow these shoes are perceived as a tool for seduction. They make the body’s curves protrude and produce a stance considered sensual. Beauty is subjective, yet very sensitive to cultural percepts. Men have molded these percepts, consciously or not. Now it has become an assumption that women should wear high heel shoes to be presentable. Books, ads, TV… even most movie heroines are depicted wearing stilettos. This is brainwashing, performed by people who themselves have been brainwashed. If high heels are considered “beautiful”, it is also because society praises long slender legs… legs with no muscles… defenseless legs. We have reached a point where instead of following men on their knees, women follow men on their toes. It is hard to believe that high heels were at some point worn exclusively by men. However, this was not for walking, but rather for a functional reason: to cling onto their horse’s stirrups while riding and fighting. Given their unique and exotic look, high heels then made it into the royal court as masculine fashion apparel. Soon, the fad spread and the masses began adopting this new footwear. In order to constrain them to the elite, the heels were heightened. This was effective because the shoes became absolutely impractical; only high-class personalities that did not perform any physical labor could afford to wear them. Yet it did not take men too long to figure out how uncomfortable this footwear feels. They quickly relegated them to the other gender. Thankfully, during the Enlightenment, practicality became of essence and the fad wore off altogether. Yet this was too good to last. Pornography is the culprit for resurrecting the high heels, in the 1850’s, associating them with desire and seduction. More than a century and a half later, women are still too blind to recognize that they are deliberately handicapping themselves. Such a “fashion” accessory just makes it harder for women to be equal.

Think on your own, be proud, be confident and you will grow without needing high heels. And when your confidence level is high enough, you might even trade the purse for a fanny pack… but that is another story!


For the physical detriments of wearing high heels I just used my personal experience and knowledge of biology and physics… but you can certainly find medical proof if you cannot follow this simple inference.

For the history and evolution of high heel shoes, I used this interesting article to refresh my memory: “Why did men stop wearing high heels?” by William Kremer, BBC World Service,

The x-ray image is from the Eizo Radiological Calendar, released in May 2010 by the Butter advertising agency, in Germany. The x-ray simulation unveils the unnatural position that is imposed on the bones of the foot when wearing high heels.