Why do women wear high heels? At first I thought finding an answer
to that ancient question was just my editor’s attempt to get his newly
single reporter to approach as many women as possible with perhaps the
single greatest icebreaker ever devised. But as I proceeded with my
“research,” I found myself growing evermore curious (Note to imitating
pick-up artists: I cut a pretty wide swath across the island with this
particular question, so you might want to come up with your own ideas).
I started small, asking just a few female co-workers who already
knew I was a writer. They gave me short and simple answers—“make your
legs/butt/calves look better,” “attract attention from men,” “feel
good” and “because they look good with a dress.”
With the image of high school prom-goers fresh in my mind (I work at
a hotel and I swear there’s a dance every week) I began to follow up.
Don’t they hurt your feet/legs/back? Won’t men be attracted no matter
what? Why try to attract a man who cares what kind of shoes you are
wearing? And don’t Crocs feel good? Why not just wear those? That’s
when I stumbled upon the motherlode, the question that would reshape my
Can’t you feel good without hurting yourself?
I became bolder, approaching strangers at work, in bars, on the
beach and even on the street. With every answer, my follow-up questions
became more intense.
Most women I interviewed acknowledged the “necessary evil” of
wearing high heels; even those who first contended that the more
expensive heels were “almost comfortable” took time to qualify the
statement. Some were blatant about being willing to do anything to
impress others or themselves.
“I’d do anything for fashion,” one woman told me. “If a man has a
choice between a woman in high heels and one without, he’ll choose the
woman in heels,” said another.
Predictably, the men I talked to seemed to reinforce the women’s reasoning:
“Heels are sexy.”
“I love the whole powerful, business-woman look.”
“They make a woman’s legs/butt/calves look good.”
One friend had even developed a pickup routine—if he saw a lady in
high heels, he’d ask to borrow them, place them over his ears and say,
“The only place these look good is right here.”
Later I discovered CFMPs (“Come Fuck Me Pumps”). That’s a name given
to especially high heels. I first heard it from two 30-something women
at work, both of whom had given more thought to heels than anyone yet,
with the possible exception of myself. My coworkers were candid and
unselfconscious about the duality of heels.
“How many pairs of shoes do you own?” one, a 5-foot-10 blond who could be Uma Thurman’s twin sister, asked me.
I was ashamed to say 10.
“Well, I just sold a house and cleaned out my closet, and had 70 pairs of shoes,” she said.
Why, I asked, dumbfounded.
“Shopping is an addiction,” she said. “Some good shoes cost $300.
I’ve purchased shoes and left them on the dresser just to look at,
because they’re so pretty.”
That actually made more sense to me than wearing them.
“I had a crazy friend who slept with hers on her pillow,” she added.
“Yeah, well, I did say she was crazy,” she said. “I think she felt they compensated for her lack of companionship.”
It hit me like Bridget Fonda in Single White Female.
I realized that high heels could be addictive: like any risky substance
or behavior, they offered instant gratification, if not long-term
satisfaction. Like most things that make us feel good in the
interim—drugs, alcohol, chocolate, casual sex, coffee, Big Macs—they
only make our lives more complicated once the initial rush wears off.
Come down from drugs, same old you. Take off the heels, and you turn
back into a pumpkin.
It looks to me like most women wear heels for a temporary escape
from not feeling their very best; to get approval from someone else.
Men or women, it didn’t matter (Uma had mentioned wearing heels to
impress other ladies because “men don’t even notice that shit”).
Of course, not all the women I spoke to agreed with that rationale.
One very intelligent but somewhat inebriated young lady at a local bar
told me that she wore heels when she wanted to, just for fun.
“If you want to dress up and look good, and even fall down, go for it,” she said.
But the most interesting response to my question came from an
absolutely stunning, dreadlocked blond henna artist I encountered at
“I don’t wear high heels,” she said. “I’m not a girlie girl. I make
my own clothes, see?” Then she pointed to the black stretch pants she’d
apparently made and somehow squeezed into.
“Besides, I don’t get dressed up,” she added. “I’m simple. I don’t
go to fancy places or eat expensive meals. I go to fun places and eat
Here was a woman who sounded like she knew herself well, was
comfortable and confident and didn’t spend too much time worrying about
what you or I might think. She seemed to know that what’s most
attractive is not approval from the outside world, but a healthy sense
of self-acceptance, love and preservation. Of all the women I spoke to,
she alone said she didn’t need a man to make her feel sexy.
I bet her feet felt great, too. MTW