Killer Heels

Heels 2Is it true that men are chumps for women in pumps? A new study out of France says that men are more helpful to women in high heels. Is that why we wear them?

The first time I can remember being wowed by a pair of heels was when Olivia Newton John wore red stilettos in the movie Grease. Her beauty mesmerized me, even as she danced, a bit wobbly, as if dancing on stilts, singing You Better Shape Up to John Travolta. Given how good she looked to me, her discomfort and clumsiness seemed irrelevant.

I bought my first pair of heels, red Candies, just a few months later.

I was 14.

And I loved those shoes.

Some historical accounts show that heels were worn by men, and not women, as early as the 9th century in Persia. Other accounts say heels grew in popularity around the time of Louis XIV in France. High heels were symbols of power and dominance, allowing men to tower over other men. Heels were initially associated with class, status and privilege. Around the 17th century upper class women began to wear heels and by the 18th century, men stopped wearing them, deeming them impractical.

Heels went out of fashion for a while but then made a comeback in pornography, mostly pinups for men’s barracks during World War ll.

It wasn’t until after the war that the stiletto was invented and fashion aligned with erotica. While we may have had a desire for higher heels; we simply didn’t have the technology. But in the 50’s it became possible to create higher heels by putting steel in the heel, and crafting high heel shoes became an art form for striking and innovative design.

Presently, at the Brooklyn Museum, there is an exhibit, Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe. I loved the exhibit, and viewed the shoes on display in awe, appreciating the genius and beauty in the designs, captivated by the red soles on countless Louboutin shoes, gold leather Salvatore Ferragamo wedges from 1938 and silk creations from as far back as 1650.

But then there were the shoes from China that women who had their feet bound wore; and my heart literally clenched, my stomach turned. I went home and read about foot binding and how a woman’s foot was broken and bound in order for it not to grow. As a result feet would be smaller, more dainty and womanlike. This process, foot binding, was excruciating, feet deformed and women crippled. And yet the desire to be beautiful, and maintain high status, according to some cultural belief, allowed this to go on for centuries.

Is it so different today here in America?

Our back hurts, our calves are tight but go to Barney’s 5th floor any time of any day. Go to the Bergdorf’s shoe salon. Those floors are so crowded you would think they were giving the shoes away. On the contrary, prices have climbed as shoe departments have grown in size. It seems we can’t get enough. Of course flats are displayed too; but that’s not what catches my attention.

What fuels our desire for heels?

Is it Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City? Does her desire for Manolo Blahniks glamorize the high heel?

Are women more attractive in stilettos?

Or have we been conditioned to think that high heels are beautiful because celebrities and fashion models are pictured in them?

Here’s news: in 2010, at an Alexander McQueen fashion show a model took off her deadly sharp stilettos, protesting, choosing not to walk the show for health and safety reasons.

Are high heels the new cigarettes?

There was a time when Lauren Becall and Humphrey Bogart made smoking look cool. But in case you didn’t know, Humphrey Bogart died of esophageal cancer. As people got educated and became aware of the hazards of smoking, things changed.

So feminists, like the surgeon general, warn us. They proclaim that heels are unsafe and detrimental to the well-being of a body, our backs and feet compromised. And maybe that agenda has been successful. The image of the heel altered from something beautiful to something irrational, which leads one to believe that flats are just cooler. Image accounts for a lot. And possibly, in time, these shifts in thinking will change things for future generations.

Often, comfort wins out, and I wear flats; but while I believe there is nothing as uncool as wearing high wedges or heels to the beach or a poolside, sometimes, I do it anyway.

Even though it might not be considered the height of elegance or class, I have been known to dance barefooted at the end of a long night. Yes, I can be defeated, or more precisely, “defeeted” by my shoes.

And yet, I won’t stop wearing them. I gawk at them in wonder in magazines, on department stores shelves, on other women’s feet and in museum exhibitions. They are inexplicably alluring.

In Kinky Boots, the Broadway show, there is a song called, Sex Is In The Heel. And maybe that’s it.

After all, John Travolta responds as desired to Olivia Newton John as she struts in those red stilettos. He sings, “And I’m losing control ‘cause the power you’re supplying, its electrifying.”

High heels are instruments of power. And I, along with many other women, buy into the idea that they elongate your legs, make you wiggle when you walk and give you a taller, thinner silhouette.

Even though logically, I want to say those are silly, superficial reasons to wear high heels, on some primitive level, I’m seduced by them. Just as men are.