Do Women Have To Wear High Heels To Succeed In The Workplace?

“Flat shoes are for quitters,” 30 Rock’s Avery Jessup — Jack Donaghy’s uber-blonde Republican wife — once quipped. And my mom, who prides herself on having worn stilettos throughout her entire 20s, has forever been saying that it’s time for me to “dress more elegantly” and “be a real woman.”

My mom and Avery Jessup can go have brunch on the moon together for all I care.

When I wear high heels, I feel like I’m playing dress-up and forcing people to look at me. I want people to pay attention to me for my real achievements, not for my painful, towering footwear. I also feel like I’ve turned into someone snooty, unapproachable, boring — not myself. I want to tell myself to chill. Plus, even if I use those little foot pads, my feet always end up hurting after 20 minutes. I buy the lowest, most comfortable heels, but even those are unbearable on my cursed wide feet after a while. And I do awesome things in flats all day long and don’t make annoying click-clacky noises and Reese Witherspoon loves flats, goshdarnit.

But OK, let’s put me aside for one second — I’m well aware that I’m in the minority of women here. The common wisdom is high heels make a woman stand taller, look (be??) more confident, and seem more professional in the workplace. But is this really true? How can an uncomfortable contraption that makes you walk slower and appear daintier make you more confident?

Nancy Irwin, an L.A.-based doctor of clinical psychology, says it doesn’t. While different women feel different when wearing heels — “Some feel sexy, powerful, more effective, able to be an equal to/compete with men. Others feel completely cramped, uncomfortable, and objectified” — they were invented, she says, to “slow women down. So they cannot move as quickly as men, so men can catch them, and also so women cannot surpass them. To put women at a disadvantage, sexually, professionally, and psychologically.” Aha.

Answering a 2009 TODAY Show poll that asked “Do high heels empower or oppress women in the workplace?” 32% of respondents said, “High heels oppress women. They objectify women as mere sex objects while causing lasting damage to their feet and ankles.” Yes, 49% said empower, but one-third is a big chunk!

If you don’t buy into the feminist reasons, there are medical reasons not to wear them. High heels cause major damage to your feet, such as corns, calluses, and foot blisters, not to mention ankle fractures, nerve damages, and varicose veins. Does this creepily remind anyone else of another article of clothing that’s meant to adorn women but renders them completely dysfunctional? That’s right, corsets! Remember those from the 19th century? Women fainted wearing them all the time.

In fact, just this month, The Daily Mail reported that studies have found heels can greatly increase the risk of arthritis later in life because they can “alter posture and increase pressure on the foot, ankle and knee joints, raising the threat of osteoarthritis, the most common form of the condition.”

Dr. Isaac Tabari, a podiatrist in Midtown, NYC, confirms this:  “Yes, high heels increase the risks of arthritis because they increase the pressure on the metatarsal phalangeal joint (joint at the ball of the foot)  and the mid-tarsal joint (joint at the mid-foot),” says Dr. Tabari. This increased pressure over many years can deteriorate the joints, he says, and cause arthritis.

Wearing high heels your entire life can also cause chronic back-heel pain, also known as tendinitis, he adds. Because of this pain, people often change the way they walk, which in turn leads to knee, hip, and back pain, as well as pain in the ball of the foot. Wearing high heels also increases the chances of stress fracture on the foot.

To stave off these gnarly medical problems, Dr. Tabari suggests alternating between higher and lower heels and flats, and doing regular stretching exercises.

As for me? I’ll just avoid high heels 99% of the time (no one’s perfect). And I’m not quitting anything anytime soon, Avery Jessup. Sleep with one eye open, blondie.

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    • Dana

      “they were invented, she says, to “slow women down. So they cannot move as quickly as men” uh, last time I checked throughout history heels were traditionally worn by both men and women and at different times (most notably 17th century France) men were the dominant demographic. So I don’t know where she came up with that line especially considering that high heels were usually a sign of wealth, insinuating that you didn’t have to move quickly or be functional.

    • christine

      While I do enjoy the occasional dress-up, I must agree. In the workplace, I either wear flats, or very lowwww heels. Although I can’t imagine why a workplace would frown on flats.

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    • 2011louboutinsale

      As a child, Louboutin would regularly sneak out of school, from the age of 12, to visit the flea market of Vila do Conde, where all the gipsies loved his shoes. Although Louboutin faced much opposition following his decision to leave school so early, he claims that his resolve was strengthened after watching an interview on TV with Sophia Loren in which she introduced her sister, saying she had to leave school when she was only 12 but when she turned 50 she got her degree. “Everybody applauded! And I thought, ‘Well, at least if I regret it I’m going to be like the sister of Sophia Loren!’”

    • Emma

      I don’t agree that heels were invented to slow women down. If you’re used to them you can walk, run or stand in them, all day, no hassle. IMO they were invented to separate the women who are used to wearing them, who bravely walked through the pain barrier until they became accustomed to them, from those who live in flats and who are in agony on the rare occasions they wear heels.

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