Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection

A woman writes about the mandatory high heels for women issue:

It’s hard to imagine men enduring decades of pain and long-term physical injury just to “look the part” in the workplace – after all, many bemoan the necktie as too restrictive for the daily grind.

Now consider this: millions of women around the world, at all levels of the workplace hierarchy, have consistently spent their working hours tortured by blisters, bloodied flesh, foot pain, knee pain, back pain and worse, as a result of the pressure to conform to an aesthetic code – sometimes explicitly written into contracts or policy, more often subliminally expected as a societal and cultural standard – that deems it appropriate to wear high heels.

Strange, isn’t it. The cover story is that it’s all about aesthetics, but I’m not convinced. I think it’s part fetish and part disable them so that they can’t escape. I think the proportions of each vary with the individual.

Fascination with the footwear appears to be endless, with a new exhibition celebrating Manolo Blahnik’s work opening at London’s Wallace Collection tomorrow.


In my former roles as a newspaper fashion editor and TV fashion correspondent, I revelled in the regular opportunities I had to dress up in exotic footwear. However, motherhood and life as a freelance journalist based in a rural village have made it necessary to adapt to changing needs, so trainers, brogues and wellies now feature more frequently. While I find heels empowering and enjoyable to wear on the right occasion, I would challenge any employer who stipulated I was contractually obliged to do so.

That’s the bit that made me decide to do a note here. She finds heels “empowering”??? How? In what sense of the word? How can that possibly make sense when heels are necessarily disempowering? They’re hobbles. They’re also sexy (see: fetish) but they can’t not be hobbling too. They are radically different from normal functional shoes that we wear to protect our feet from broken glass and dog shit: they are deliberately and calculatedly not functional, but rather anti-functional. No one would voluntarily wear them to run a race or to escape from a bear or to walk a few miles. The highness of the heels in High Heels makes them anti-functional as shoes: the highness slows the gait and makes it at least somewhat painful, and increasingly painful with more time and more steps. So in what sense can they be “empowering”?

This must be the ultimate in libertarian choosy-choice empowerment feminism: modern day footbinding is “empowering.”

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