An Ode to High Heels
Kira Bushman, Feb 9
When I slip on my plain black heels in the morning before work, the click-clack, click-clack of their soles on the tiles lays me back in my childhood bedroom. My mom leaves the door cracked behind her after she tells me to start waking up, and I can see the light in the hallway coming through the space under the door. The light dances around the shadows of her feet walking back and forth through the hall, accompanied by the click-clack, click-clack of her high heels. My head rests heavily on my pillow and my eyes are open in the morning grayness of my room. The sound of her heels on the hardwood both lulls me back toward sleep and urges me to rise and join her.
I eat breakfast barefoot in the kitchen and watch my mom click around the house; strutting into the bathroom to wash her face, lifting a heel as she leans forward over her vanity to do her makeup in the mirror, standing on tip-toe to grab a Clif bar from the cabinet. Every step makes her long hair swing against her back. I look at her and the heels surround her with an aura of femininity and power that feels so far removed from me that I’m almost repelled by it. It feels like something I could never possess, a power that I don’t have the ability to emanate, much less understand.
Now I wake myself up in the morning (albeit after I’ve hit snooze a half-dozen times). After I get dressed, I put on my heels. I should wait until I’m ready to leave. I don’t like the idea of wearing outside shoes inside my apartment. But the sound is too satisfying to resist. Every hit of my heel on the tiles is another hole in the shroud of my self-doubt.
Overall, I am a quiet person. I don’t speak very much or very loudly. But I type with gusto; I pen my notes with force; my clicking heels can be heard from across the office. Even the quietness of femininity insists on taking up audible space.
Even the quietness of femininity insists on taking up audible space.
This choice of footwear — this choice to literally stand taller and be heard — is a statement of power. When it’s forced, though, it’s simply enforcing a role that not everyone wants to play. And forced displays of power aren’t showing real power at all.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my friend who works a front-desk job at a small office. Her (male) boss told her that, as she is “the face of the company” when she is the first person customers see, she needed to dress more professionally. She was confused. She sent me a picture of her narrow feet inside her nice leather flats and said that her closet was full of cardigans. Wasn’t that pretty professional?
“Do you think I need to buy a blazer?” she asked. “I tried on my mom’s but it was too big.” I asked her how much makeup she wore to work and if she ever wore high heels. The answers were “barely any” and “almost never.”
I told her that those were the two secrets. Makeup and heels. In 2019, they’re supposed to be a woman’s choice to wear or not, depending on what makes her feel best. Yet, they’re sometimes used as a method of control over how a woman looks and feels. She may be a little uncomfortable, but she is projecting the power her bosses want to convey through her.
Power in fashion has always been about discomfort; a sort of show that you are above bodily pain and the need for softness against your skin. Corsets, heels, ruffles, tights — none of this was designed to keep the wearer at ease. Even now, people noose their necks with ties to come across as authoritative. Feminine people aren’t the only ones who bear pain for beauty, and in this world, beauty is power.
Heels are a lasting remnant of a culture obsessed with controlling bodies to separate the physical from the psyche. The only difference now is that we have more of a choice. So I get up in the morning while my fiance still sleeps, and I click-clack around the apartment, comfortable in my choice of shoes that at once lull me into the traditional expectations of women’s beauty and urge me to rise and join the powerful women taking charge of their choices today.