The Risks and Rewards of High Heels

From a NYTimes roundtable on Why We Love the Shoes That Hurt Us, a piece by Jennifer Scanlon, author of The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader.

The Risks, the Rewards

A daring group of researchers has reached some unsurprising findings about women’s consumer practices: wearing practical shoes in early adult life ensures more healthy feet in retirement. As they discovered, women are far less likely than men to don these practical shoes and reap the long-term benefits.

What we need to consider is this: women know, either from personal experience or from watching other women wobble, that shoes are not now, or are they likely ever to be, just about walking, and they certainly are not just about health. One can lament this fact, but really, isn’t this what consumer culture (our culture) is about: negotiating risks (think of fast food, or alcohol, or sexy shoes), and assessing rewards (think of pleasure, or fashionability, or satiating desire).

As Helen Gurley Brown realized, women are no better — and no worse — at making decisions big and small than men are. They simply have more shoes to choose from — and make a wider range of choices. Who’s going to draw the line on just how high a heel is practical, or healthful or sexy?

The ultimate arbiters have to be women themselves, who quickly enough learn that they can’t walk in certain heels, or sit down in certain skirts, or stay sufficiently warm in certain coats. The advice Helen Gurley Brown might give to the advice givers: don’t get caught between a rock and a high heel.

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