The Truth About High Heels and Confidence

I hate wearing high heels. I wear Converse All Stars in black and white, black Adidas I got on sale, Nike running shoes, Birkenstocks, and flat brown suede boots — but not a single pair of heels can be found in my very messy dorm room. I wore heels for the first time since my high school graduation at a recent fraternity party (my friends insisted I wear them with a dress I had borrowed), but was still hardly convinced to make them a staple of my wardrobe.

As I finally gave up and called an Uber to take me and my swollen throbbing feet home that night, I began to wonder if my refusal to wear high heels would impact me in my life beyond college (and frat parties). I'm certainly not the only woman who refuses to wear high heel shoes: According to the Spine Health Institute, only 31 percent of women who wear heels reported wearing them to work and most women reserve them for special occasions. But studies also confirm that wearing high-heeled shoes effects women in real ways.

First, there's the stereotypical truism that men find women who wear heels more attractive, which was likely the primary reason my friends insisted I wear heels to the party. For example, in one Archives of Sexual Behavior study, female participants who asked strangers for directions while wearing heels received help from 83 percent of the men they approached, whereas only 47 percent of women wearing Birkenstock-like shoes did. I found just how effective heels are at emphasizing their wearer's presence when I hobbled around the fraternity house that night, my shoes making a distinct tapping noise wherever I went. Not only did the noise attract attention, but I imagine my changed posture — my chest pushed forward and my hips back — was also noticeable.

Not only does wearing heels attract attention, but refusing to wear heels can professionally disadvantage women. One Columbia University study, for example, found that wearing formal clothing (including high heels), was associated with perceptions of professionalism. The American Psychological Association has also found that each inch above average height may earn individuals an extra $789 per year. Heels obviously make their wearer taller and therefore give women an advantage in the workplace by making them physically comparable to men (at least in height).

But despite these studies, it seems that heels alone don't advantage women. The correlation between height and better pay found in the APA study ultimately stemmed from the correlation between height and better self-esteem: Taller people had more confidence than shorter people. It's this quality — confidence — that therefore seems to be the actual key to determining one's ability to advance in life.

While heel height may make women feel more confident and assertive, and these qualities are undeniably assets in both the workplace and in the public, it seems their ability to do so is just a placeholder or tool. If wearing my Birkenstocks, or any other pair of flat-soled shoes, make me feel just as (if not more) confident than does wearing heels, I will continue to wear them. And, luckily, I can always use the GPS on my phone when I do instead of trying to ask men for directions and somehow will survive without the attention of otherwise disinterested frat boys.

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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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