By Vaila Bhaumick

There’s no place like home”—words famously uttered by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Our heroine did reach home eventually, but she needed those damn red shoes! Why were the shoes so important? Whoever had them had the power. 

There’s a message in there somewhere—running after a non-existent Wizard in a pair of red heels perhaps doesn’t always lead to happily ever after. 

High-heeled shoes are symbols of status, identity, and power.  Stilettos, especially, have come to symbolise feminine power for some and the oppression of women for others, but it’s still a much-debated topic. I, for one, wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of heels, and I’ll tell you why.

“These Shoes Are Killing Me!”

You have likely uttered this phrase at some point in your life. And it’s true—your feet are probably slowly dying inside the “coffins” we put them in, so why don’t we pay more attention to our feet? They get us everywhere we want to go, and yet we constrict them in ill-fitting footwear. Crazy! 

Have you ever tried reflexology? Or even had a really good foot massage? It feels heavenly, and there’s a reason for that—feet are connected to other body parts such as nerves, joints and organs, according to practitioners. 

Even if you’re sceptical about alternative therapies, it is widely accepted that shoes are bad! From shortening our tendons to giving us ankle and knee problems to altering our natural gait, the evidence is stacked against shoes—especially stilettos!

Call This Evolution?

We think it’s normal to wear shoes, but it’s not. Shoes were invented to protect our feet from sharp objects or the rough, cold ground below. In this respect, they have helped us explore new terrains such as the Arctic, the world’s highest mountains and even space.

Somewhere along the line though, we seem to have overdone it with shoes. It’s one thing needing protection from the elements, but, for me, stilettos are the epitome of how shoes have gone so horrifically wrong!

The first rudimentary shoes were invented about 26,000-40,000 years ago, but before that, humans relied on their feet to survive. Our feet were designed for running. We could run so far and so fast that we could chase an animal until it got heatstroke. The human body is capable of so much, but fast forward to the present day, and we’re prancing around in high heels that we couldn’t run two metres in, never mind miles on end!

Shod Versus Unshod—It’s All About Status

Ok, so we don’t need to hunt animals anymore. But we know shoes aren’t good for us, so why have they become so important to us? It’s all about status—class, identity, gender. Shoes tell society something about the wearer, as do our clothes and possessions. Historically, the poor wandered barefoot while the rich wore poncey shoes and rode in carriages.

These days, shoes have become indicators of status, although it’s sometimes hard to decipher due to the emergence of ‘ugly chic’. High-heeled crocs and $900 sneakers abound. At least there’s a silver lining—most in-vogue shoes seem to be more comfort-orientated, and I consider it a positive sign if women are moving away from stilettos. 

Squeezing Into Our Sexist Shoes

We all know the Cinderella story, where countless women tried to squeeze into shoes that didn’t fit them to gain a man’s affections. This message is plastered all over our films, TV shows, and books—women are expected to look pretty or sexy, and most of the time, that means wearing heels.

A historical example was ‘Foot Binding’ which took place in China in the 13th century. Women would bind their feet for two years in silk wrappings, having already had their big toes broken, nails clipped short and feet bent double. The feet ended up misshapen, and the desired length of 3 inches, apparently inspired by a 10th-century court dancer who bound her feet into the shape of a new moon to ‘entrance’ an Emperor. Ugh.

This story epitomises why I rebel against uncomfortable high-heeled shoes. It makes me furious that women are still fighting against sexist dress codes in workplaces, even though it’s detrimental to their health and blatantly discounts their right to choose their footwear.

Our everyday habits obviously seem reasonable to us. Still, it’s healthy to take a step back and question these things occasionally. The wearing of shoes is one example. I’m not suggesting we all go barefoot, but there’s a reason why it feels so good, and we should try it more often. Our feet connect us to our home, the earth. So if you enjoy wearing heels, there’s no judgement. However, remember that although Dorothy needed her magical ruby slippers to get home, we already have the tools: our feet.