Taking the full measure of life

Why I Quit Wearing Heels (Or, Seeing & Changing What Isn’t Working in Your Life)

February 5th, 2008 · 29 Comments

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You know how you look back at styles from previous decades–or, even better, from previous centuries—and wonder what they could have possibly been thinking?

Powdered wigs, for example.


Or those puffy Elizabeth shorts, or knee britches.


Or, for a couple of example from women’s fashions,

extreme corsets


or tiny lotus shoes, worn in China after successful foot-binding.


You know that the people partaking in those fashions wanted to be stylish, beautiful, elegant, sexy—or even just normal, average. We generally look at their styles now and think they just look absurd. Thus is fashion, right?

One problem is that women tend to get stuck with the styles that are not just silly but are also painful, even potentially deforming.

Like the women who cinched their sexy little waists until they deformed their ribs and abdominal organs with those corsets.


Or the women (starting with poor little girls, at age 6 or so) who had their feet bound until they were beautiful, delicate, and completely deformed.


We are all part of the culture(s) we inhabit. We are socialized to believe what society around us believes, and that’s often a good thing. (Table manners, anyone?) But sometimes I find I need to take a step back from my surrounding culture and find an answer for myself. I think that’s an integral part of weight loss and general good health, actually–figuring out a way to tune out various messages, images, etc., that influence me to believe unhealthy things . . . whether those things are that people are lazy if they are fat or that people can’t be trusted to figure out what’s good for their bodies without constant supervision from some other force. Being able to step back and see the right answer for me has been an integral, essential part of this journey.

About a year ago now, I started learning how to run. Sometimes people laugh when I phrase it that way (one of my sisters said, “Uh, I’ve known how to run since I was two”), but that is pretty much what happened. I started out walking. I had to get my posture right. I had to learn not to swing my arms across my body as I ran. I had to build up my endurance so I could run one mile, then two, then three.

When I started out the running process (using Couch to 5k), it only took me a week to realize something: I couldn’t wear high heels, or otherwise uncomfortable shoes, and then go home and run. My feet hurt too much; my joints were already too sore. It just wasn’t going to work.

Now, I love the elongating appeal of heels as much as the next girl–maybe more than some, since I’m 5’4″ and, according to American society’s standards, could use a little extra height and leg length. (As a side note, I had to have my husband take my picture when I stood in a line for a restroom during a festival in Japan. I was at least half a head taller than every other woman/girl in the line, which tickled me to death.)

Heels are also sexy, right? There’s just some undefinable thing about them–probably undefinable because it’s culturally defined. There’s nothing innate in us that makes heels so hot. Still, we do think they’re hot.

But . . . I wanted to run. I wanted to prove to myself that I could learn to do something that I had little natural or trained (at that point) ability to do. I wanted to exercise, to develop athleticism. And 2007 was the year I started taking care of myself, and, um, heels hurt. Some of my other shoes hurt, too. I bought them because they were cute, either ignoring that they were uncomfortable or not discovering that they were uncomfortable till I’d worn them 8 hours at a time. Ouch.

I thought about it for a couple of hours—I do tend to make decisions quickly—and then I felt sure. I already knew most of the information contained in this illustrative chart about what high heels do to the body. I knew the right answer was to take care of myself by taking care of my body. The heels and other uncomfortable shoes had to go. In their place, I decided, I would purchase fewer pairs of shoes of higher quality, shoes that were made to support the body—and preferably from companies that tried to keep their ecological footprint in mind as well, like Timberland does. I decided I would never again follow society’s shoe dictates if the shoes weren’t comfortable to me. (“But you have to have one pair of heels for, you know, when occasions dictate it, right?” one of my friends asked, clearly expecting an “Of course.” “Nope,” I responded. “They’re all going.” I can’t think of an example when I would have to wear heels, anyway. You can buy fancy flats or near flats.)

My mind made up, I Freecycled all of my shoes with heels higher than about an inch and any shoes that were otherwise uncomfortable. Can I tell you that it was actually freeing to give those things away to other (thrilled) women and then look in my closet to see my choices narrowed down to 4 or 5 pairs?

To cement my choice, I took all my pants to a tailor and had them hemmed to fit the shorter length of my low-heeled or flat shoes. Then there was no going back—at least until I shrank some, and bought new pants—unless I wanted to be wearing high-water pants with my heels.

And I was, and am, left with lots of cute options, especially in these days of multihued, great loafers, ballet flats, clogs, Mary Janes, sandals, etc. Actually, sometimes a little limitation in choices can help a girl not feel so overwhelmed about making a purchase.


Am I telling you to give up high heels unequivocally, right this second, or implying that if you don’t, you don’t care about yourself? Nope. If you adore high heels and can’t imagine living without them, that’s certainly okay. You can find your own boundaries between you and society’s rules for yourself. (And I think some people find them less uncomfortable than I do.) Am I telling you to give up heels if you think they are contributing to your discomfort, unhappiness, stress, etc.? Well, sure, if it feels right to you. But mainly, I just want you to take time and energy to note what you’re doing without thinking about it (and/or what you’re letting happen) that might just be inhibiting your growth toward a healthy, happy, self-actualized kind of person. Then ask yourself if the trade-off is worth it, and if it’s not, take some action to change it today.

Tags: on the soapbox · running just as fast as we can · Uncategorized

29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 HotThickChick // Feb 5, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Somehow heels have become a part of my identity. My 3 year old nephew is always totally fascinated by my shoes because he otherwise never sees high heels (my sister in law is far too sensible to wear them! ;)…. People don’t believe me when I say I’m 5’5, likely because I’m always ‘faking’ 5’8!

    I’m picky about the heels I buy though, must be comfortable enough.

    This is an interesting thought though.. I’m sure there are many things in my life I’m doing without realizing that could be examined…

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  • 2 glutenfreeforgood // Feb 5, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    What a great post, Sally!

    Oh — and you look sooo cute in that new outfit of yours. Nice hair too! You’ve got good hair, girl. You don’t need high heels with hair like that and a smile like yours!

    Go for it!

  • 3 Freshman15 // Feb 5, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    This was really interesting! I’ve never been an avid wearer of high heels, but I do enjoy them on occasion. I thought it was very eye opening to compare this fashion to the corsets and foot binding. Great post!

  • 4 Cherie // Feb 5, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I love my Earth vegan comfortable shoes for work, as in Philly, most people have some walking to do and heels would be ridiculous! I do like to wear higher heels here and there for special occasions, but only if not a lot of moving about is involved!

  • 5 sally // Feb 5, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    HTC, hey–if the heels works for you, go with them, definitely! But yes, I really meant the last paragraph; it’s not necessarily heels that’s the issue for everyone. I think we all have things we’re blind to for a while that are inhibiting us, though. I’m sure I still have some; I love my simplicity circle for helping me think through some things like that. I keep meaning to post about that.

    Melissa, thanks. 😀 That’s very complimentary of you.

    Freshman15, I don’t want to carry the analogy too far, but then, I do think there’s a connection. 🙂

    Cherie, thanks for mentioning you find the Earth shoes really comfortable. I look at them in Whole Foods regularly and have wondered if they are worth their price tag. I’ll have to check them out the next time I’m thinking of buying a pair of shoes!

  • 6 Jenn // Feb 5, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    One of my coworkers today was talking about how comfortable her Earth shoes are. I have been thinking of giving them a try myself!

  • 7 Nikki // Feb 5, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    The thing that kind of makes me laugh is that I’ve noticed that when I have been lighter and in better shape (we’ll not talk about when that was) my heels were very comfortable for me to wear. I’m seeing that as I lose weight, my heels are becoming more comfortable for me to wear.

    I’m much shorter than you, and heels are one of the ways I’ve learned to get people to take me seriously. I’m not worried about my legs being longer – I just have to give men the opportunity to see me at all rather than looking straight over my head. I dont wear them all the time by any means, but I’d have a hard time giving them up for that reason. Of course, I also have an irrational attachment to my hair. 🙂

  • 8 Terri // Feb 6, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Hurray for flats! I’ve never liked heels and railed against wearing them. I’m glad to have so many cute shoes to choose from when I go shopping (though I am still so picky – they have to be pretty darn comfortable, and my feet are picky!). My biggest problem now is not buying all the cute flats. I’m especially weak when it comes to Mary Jane style shoes. I have one pair of black heels, maybe 1 to 1.5 inches, that I just absolutely fell in love with and so a friend surprised me with them. I wear them a few times a year, and the rest the time it is flats!

  • 9 Kristen // Feb 6, 2008 at 7:38 am

    i tend to wear heels about 2-3 times a week. i work in an incredibly professional environment — heels give me the feminine professional edge. but i hear you. good post.

  • 10 Riley & Tiki's Mom // Feb 6, 2008 at 10:25 am

    How to stop wearing heels:

    1. be 5’9″
    2. marry a man who is 5’5″

  • 11 Ricki // Feb 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I haven’t worn heels in maybe 15 years, except to VERY special occasions (ie, cousin’s wedding), and I probably can’t even call those “heels” (like, one inch!). I was never comfortable in them, even as a teen, and after not wearing them for so long, my feet just won’t stretch to that angle any more.

    I guess having very bad feet pushed me into the decision, but am happy now that I’ve done it. With ice-encrusted sidewalks for about 5 months of the year where I live, I am very glad I’m in flats! (and those ballerina slippers look awfully cute).

  • 12 Donna // Feb 6, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I love the concept—figuring out what isn’t working in your life and eliminating it. I haven’t had to eliminate heels (since I never wore them) — but I have definitely seen some RELATIONSHIPS that fall into that category.

  • 13 Helen // Feb 6, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Fantastic post, Sally! I too am off high heels forever…in fact, I was just saying to DB the other day that I’ve got to ebay the gorgeous spikeys that sit in my closet just because they are too beautiful for me to have had the courage to get rid of (I haven’t worn them in at least 4 years). OK, I’m gonna DO it! 🙂

  • 14 alice // Feb 6, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    hi! thanks for visiting my blog. yours is awesome as well. if you’re going gluten-free, i bet you might already know about these food blogs. i’m not on a gluten free diet but i do sometimes cook for my gluten free/vegan friends and these have been a couple of my favorite resources for great recipes:

    gluten free girl

    gluten free goddess

    also, this is a great post. it’s always easy to see how ridiculous some “social norms” were in retrospect so maybe one day people can look back on our time and think “wow, how can those people torment themselves with such unrealistic body image standards?”

  • 15 Lori W. // Feb 6, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Sally, I hardly ever wear heels (bad ankles and now bad knee) but I have my share of what I call “Sybill” shoes. Shoes that seem comfortable at the store but turn into bear traps at home…so I’ve gotten rid of them quickly. I love flats!

    Your post is fabulous and it’s a good reminder to look at habits and what we’re doing and if we’re enjoying it.

  • 16 Karen the FabGrandma // Feb 6, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    I can remember the last time I ever wore heels. I was working at a high rise office building in downtown Atlanta that had a highly polished marble floor in the lobby. I have always been on the heavy side, more to love is what I call it. Well, that day I was wearing a dress and wearing these cute little heels, and I was running late for work, trying to hurry in the morning rush. My feet slipped out from under me, I landed on my hiney with my dress up over my head, sliding at an alarming rate into a crowd of people on that marble floor.

    I was so embarrassed I wanted to die right there on the spot. Two young men rushed over and helped me to my feet. I have never worn heels again since then, and I never ever wore that dress to work again, because I was afraid everyone would recognize it. I still blush when I think about it and it was over 20 years ago.

  • 17 Amanda // Feb 7, 2008 at 3:09 am

    Hi Sally,
    I used to be a shoe addict (high heels, flats, the lot). Then a lot of years ago I gave over 70 pairs to the Charity Shop. It felt fantastic and I now have about 5 or 6 pairs of shoes. Including a pair of Timberlands that I’ve worn for over 10 years now, they’re like a comfort blanket. My mum bought me a new pair for Christmas the year before last because she said the other ones were so scruffy but guess which ones still go on my feet at least 4 times a week?

    Saw your pictures too. You look amazing! Well done on the weight loss. I like your thought process about it all.

    … and thanks for leaving a comment on my blog.

  • 18 Nona // Feb 7, 2008 at 4:09 am

    I hate physical discomfort and high heels are uncomfortable for me.

    I think women, as liberated as we like to tout ourselves as being, are actually controlled more than we know or care to admit by the male gaze . It’s men who control the fashion industry and it’s men who decide what is sexy for women and we buy their taste hook line and sinker.

    When I was 17, my cousin Gail and I went to a party where we both wore our first pair of identical high heels with a thin strap across the toes. Quarter of the way through the party I turned to Gail and asked, ‘Are your feet killing you?’ She responded, ‘Yes, but looking good is more important than feeling good.’ :0 I lived by that motto through my teens and mid 20’s then I stopped when I discovered a pair of slip on platform shoes that appealed to my aesthetic and were as comfortable as walking bare footed (my favourite state). I wore those shoes too DEATH and mourned when they died.

    Since then if I can’t wiggle my toes freely in a pair of shoes, they are not for me. My preference in shoes run between combat boots in winter, baby janes in the spring and autumn and flat sandles or platformed sandles in the summer.

  • 19 Meg Wolff // Feb 7, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Excellent post. I referenced it on my post today. Tried to email you but it can back.

  • 20 Kitty // Feb 7, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    I usually read the other comments but won’t tonight. In 1994 the joint on my right big toe was replaced with a titanium screw due to an injury from when I was a dancer in outdoor drama. (OK, also I tried to kick in a concrete wall at age 21 when I found out my first husband was having an affair with his secretary – but it was the dancing that did me in). The 4 years ago I ruptured both achilles in a freak dancing incident. SO I have pretty much given up more than 2″ heels and I so totally grieve them. Every day when I get dressed I grieve them. I have a few in my closet still and every now and then if I know I wil only wear them for an hour or two while sitting I will wear them. But mostly I wear flats or very low heels. And at the end of the day I have more energy.

    But still I grieve because I know I carry myself like a sexy and strong woman when I wear heels. When I am in the flats I know I am strong and sometimes I feel sexy but somehow it isn’t the same.

  • 21 Natalie // Feb 8, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    All Mom Shoes for me. And I have only worn one pair of shoes this month. Sometimes this is kinda hard for an ex-sorority girl who owned LOTS of shoes, but I love wearing tennis shoes and running after my little boys. Simple can be better. Cool article.

  • 22 Melanie // Feb 11, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I gave up heels long ago. The other thing I hate, is dresses in the winter. I hate them. Summer, love them. Can’t stand panty hose. Last year I discovered clogs made by dansko. I love their shoes! So comfortable.

    If I had my way, it would be blue jeans all the time with either tennis shoes or clogs!

  • 23 Heidi @ Carolina Dreamz // Mar 8, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Sally. I’m new around here, but I wanted to pipe in a comment. I love your blog and will be adding you to my blog-roll.

    I’ve been heel-free since some awful abusive dancing shoes left me without the ability to wear any shoes for over ten years.

    Now my damaged foot picks out my shoes. I’ve only recently taken off the orthotics to try on supportive slip-on sandals, and I’m so in love with shoes again.

    I never thought to wear a red pair of shoes until now. Maybe I’m not too simple of a girl to wear a cute pair of red flats.

    Thanks for the inspiration,

  • 24 sarah // Aug 21, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I totally agree! I know that this is an older post, but i just came across it after googling “running after wearing heels,” and had to comment. I recently began training for a marathon, and have been running a lot, and feeling pretty good. I unintentionally gave up heels this summer in favor of cute, dressyish flip flops. Then the other day I wore heels, and when I went to run that evening, felt like it was my first time out! My legs were tight and tired and I was so frustrated. I realized it was the heels and now I refuse to wear them. I’m totally investing in great flats for fall/winter. My marathon is Nov 30th…and flats just might be the best training partner a girl could have 🙂

  • 25 Agnes Maria // Oct 3, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Never wore heels. Saw what they did to my mom’s feet, have very high arches that need support, and always rebel against what is definitely non-essential and at the same time damaging. That short women feel the need to wear heels to be taken seriously, or that so many of them also need great tonnes of makeup and other baubles, is a failure of our society. Our men have failed us, and we have failed ourselves. Natural and healthy is truly beautiful and sexy. Unnatural and unhealthy is just that, and anyone who fails to see this has yet to open their eyes and realise the real lies.

  • 26 Thank You, Thieves // Jan 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    […] the low heels on the shoes.  I wrote a post a while back about why I gave up high heels for […]

  • 27 Jake // Nov 25, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Unfortunately our society is still height obsessed, equating tallness with beauty in women (why are fashion models so much taller than average women?) and with power and virility in men (taller men are considered better looking and more earning power).

    And to Agnes Maria about that “men have failed us.” I feel the same way about women. Women always insist on dating and marrying taller guys. Makes us shorter guys feel left out; look at all the personal ads by women that state height requirements for their dates.

  • 28 Kristine // Mar 10, 2010 at 7:41 am

    I gave up heels just yesterday! It feels great, it’s very liberating. There are tons of nice flats out there, it seems absurd to walk around on little spikes. My feet are so happy!

  • 29 karen // Mar 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    My favorite shoes are my tennis shoes. I live in them almost year round. I gave up makeup like 20 something years ago due to allergies to the makeup. Even clinique made my eyes swell up and cry. I felt if I have to put cortizone creme on my eyes before putting the makeup on, it wasn’t worth it!!! I’ve never regretted it. I have a better complextion than my sister does who wears tons of makeup. Once you set your skin breathe and be free of all that stuff, you look better. My husband of 5 months has never seen me in makeup and he thinks I’m the most beautiful woman in his world!!!

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