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I Put My Foot Down and Gave Up High Heels

Why I said ‘heel no.’

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An image of a person's feet in Oxfords.
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It’s been nearly four years since I’ve worn high heels. No pumps. No slingbacks. No platforms. After a summer day of contemplation, I decided oxfords were going to be my signature shoe.

Let me be clear: I love shoes. One of the bits of wisdom my late grandfather shared was to always buy good shoes because your feet take you everywhere. With those words, buying shoes became about more than just shopping — it was an act of faith. My wandering feet couldn’t get where I wanted to be looking any ol’ way.

As a teenager, I’d received all the typical messages about femininity, so wearing high heels was a natural goal. I was becoming a woman, after all, and I’m on the tall side, so I understood that my long legs would look leaner and my butt perkier perched on three inches. The higher, the fly-er. They made me feel powerful, too. Being taller than the guy I liked was acceptable in heels. Looking down made me feel formidable.

Oh, the memories! I still think about the pair of sapphire blue-suede pumps with a three-inch block heel. I swooned when I saw them and after I bought them, I displayed them on a shelf in my room. There was the trip to Barney’s where I found the perfect four-inch-high strappy sandals to go with my glittery slip dress. The Swarovski crystal strap around the ankle echoed the crown I wore at my birthday party.

No one told me, though, that walking in heels was a learned ability; I never got a heel-toe primer. When I think back on my times with my highest heels, I’m pretty sure I teetered and clomped more than I glided. In other words, the heels were wearing me. And truth be told, wearing me out. Yet for a long time I convinced myself that all was well. The pain? It was worth it. The corns? Get a bandage and keep it moving, girl.

But slowly the insanity of it all started to occur to me. I’d start the day in my cute shoes only to end up longing for the moment when I could kick them off. Many a night, alone on a dark street, the clip of my heels reminded me that if something jumped off, I’d fall flat on my face. Plus, as it turns out, I’m not that good at ignoring pain, particularly the screaming raw pain of corns. (Not to mention the shame they caused during sandal season.)

So yeah, it started to occur to me that heels didn’t make a lot of sense. I needed to treat my feet better. I have an unyielding dislike of ballet flats — they seem made for people who think shoes are just coverings to protect your feet from the pavement. Oxfords, on the other hand, are substantial. They are masculine and feminine, serious and quirky. There’s something gratifying about tying them; I think it evokes my earliest memories of footwear, of buckling my hard-soled Mary Janes or securing my laces to jump double Dutch. I have pairs in suede, a rich purple and another in a vibrant goldenrod. I wore an ivory leather pair to officiate a wedding. I have a pair with a thick black sole and a silver upper you can see your reflection in.

I read recently that the latest trick for dealing with the pain of high heels is easing the pain with CBD or cannabidiol cream, derived from the cannabis plant. Just think about that. Folks are medicating their feet so they can wear stilettos. For real.

I think that’s as crazy as it sounds. Swearing off heels has given me comfort on my feet and signify a greater comfort with myself. I don’t need to stand tall to stand out. My legs and my booty don’t need a mirage of added height to be appealing. With feet firmly planted, I’m plenty formidable. I wear the shoes I want to wear. And my shoes no longer wear me. Or wear me out.