I started wearing heels when I stopped apologizing for taking up space
Let me start by saying that this isn’t a letter of praise for the movie Tall Girl. Despite how my writing this article may make it seem, I don’t believe that being a tall, thin, white, cisgender woman is the greatest struggle of our time—not even close. Being a “tall girl” myself (I’m 5’9″) is just another thing that has informed the way I walk through the world. Thanks to my mom’s endless training, my walk has always been defined by good posture. But even with my shoulders pulled tightly back, my younger self used to dream about shrinking down just a couple inches to make myself a little cuter, a little more approachable, or at least a little shorter than most of the boys in my class.
I wore flats to my first high school dance, and I remember my also-5’9″ mom protesting that decision. She pulled shoe after shoe out of her closet trying to convince me to give something with a little heel a try. She said that flats don’t go with formal dresses and that heels help shape your legs, elongating your shins and defining your calves. She put up a good fight, but I resisted. At the time, I acted like my refusal to wear heels was due to teenage disobedience but, in reality, I was embarrassed and didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Nobody had asked me to the dance, so my friends had picked someone out for me—and I thought it would be rude to tower over the boy who I felt was doing me a favor by being my date. I didn’t want to cause more trouble by being taller.
If I could rewrite the story, I would have shown up in heels, all alone, looking awkward-hot and taking no questions.
I mainly wore flats for a couple more years—I still remember shopping for them. There was the pair of Vera Wang slip-ons from Macy’s, embellished with a glittery chain (edgy, I thought); the black glittery ballet flats from American Eagle that were sherpa-lined for the following year’s winter formal; and my favorite, a pair of black leather oxfords with cutouts on the side. I got by just fine, getting creative with my low-to-the-ground footwear options, but my aversion to heels was uncharacteristic given how much I’ve always loved fashion and experimenting with style.
I had myself convinced that flats were a life sentence for me, even if I always liked the heeled options at the store so much better. I thought it was irrational for a woman above average height (the American average height is 5″4) to wear heels and make herself taller. But the worst part about this wasn’t my lack of styling opportunity in the footwear department. It was the way I looked at other women. The idea that tall women shouldn’t do anything to make themselves taller was so deeply ingrained in my mind that I would feel an immediate resentment when I saw women pushing six feet in a pair of heels.
But it wasn’t just tall women wearing heels who made me feel this way. It was tall women who were also loud, assertive, laugh-at-their-own-jokes kind of women. Tall women with personalities to match. I didn’t like these women because I thought they were breaking the rules, the rules that I had religiously followed for years, the rules that even my own mother couldn’t convince me to ignore. I resented these women because I envied them, and it wasn’t until I started recognizing these patterns and put a name to my own internalized misogyny that I was able to become more like these women.
I bought my first pair of heels when I was working as a hostess at a restaurant during my senior year of high school. They were a pair of Dansko clogs with about a 1 1/2-inch platform—modest, but still a big step for me. Something about that job made me feel especially confident. I loved standing at the front of the house and being in charge of directing traffic and keeping things under control, and I loved it even more when I had my Danskos on.
My second pair of heels was probably my most formative. They were crisp white booties with a 2 1/2-inch heel. I bought them in my junior year of college, a few months after I broke up with a boyfriend who had cheated on me. Throughout that relationship, I had shrunken down so small that I didn’t recognize myself at the end of it. Once I was out, I made a commitment to be myself and to not only exist in my space but to claim it. I wore the hell out of those heels.
Since then, I’ve added many more heels to my shoe collection: chunky platform sandals, strappy pumps, mules, the works. After graduating college and before moving to New York, I even raided my mom’s closet for a few hand-me-down pairs, some of the same ones she had offered to me many years before for that first high school dance.
Nowadays, I feel just as confident in a pair of heels as I do in my sneakers or Doc Martens, and I have to say my expanded shoe horizons have opened up a whole new world of outfit possibilities. More importantly, I feel confident in the spaces I inhabit and no longer apologize for being there. Whether I have my heels on or not, I never give an inch to people who ask me to shrink.