Why high heels handicap women

Just say no to high heels.

Q: How can you tell a Brazilian woman from a foreign woman in Brazil?

A: Look at their feet.

The gringas are wearing Havaianas (everywhere, not just at the beach), sneakers, crocs, or “sturdy” walking sandals.

The Brazilian women* are wearing high heels, platform sandals, wedges, expensive sandals decked out with rhinestones, or (in the winter) stylish boots – with heels.

* The ones who have the means not to have to take public transportation. Heels are thus also a separator of economic classes… but that’s a whole different post.

Seeing as Brazilian society is more image-conscious than that of my home country, I’ve been trying to dress a little more chique. I’m wearing nicer clothes, perfume, and jewelry on a regular basis. But I cannot bring myself to wear heels, and here’s why:

1. I walk up to 8 hours a week, every week.

High heels, in my opinion, are for looking pretty at the occasional party, banquet, or wedding (and even then, you slip them off to dance!) Not for walking over an hour a day up and down hills, and certainly not for carrying various kilograms of groceries home from the supermarket. Plus, if I wore heels it’d take me twice as long to walk anywhere – especially considering the next item on this list.

You may say I could wear Havaianas for the walking and bring a pair of heels in a plastic bag to change into at work or wherever – but that’s a level of effort I’m not willing to go to, particularly on days when I’m carrying a bag, four textbooks, and an umbrella.

2. Brazilian sidewalks are already hazardous enough.

Salvador’s sidewalks look like an earthquake just hit the city. Cracks, loose stones, random pieces of embedded mental sticking up, deep holes – the pictures speak for themselves:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B. This piece of sidewalk has apparently been abducted by aliens.

And these aren’t sidewalks in the “abandoned” parts of town. All the sidewalks in the city are like this, whether in rich neighborhoods or poor. The only smooth, even, well-maintained sidewalk you’ll find in Salvador is the one in front of the international airport.

Terrain like this makes every single step a risk for a broken ankle even with normal footwear. With heels it’d be, oh, about 1000 times worse.

3. High heels destroy a woman’s mobility.

If I were wearing high heels and there was some emergency, tell me, how am I supposed to run? If I’m in the street with my future children and a dangerous situation should arise in which I need to move quickly, do I really want my heels making it impossible to do so?


Conclusion: Mobility is a blessing. Heels are a curse.

Every time I make the 17-story climb on my way home from English class, I thank God that I have strong legs, functional joints, and healthy lungs. No joke. Having unrestricted physical mobility is a blessing that I don’t take for granted a single day.

Why would I sacrifice that blessing in the name of “beauty” or “fashion”?

  • I assume that Brazilian women walk on the same hilly streets and sidewalks – how DO they manage it while wearing high heels?

    Another reason not to wear high heels: It causes the calf tendons to shorten, resulting in additional strain and a higher likelihood of future injury. The NY Times just published a story on it: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/scientists-look-at-the-dangers-of-high-heels/?smid=tw-nytimeshealth&seid=auto#

    I’ve never worn a heel higher than 2 inches – I’ll take comfort and safety over fashion any day!

    • Shayna

      Read the asterisk at the beginning – here in Salvador, the women who wear heels are the women who can afford to drive or be driven everywhere and have someone else carry their groceries. Riding the bus, you’ll see only about one woman in a hundred with heels.

      • You made me walk through the bus terminal yesterday looking at everyone’s feet! 😉 I counted only 5 pairs of insane high heels (plus some low heels, platforms etc.) Clearly being chique is the highest priority when at all possible…but, as you say, it just isn’t feasible when navigating the city on a hot day on public transportation – even for Brazilians!

  • abducted by aliens – love it.

    I remember when I was new here being simply amazed at how the women can walk on those platforms on the streets/ladeiras of Pelourinho…

    • Shayna

      I remember seeing one woman in absurdly high wedges trying to go down Ladeira do Carmo, and she was completely dependent on her boyfriend’s arm for support. I instantly thought of the Chinese women with bound feet whose quest for beauty had crippled them so they had to be carried everywhere.

  • I used to love high heels and wore them all the time but now at the great age of 31, I can honestly say that I love comfort and value the fact that at the end of a day (I walk a lot too:) my feet feel great! 🙂

    • Shayna

      I’m still waiting for someone to invent shoes that are sexy AND comfortable. The only “comfort” shoes I see sold in Brazil are all old-lady style. 🙁

  • I hear ya! I always notice how much my feet stick out when I am on the metro. That’s even when I wear my good cute sandals (flats). Oh well, my feet thank me daily 😉

    • Shayna

      You mean you don’t want foot pain, surgeries, and long-term side effects?! Imagine! 😉

  • Never been a fan of high heels (I’m 5’8″)…..and I really am amazed, out here in the middle of nowhere with no sidewalks, unpaved roads, and the rainy season destroying even the dirt roads, that women still wear heels. Honestly, our environment calls for hiking boots every day.

    • Shayna

      I agree! Unfortunately, hiking boots every day would probably be a major faux pas with Brazilian fashion standards :-/

  • I just found your blog, and it is so fascinating!

    However, I have to disagree about the heels. i LOVE heels–the higher, the better! That being said, I think it’s because I can generally walk better in them, find them comfortable, and have even run in them numerous times. I don’t think they are for everyone, but I do feel that they are stellar for certain people 🙂

    • Shayna

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Megyn! You’d fit right in in Brazil 😉 Running in heels? That’s gotta take skills!

  • Hello! I found your blog through your post on ‘miss minimalist’. Great story, by the way!

    I too love heels (I am 5’2″) and love dancing and strutting around in them. As someone who downsizing her wardrobe I have, ahem, ‘paired down’ my heels to a black, nude, denim, and cobalt blue (pardon the pun). But I think you’re right to avoid them in Brazil- those sidewalks seem treacherous and no one’s legs look gorgeous with broken and swollen ankles. I especially agree with your reasoning of being able to run in an emergency, and geez, the 17 stories you have to climb. Thanks for this post – I look forward to reading about your future adventures!

    • Shayna

      Hi Renata! I do think heels are super classy – which is why I save a pair for special occasions 😉 I’m about your height as well – but I’m lucky in that the average height is a little shorter in Brazil, so I’m not considered “short” here!