Don’t believe Emma Thompson: it *IS* possible to walk in high heels

walking in Louboutins

Emma Thompson did stiletto lovers the world over a great disservice this week, when she urged everyone to stop wearing heels, claiming that it’s not possible to walk in them. At the National Board of Reviews gala last week, Thompson collected her award barefoot, telling the audience:

 “I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don’t wear them anymore. You just can’t walk in them.”
– Emma Thompson

Apparently Emma didn’t take her own advice, however, because a few days later, she turned up at the Golden Globes in a pair of sky-high Louboutins, which she once again removed for the ceremony itself, saying the red on the sole was “her blood”.

For those who hate heels, it was all the validation they needed to reassure themselves that, yup: stilettos are pure evil, and it’s just NOT POSSIBLE to walk in them. Ever. Because if Emma Thompson can’t do it, why NO ONE can, right?

For those of us who love them, on the other hand – and who’ve been wearing them without issue for years – it was one of those moments we knew we’d be fielding questions about for years to come. Sure enough, the very next morning, I woke up to a comment on my other blog from a gentleman who attached a photo of Thompson, with heels in hands, to a request for me to please wear heels less often, because, after all, everyone KNOWS it’s not humanly possibly to walk in them, don’t they? And we know because Emma Thompson told us so!

I get comments like this (or ones telling me I MUST be “in pain” in my shoes) a  few times per year, and I also see a lot of similar discussion on other blogs, mostly revolving around the idea that the blogger in the photos can’t POSSIBLY be able to walk in her heels, and must therefore be just wearing them for the photos, before changing back into sneakers or flats. You know, like a normal person?

Those comments, and the assumption that just because the person writing the comment finds it difficult to walk in heels, then anyone who claims to be able to do it must obviously be lying, never fail to exasperate me. For one thing, I really resent the implication that I’m basically lying to my readers, by pretending to wear something that I can’t actually walk in, and that my photos are all “staged”, in order to dupe people into believing in some kind of false reality. No one likes being called a liar, and I actually think it would be pretty silly of me to spend my money on shoes I wasn’t physically able to walk in, or which were actually painful, just for the sake of a photo on a blog, so it’s never very fun to hear that that’s exactly what (some) people apparently think of me.

More  importantly, however, it’s just not true to suggest that ALL high heels are literally impossible to walk in, and that no one in the world can possibly find them comfortable. No, stilettos are never going to be “comfortable” in comparison to Ugg boots, say, or sneakers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be appropriate for ANY situation or ANY person. In my case, for instance, I wear heels almost every day, and have done for most of my adult life. I’m now very used to walking in them, and while I wouldn’t wear them for long walks, or to climb a mountain, say, the fact is that my lifestyle doesn’t actually involve many long walks or mountains, and on the occasions when it DOES, I just wear something else.

On a day to day basis, however, I work a desk job, and don’t do a ton of walking (other than to walk the dog, which I change shoes for, partly because I don’t want to damage my heels!): there aren’t many times when high heels would be totally impractical, or render me immobile, and I’ve never understood why some people seem to want me to wear hiking boots in order to walk short distances, on a paved, flat surface. So, even although I’m going to a dinner party where I’ll be sitting down all night, I must wear “sensible” walking shoes, just because Emma Thompson and Steve from Facebook don’t think heels are comfortable? And this makes sense HOW?

Are SOME stilettos uncomfortable (even painful?) and hard to walk in? Sure. All shoes are not created equally: some are more comfortable than others, and I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of buying a pair of shoes which turn out to be painfully high, or just generally uncomfortable. (Celebrities, who often wear borrowed shoes to award ceremonies, are particularly familiar  with this scenario, because those borrowed shoes aren’t always the right size…) Those are the kind of shoes I term “car to bar” shoes: they’re just not designed to take you much further than that, so unless you’re planning on sitting down all evening, you’ll probably want to avoid them. That’s not to say that there are NO heels out there which you’ll be able to walk in: it just means that those aren’t the ones.

Ultimately, though, comfort is such a personal and subjective thing, that it always confuses me when people claim to know how comfortable or otherwise someone else is. We all have different comfort and tolerance levels, and we all have differently shaped feet, so a pair of shoes that I find relatively comfortable could be complete torture to someone else, and vice versa. In other words, just because Emma Thompson can’t walk in her heels, it doesn’t follow that no one else can do it either. I mean, I can’t do gymnastics, but I’m not about to claim that gymnasts are therefore all a bunch of liars, because EVERYONE knows it’s impossible to do a handstand! Since when did Emma Thompson become the Ultimate Authority on Everything? Why does she believe her experiences to be universal, and what gives her the right to speak for everyone when she tells us we can’t walk in our heels?

And a “feminist” statement? Nice try, Emma, but for me, feminism means being allowed to chose my own clothes, and not allowing people to shame me into changing my style purely to suit THEIR ideas of what’s comfortable/appropriately “feminist”. I think this part of her comment annoyed me the most, because it implies that those of us who chose to wear high heels are “bad feminists”, and I really dislike this notion than in order to call yourself a feminist, you’re not allowed to be interested in fashion, or to care about your appearance. Amazingly enough, I find I’m able to support women’s rights AND wear lipstick and heels, and I’m not about to change that because Emma Thompson, or anyone else, tells me to. If Emma Thompson had simply said, “Hey, I don’t like heels, so I’m not going to wear them any more,” I’d applaud her. Instead, she’s saying, “I don’t like heels, so no one else should wear them either,” which is a little bit different.

As for “urging everyone” to stop wearing heels: why is this so important to some people? I would never try to convince someone that they must wear heels if they didn’t want to: I honestly couldn’t care less what other people wear on their feet. Why, then, are some people so desperate to dictate what I wear on mine?


  • I’m sorry that you get such nasty comments Amber! As someone who works a desk job as well and wears heels pretty much every day, I’m so with you. Of course I’ll change into something more appropriate when I’m doing great distances, but I also think that there are too many people claiming heels are unhealthy or painful ALL THE TIME. Like with everything in life, it’s all about moderation. As soon as I get home, I change into slippers or Birkenstocks, even if people keep worrying about me not taking care of my feet/back/knees/whatever. As long as I’m not in pain or experiencing health problems, I’ll keep wearing my heels thank you very much.

    As far as the feminist debacle goes, it’s a pity that some more radical thinkers consider women to be “bad feminists” when they a) shave their legs/armpits/bikini area etc., b) wear high heels, c) like to look pretty in dresses and skirts, d) wear makeup… The list goes on and on. I just wrote a paper last week about fashion, related to modernity and a bit of feminism as well, and I read this interesting point of view, wondering “Are freedom and sexuality about covering or uncovering the body?”. I feel like there’s currently such a discussion about this, especially in Belgium because of women chosing to wear a head scarf because of religious reasons as well. Sometimes I feel like you just can’t do right by some people, whether you’re covering up or not… I always say: you just do you, and let haters be haters. Feminists who accuse other women of being “bad feminists”, shouldn’t call themself feminists at all, because they’re just as repressive as the patriarchal society which they think they’re fighting… (also: wow, what a rant :p)

    • Oh, it wasn’t a nasty comment, just a bit of a strange one: I always think it’s a bit odd when someone thinks they know more about my comfort levels than I do, based purely on a photo! (or when they think I should wear things I don’t like, just to suit them!)

      I totally agree that it’s all about moderation… I definitely wouldn’t wear heels if I had to walk miles every day, but someone people seem to think you can’t even stand up in them without breaking your neck, which is just silly. I also frequently notice a “holier than though” tone to some of those comments, which is perhaps related to what you’re saying about feminism: people will go, “Oh, I’d NEVER wear heels!” as if they think that makes them in some way superior to those of us who do. I get the same kind of attitude about makeup, which is equally infuriating!

      • To quote the amazing Michelle Obama on a question about plastic surgery this week: “Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves”.

  • I think what Emma possibly meant – and what she SHOULD have said- is in reference to the many women out there who find most heels painful and still feel pressured into wearing them to formal events because of cultural expectations. And there are many of them out there, unfortunately. A feminist statement qould have been “let’s stop wearing shoes we find uncomfortable because the fashion industry said so. Let’s leave heels to those who enjoy them, and wear what we need to to feel human and functional and not off balance and in pain.”

    Basically, I see where the sentiment is coming from, and it’s a good place of wanting to free women. But the way it was phrased is unfortunate, because it assumes all women are the same.

    I totally get how hurt you must feel you feel by this, though, because I go through the exact same thing with skirts. The freedom to wear pants is a feminist victory, no question about it. But I wear longer skirts and dresses for religious reasons (which is partly why I love your blogso much – so many lovely midi skirts and dresses to be inspired by :)) and, ironically, people assume I’m oppressed because I made that choice! They dont realize that true freedom is to be able to choose to wear whatever I want.

    Making to choice to cover up is more feminist than conforming to peer pressure and wearing more revealing clothes to “prove” my “liberated” status. Those would be liberators want to take my autonomy away from me by deciding what is acceptable dress.

    Ignore thos pesky knights on white horses riding to your rescue, Amber. We princesses can take care of ourselves, thankyouverymuch.

    • It would definitely have come across far better if she’d phrased it that way, for sure! Or if she hadn’t followed up the initial “I want everyone to stop wearing heels!” statement by wearing stilettos again a couple of days later, and then making a big show out of how uncomfortable they were. I think it would’ve been a more powerful statement if she’d turned up to the Globes in flats or something, rather than than continuing to pretend that someone is forcing her to wear 5″ stilettos!

      • Yep, that was weird. You would think Christian Louboutin was sitting in her dressing room with a gun holding the rest of her shoes hostage or something.

        That’d make a great movie, Actually. “Attack of the Louboutins” with Shoeperwoman to the Rescue (she gets to keep the shoes, DAH.)

        • Lol! Any time I watch awards ceremonies now, I’m going to imagine him backstage doing exactly that: I think he would quite enjoy the role of “Crazed Shoe Designer” 🙂

  • I like you love my heels and wear them every day for my desk job and just wouldn’t contemplate an evening out without heels. I do have one question for all fellow heel wearers …..I find some of mine are fine but then add tights to an ensemble and argghh my feet slide down and into the painful point any tips!? I’ve tried a couple of things with limited success

  • Although I do own quite a few VERY uncomfortable heels (some of the shoes I own I have purely just to look at), not all heels are that way and also I think the shoe definitely depends on the situation. I’ll wear different shoes if I’m going to work or school and have to be walking everywhere and I’ll wear heels if I’m going by car. That said I think the feminist notion against heels is mostly about women being FORCED to wear heels, like to office jobs or even if the woman is working in a shop. I once worked a part time job in a shop and only wore heels once (the first day) and I nearly died. I think most places have a sensible dress code if they have one but I know some places don’t and then I can understand a feminist statement AGAINST heels. But otherwise I agree and I think true feminism is being able to wear what you damn please and generalization of women and footwear is just wrong.

  • I wear high heels nearly every day, but I do my long walks in flats. Makes sense, right? I also have just one pair of heels that I really can’t walk more than a few steps in (bloody Jimmy Choo and their amazing designs) but I just admire them at home most of the time. Who is Steve from Facebook to tell us what we should and shouldn’t wear on our feet? He probably wears boat shoes. Gah!

  • I have never understood this notion that fashion is somehow forcing us all to wear heels we don’t want to. Who exactly are these people who feel this inescapable pressure to ‘conform’ and wear heels everyday?? This time last year Kurt Geiger and John Lewis were both reporting record sales of lower heels and there are more pretty flats to choose from than ever before, so who is going around telling these poor suffering women ‘you simply MUST wear towering stillettos, all the time, lest you will DIE, at least in the eyes of fashion!!!?’ No-one, that’s who, because it’s utter nonsense. I wear heels around 3 or 4 days a week depending on my mood and what I have on at work each day, and I am most definitely in the minority. Plenty of people are incredulous about the heels (think ‘I just don’t know HOW you wear those things!’ type comments) but absolutely no one ever has felt the urge to comment on the fact that I’m wearing flats so I can’t imagine how anyone could argue that society sees heels as ‘the norm’. And as for the feminism thing? I read a particularly irritating article not too long ago in which the writer claimed heels were the ultimate feminist no-no because they were created by men with the sole purposes of making us incapable of running away should they decide to act out their most base urges on us without warning…..! Purlease! Most men I know wouldn’t even be able to tell you what you were wearing on your feet because they simply hadn’t noticed, and the ones that could will often admit to actually preferring a girl in flats because they like to feel like the tall one! Someone should tell Emma that, actually, many believe Mongolian men were among the first to adopt heels in order to stop their feet slipping out of their stirrups when they rode! So there, Thomas! I for one won’t be ditching my skyscrapers. I wear them because I love them, simple as that!

    • I know, I can’t understand it either: to me, being “forced” to wear designer heels sounds like a made-up problem, and a first-world one at that. There are plenty of ACTUAL “feminist issues” Emma Thompson could be addressing if she wanted to, rather than martyring herself while pretending that she is being “forced” into heels. The fact that she wore flats to the SAG Awards this weekend (Which I was really pleased to see her do, rather than wearing heels purely so she could make a fuss about it, which is what she seemed to do at the Golden Globes…) suggests that she DOES, in fact, have the power to wear something other than flats if she wants. I’m sure stylists will suggest heels to her, but I honestly don’t believe anyone is actually FORCING her to wear them!

      My experience is exactly the same as yours, Steph: I’m very much in the minority as a heels-wearer, and am constantly being asked how I wear them etc. I don’t know anyone who wears heels against their will, due to societal pressure, but I DO often feel pressure NOT to wear them, because so many people are horrified by them, and go on and on and on about how evil they think they are. Even on this site, I’ve noticed that a large number of comments are from people who say they don’t like wearing heels or can’t walk in them – and this is a site that’s primarily ABOUT heels! I’m guessing there must be some employers who insist on heels as part of their dress code, but I would think they must be exception rather than the rule – I can’t really imagine how that could be enforced, either.

  • I really like your discussion of how being a feminist is by no means exclusive of being interested in fashion! To me, being a feminist means being able to make choices that are best for YOU!

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