#HeelFree Campaign: Going a Year Without High Heels

How do you feel about high heels? Does the thought of ex-naying them from your wardrobe for a year sound daunting?

If not, kudos! I admire you, just as I admire the women who were turned away from the Cannes Film Festival for wearing dressy flats instead of heels.

That news angered me, but I was in also awe of those women for arriving to a world-renowned upscale event in flats. FLATS! I’m embarrassed to admit that for me, that would have taken courage.

HeelFree

A bit of personal history:

Until age 16, I felt pretty neutral about height, mine included. My parents’ heights vary by about a foot, and my siblings and I all fall about midway between. While I’m considered tallish, there was never any emphasis on one height range being superior to another.

I’m grateful for that, particularly considering my other insecurities. I deemed my naturally thin, small-framed body chubby from about ages 5 to 25. It’s called body dysmorphia, and it’s no fun.

During my sophomore year of high school, I started modeling—a shift that stunned, delighted and terrified me. When my agents didn’t mentioned my perceived extra pounds, I wondered for the first time if I’d imagined them. Maybe I was just fine, attractive even, as I was.

That all changed after my first editorial photo shoot. At the end of a long, gratifying workday, the photographer looked me in the eyes and said, “You could be working in Paris….if you lost 10 or 15 pounds.”

In effort to soften the blow, numerous industry professionals and fellow models assured me it was because of my height.

“It’s not that you’re fat,” one said. “It’s just that shorter girls have to appear taller, like an optical illusion.”

Another explained that to give that “hanger” look—as though the apparel hung on a clothes hanger, versus a human—I had to look as long and lean as possible. I couldn’t change my height, she said, but I could alter my weight. Proportionately, it would all work out.

Only it didn’t.

With my insecurities about my weight seemingly validated, I began shedding pounds and my already vulnerable sense of self. Not only was I indeed overweight (by industry standards), but displeasingly short? Both words seemed like F-grades on the exam called Life. So I traded normal meals for restriction and my loafers for heels.

Fifteen pounds and hundreds of steps in heels later, I landed a prestigious contract with a modeling agency in New York City, where I wore heels so frequently, I felt as though I was walking uphill without them.

A few years later, the photographer’s prediction proved true. While living and working in Paris, I nearly died of anorexia. It took nearly a decade, but I’m now fully past the eating disorder and the dysmorphic self-perceptions.

Healing from an eating disorder is often a live-or-die situation. I chose life, which required dealing with demons I’d carried for decades. That process brought me to a place of body- and self- embracement I wish more women experienced. I prize authenticity more than almost anything, and have virtually no negative thoughts about my body or aesthetics. If I fixate on anything, it’s my passions.

So why did the thought of not wearing heels for a year make my palms sweat?

Is this an old wound I’ve overlooked? Lingering insecurity that fell through the cracks? I plan to find out…

I haven’t worn heels as often in recent years, partly because I primarily work from home. But whenever I attend an important event, be it a glamorous night out or a public appearance, I’ve considered them essential. Do I place my sense of self-worth in my height or footwear? No. But I do feel more attractive and, in some ways, empowered by them. To be honest, they feel like a crutch (which is ironic, seeing as wearing them raises my risk for needing crutches…). I’ve also suffered some harsh side effects of the tall, angular shoes, which I’ll explore in another post.

My discomfort at the thought of going heel-less made me so uncomfortable, that I’ve launched a campaign. Whether this will remain my own personal venture or one shared by many, I don’t know. What I do know is that the experience is already strengthening me. I haven’t worn heels since this idea struck me a few weeks ago.

My mission: 

Until June 1, 2016, I will not wear high heels. Instead, I’ll choose comfortable, supportive flats, clogs, athletic shoes and boots. Throughout the year, I’ll post updates on my experience and research here on my blog and on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter), using the hashtag #HeelFree.

Will I wear heels again thereafter? No idea. At the moment, I suspect so. But a lot can happen in a year.

My goals:

I’m doing this in honor of the women who were turned away from Cannes for wearing flats. It’s part social-experiment, part person-growth challenge—one that I hope will benefit others.

One thing my journey has taught me is that the most uncomfortable steps we can take often prove to be the most empowering. We can’t know the rewards, or how deeply (or not) an insecurity is holding is back until we face it, head on. So, off I go!

IMPORTANT NOTE:

I am NOT doing this to shun women who wear heels, or suggesting that everyone should give them upI realize that there are ways to more safely work heels into one’s lifestyle (wearing certain brands/types, lowering the frequency, etc.). I also recognize that some women are criticized for wearing heels for various reasons; I’ll explore that, too, as part of this series—while sticking to my #HeelFree mission. This is simply my journey, which I hope others will learn from. 

If you’d like to support my #HeelFree mission, here are some ways:

  • Join in! If you wear heels routinely, give them up along with me. Post about your experience using the hashtag and including a link to this post and/or tagging me. Feel free to use the above image.
  • Join the conversation online by sharing thoughts and images related to #HeelFree. (Post a photo of your feet in your favorite comfy flats, for example.)
  • Read, comment on and share #HeelFree posts, from me and/or other folks.
  • Send us happy vibes! Those always count. 🙂

How do you feel about heels? If you wear them regularly, could you give them up for a year? Will you? What’s your footwear/height story? I love hearing from you! 

Leave a comment

51 Comments

  1. At barely 5’5″ I wore high heels also to “appear” to be thinner, and wore them constantly throughout college (racing to beat trains to get to class on time is a whole other experience in heels!), and later in my “real job” at attorney offices and later the bank. I even wore too small heels onstage when the right size wasn’t available. Like you, once I started working from home, the shift to flats or (better!) bare feet felt liberating. My Magic, doG-bless-his-heart, landed on my foot about 5 years ago and I’ve not felt comfortable in heels ever since. A neuroma in the other foot forced me to give ’em up altogether this past March…and the new shoes actually make my back feel better too! While I love the look of heels, the pain no longer is worth it. Bravo to women with the courage to go-healthy despite fashion “do’s and dont’s.” Oh….and Naot makes stylis and comfy (healthy!) shoes, including sandals! (available on amazon, too!)

    Reply
  2. I greatly admire you for taking this pledge, August. It would be relatively easy for me, since I rarely attend events so dressy that I’d have to wear heels, but I know you do, so it’s a real commitment for you. As it is, I already can’t commit, as I’m a bridesmaid in a wedding (yes, a bridesmaid at 57!) this weekend. Too late to have the dress altered for flats! Besides, I bought the prettiest heels. 🙂 Good for you, and go for it!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jan! I’m looking forward to observing how it feels to attend such events sans heels. Have a blast at the wedding! Smart bridesmaid pick for sure. 🙂

      Reply
  3. happyhealthy365

     /  June 8, 2015

    Good luck! I love how you haven’t stopped the self-work just because you’ve recovered from anorexia and running such an inspiring business. This is clearly a courageous step for you!

    Reply
  4. I do not wear heels frequently, they’re just not conducive to gardening, and I have narrow feet so it’s always been a challenge to find ANY shoes that fit comfortably, let alone heels. Flip-flops are usually my shoe choice, lol.

    That said, though, there are many times when I haven’t *wanted* to wear heels to an event, but I did so anyway because I felt that I needed to because flats just wouldn’t work well with the outfit, or I’d be shorter than everyone else (at 5′ 3 1/2″, that’s probably true even WITH heels), and my feet have always paid for it.

    I can’t even comprehend being TURNED AWAY from a place/event because I wasn’t wearing heels. That’s ridiculous.

    While I enjoy wearing heels of my own volition occasionally, I will definitely be making sure when I feel I *need* to wear heels that I’m doing it because I want to. Otherwise, I will make an effort to ditch them!

    Reply
    • I have to say, Rebekah, heels not being conducive to gardening is one of the coolest reasons to skip them I’ve heard yet. 🙂 Thanks for weighing in, and for the support! I’m sure so many women relate to that social pressure.

      Reply
  5. Good luck! I used to wear more heels (but never stilettos as I always prefered thicker heels that I didn’t worry would break under me) when I was a teenager. At 30, I mostly prefer flat shoes (but not too flat either as my feet don’t like it, so a 3cm soil is perfect for me). I still wear heels from time to time but they are never above 5-6cm. Finding shoes that fit all my criteria can be problematic (if I could wear boots all year long I would be happy!)

    Reply
  6. why make such a fuss about it? I don’t care what some celebrities wear or don’t wear at Cannes. They have enough money to defend themselves, probably they don’t really need your campaign. I love high heels but I wear them when I want to, and don’t when I don’t want. I think you make this issue bigger than it is. Maybe there are tons of more important problems in the world, for instance the miserable working conditions of the workers PRODUCING the high heels and any other shoes. That would make for a REALLY GREAT campaign.

    Reply
    • As I understand it, the women turned away from Cannes were general attendees, not celebs. Regardless, this is a personal mission/experiment – and one I do feel is important, based on my research thus far. Feel free to start/support whatever campaigns you wish!

      Reply
  7. One of the things that draws me to you, August, is the way you have looked at yourself in a figurative mirror and decided to deal with what you didn’t like seeing. I’m not talking about your height or weight – I’m talking about your ATTITUDES toward your height and weight. You’ve met your own fears and laughed at them, and I admire that.

    I think men in general are more comfortable in their own skin than women. Most of my life, I’ve been overweight, and I’ve known that makes me less attractive, but I haven’t really dwelt on it. I’ve pretty much accepted myself as I am. Of course, at my age now I am less concerned than ever about such things.

    That said, I admire anyone who is demonized about these matters but looks the demons in the face and stares them down. You go, August.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, David. That all means a great deal! And I’m glad to hear you haven’t dwelt on perceived “flaws,” and have learned to accept yourself. May countless follow suit.

      Reply
  8. \\\Renèe A. Schuls-Jacobson\\\

     /  June 8, 2015

    This is so interesting, August. I have been heel-free (mostly) while healing over the last 2 years, and when I tried to put them on the other day, I literally couldn’t walk! I used to maneuver in the highest of high heels, and it appears that those days are gone for me forever now. Like you, I feel sexier in heels (and more powerful too), but I’m learning to let that go, too. I’ll be following you on your flat-footed journey.

    Sent from RASJ’s iPhone

    >

    Reply
    • That’s fascinating, Renee. I’ll be very curious to see how heels feel after the year has passed! Thanks so much for the support.

      Reply
  9. \Renèe A. Schuls-Jacobson\

     /  June 8, 2015

    This is so interesting, August. I have been heel-free (mostly) while healing over the last 2 years, and when I tried to put them on the other day, I literally couldn’t walk! I used to maneuver in the highest of high heels, and it appears that those days are gone for me forever now. Like you, I feel sexier in heels (and more powerful too), but I’m learning to let that go, too. I’ll be following you on your flat-footed journey.

    Sent from RASJ’s iPhone

    >

    Reply
  10. Having worn jeans and sneakers almost all of my life, it was my mom who kept trying to instill in me that being “dressed up” meant a heel – the heel height being determined what was age appropriate and how dressy an affair I was going to. By the time I graduated from college – being dressed meant a minimum 3″ heel. I did all I could to avoid them until on a job in my early 30’s, a co-worker began teaching me how to walk in heels. She then sold me a couple pairs that she’d never worn, these bad boys had a four inch stiletto. I was hooked. Since then, if I’m going out be it in dress or jeans, I want to wear at minimum, a 4″ heel with platform – stiletto, wedge, doesn’t matter. I must be in some type of heel. I feel powerful, sexy, and even a bit intimidating (as opposed to afraid to be in public – a topic for another post).

    But I’m 48 years old now – I’m going to fewer and fewer places where my heels are warranted let alone practical. I’ve worked in a warehouse now for six years – definitely no need to wear them as part of a ‘professional’ look. OSHA would have a fit, lol. I still enjoy the look and that feeling of power is similar to a security blanket in public situations. I don’t know how I’d act without them now because I still suffer from that almost debilitating fear when I’m in social situations.

    Hmmm. There’s also the feeling that my feet look ridiculously long in most styles of flats…

    This is indeed a novel idea for me but given my lifestyle these days – a year without heels isn’t that far-fetched. I’ll be looking forward to reading your posts on this; may even post one or two of my own as you now have me thinking about this a little more closely.

    As usual – opening my mind to something new :-). Thank you!

    Reply
    • I’m fascinated by women’s stories and experiences related to this topic. I suspect we all have some kind of quirky history. So glad it made you think! I’d love to read that post, if you decide to write it. 🙂

      Reply
  11. I love this post and this no heel challenge. I also rarely wear heels any longer since I work from home. It will be 97 degrees today in the valley, so I am working at my desk in my bikini, because I will jump in the pool later. Ahhh…. the joys of being your own boss. But that is for another post.

    Ok, one of the reasons this topic is dear to my heart is, as a matchmaker, all I have heard for over a decade from women, is why they can’t date a man under 6 feet because they like to wear their heels. OMG! How many women have missed meeting their soul mate because of the love of high heels? The average American male is 5’9′. I will never understand a woman that trades shoes for a possible life with a soul mate. I tell them, “I hope your heels will keep you warm at night!”

    I know a woman that was so insistent on this, she would not date a man under 6’2′. Therefore, from the age of 27 to 41, she had NO boyfriend, no relationships. She wanted to have children, but she missed out on that. She finally went out with a man her own height (5’10”) because her best friend forced her to go.. and she fell in love and they are so happy, together for 2 1/2/ years now.

    I went to a wedding the other night, and I was in my heels and yes, they looked pretty, but now heels feel awkward and even the way women walk in them, we really look pretty ridiculous at times.

    Reply
    • I just love your attitude and energy, Marla! Indeed, working for ourselves rocks in so many ways! Apparel of choice is one of them. 🙂

      Wow… Women missing out on their soul mates because of heels (or societal attitudes about them)?!? Geesh! That sounds like a fascinating blog post/article or heck, podcast, topic. 😉 We may have to chat about this! Or if you decide to write something, I’ll happily share the link here. Regardless, huge thanks for weighing in!

      Reply
  12. Melissa Lewicki

     /  June 8, 2015

    I broke my ankle in 1977. Haven’t worn heels since. Can’t wear them. Nothing bad has happened to me.

    Reply
  13. I was never raised that “heels = dressing up,” and I’m tall. I reached my 5’10” height early as a teen, so I was always self-conscious about being *too* tall.

    Between those facts and my lack of coordination, I’ve rarely worn heels in my life. Never a stiletto or over 2″ (and extremely rarely over an inch).

    Now that I’ve broken one of my toes THREE times (and re-broken it during healing countless more times), I couldn’t wear heels if I wanted to. I’m heartbroken, I tell you… LOL!

    Reply
    • The height pendulum certainly swings both ways, right? And so often, we long for what we don’t have growing up. I remember thinking shorter, more petite girls were so much cuter than me — and longed for my BFF’s curly red hair.

      I’m sure your feet and body appreciate your flatter shoe tastes!

      Reply
  14. I’m with Jami, though I’m on the other end of the height spectrum. At 5′ 3″, I’m sure I could benefit from heels. But the only elevated footwear I own is a pair of boots with 1-inch heels, which I wear about twice a year. I inherited my grandmother’s feet: hugely wide in the toes with a tendency toward bunions. Walking in heels feels as if it would kill me!

    Reply
    • Definitely better safe to be safe than sorry! You’re lucky to have had awareness of particular risks you’re prone to. We’re all prone to them over time, but most of us feel pretty invincible early on. I know I did.

      Reply
  15. At the age of 15 I bought my first pair of heels with money earned working the summer in a soda shoppe. At that time I was 6 feet tall. My grandmother, at 6’1″ always urged me to stand straight and tall and be proud of it. At the age of probably 60, I had a new pair of heels to wear to a conference and found I could not walk comfortably in them anymore. So I set them aside and began to wear more comfortable shoes. Didn’t do this in time to avoid bunions caused by the high heels. I support your year without heels. It seems to me the heels of today are so high as to damage your feet and throw the body off kilter as well. Anything that damages us, be it physical;y or emotional;y should be reconsidered closely and wisely. Cheers. You are always doing something brave and I so admire you for that.

    Reply
    • I always love your comments, Velda! Thanks so much for weighing in. Your smarts have protected you – and your feet – immensely, no doubt. Thanks so much for the kind words and support.

      If nothing else, I hope this series makes women think more about their footwear choices, as well as why so many of us prioritize looks and others’ perception over comfort and safety.

      Reply
  16. August, bravo, bravo! What a wonderful post and challenge. I’m fully in support of you! I look forward to hearing how it goes.

    I think shoes are fascinating. And I can’t help letting you know that I published an erotic novel called “Confessions of a Kinky Divorcee”, which is all about a shoe fetish! (A woman who adores high heels needs to learn to accept her adoration as erotically and emotionally empowering in order to truly grow.)

    Much love to you, August!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Lana! Ooh, I’ll have to check that novel out. 🙂 Sounds right up my alley, now especially! Much love back at you!

      Reply
  17. karenmcfarland

     /  June 8, 2015

    As always I admire your strength August and you determination to overcome. But I guess I’m a little bit lost. I’ve been to Cannes around the week of the Film Festival and it’s a huge thing. Most, if not all the premises are formal. So why were those actresses wearing flats in Cannes? Were they trying to make a statement? Or am I behind the trends? Perhaps that’s the new chic, eh? But for whatever reason, truly, to band someone because of their choice of shoe, is ludicrous. Just saying. So you go girl. There are lots of great looks out there that don’t include heels. But I might sneak in my wedges. Don’t tell anyone. lol. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Karen! The women who were turned away were wearing dressy flats – which I think is a great choice. Flats can be just as classy, or more, if you consider how much easier it is to walk well and safely in them. 🙂

      Reply
  18. Brenna

     /  June 8, 2015

    I wear heels a *lot*. Almost every day, in fact. And I’ll never, ever give them up, because to do so would risk my safety. Or require me to give up riding my horse as well. (Like that’s ever going to happen.)

    See, you need a good heel on your boots to keep your feet from sliding all the way through the stirrups. Otherwise, you get dragged when you fall off your horse. (With horses, it’s never *if* you fall off, but *when*.)

    Reply
    • You probably already know this, but heels originated for that purpose. 🙂 I’ll explore more of the history in an upcoming post. I’m glad you prioritize safety!

      Reply
  19. Your posts always resonate with me, August. I still have such a hard time embracing my body and the way I look. And to see a woman as beautiful as you that has gone through those same struggles inspires me to find comfort and happiness in myself and not the scale. Coming from an eating disorder background myself, I still war with the illness to this very day. It’s a constant battle and one that Mathair has helped me overcome for years. I also wore heels to make myself appear taller and thinner. I’m 5’5″ and was a whopping 250lbs at my biggest then 105 at my smallest, but have leveled out to a healthy 120. Along with anorexia/bulimia, I was addicted to exercise and stressed my body from the lack of nutrients and the constant push of cardio. Because of this, wearing heels is highly uncomfortable. I usually have to end up icing my ankle if I’ve worn them for too long. I find it abhorrent that women were turned away for wearing flats and will also forego heels for a year. And just think, our feet and ankles will be thanking us in the end. 😉

    Reply
    • Big hugs, Inion. Body image battles can be fierce. Luckily, moving the worst wounds brings such immense rewards. I’ll be cheering for you!

      Personal and professional experience (working with many women with eating disorders) has revealed a huge link between height insecurities and poor body image. Step by step, no pun intended, we can all get there.

      Reply
  20. I never could wear high heels (knee). Knowing what they do to muscles and legs I never would wear them anyway.

    Reply
  21. I have sooooo many feelings surrounding this, the first (and what I think you’re showing with this) is that we have a choice for cripe’s sake! We are in the year 2015! Okay. When I was a young cocktail waitress (back in early 80s) at a trendy nightclub, our uniform was a black silky knit dress and HEELS…WE HAD TO WEAR HEELS! At the end of every shift I would take the soda gun and drench my feet in cold, gloriously cold water. Yikes.

    Go back further to the 1960s, my mother, a stylish former model is going out to dinner with my dad to an upscale restaurant. She is turned away, because she is wearing a pants suit (it’s what they were called in the 60s) and this is no slouchy number, it was a designer suit–she was always (and still is at 92!) dressed well. They had ties for the men–but no skirts for the women. So, my point–and I do have one– goes back to choice, and common sense.

    Thanks for your wonderful post August!

    Reply
    • Such excellent points, Amy! Heels are seldom required nowadays, though, arguably, society makes it required — or at least revered and expected — apparel at times.

      Isn’t it remarkable how much pressure and fixation there is on how we present ourselves physically? It’s very related to the whole “slut”-shaming epidemic. We really need to ease up in these arenas, as a culture. The underlying issues and consequences run a lot deeper than most of us realize.

      Thanks for sharing your awesome thoughts!

      Reply
  22. I had to stop wearing heels when I was pregnant with my son and the size of a bus, no problem I thought I even bought a gorgeous pair of chocolate satin ones with peep toes ready for after his arrival, except fate intervened, A few weeks after his birth three slipped discs in my spine made heels a distant memory now 7 years and two spinal ops later I still have those chocolate satin heels they still sit unworn in the hope that one day I will be fit enough to wear them again if only for an hour or two. For me flats are now the norm and heels have become a symbol for my life pre spinal issues, I will never be able to go back to wearing them like I did but I look forward to getting fit enough for the choice, Bonus info for you which you might not have been aware of there was actually a woman that ran the London Marathon this year in heels.

    Reply
  23. I would have gone barefoot, just to rub it in. 🙂

    Reply
  24. Personally, I haven’t worn heels in as long as I can remember, but enough of that.
    Bravo to you! I did, basically, the same with suit/tie outfits. I detest wearing them, so I did away with as much as I could as quickly as I could. Now, I own one suit (it was for my daughter’s wedding). I do wear it to funerals and weddings. I can’t think of anywhere else I would have to, so I wouldn’t.
    As to the Cannes, it would serve them right if all or most of the actresses in any movie being shown there as well as guests all wore flats! That is the rioter in me. If they throw them all out, the guys would leave, and it wouldn’t be such a big social event.

    Reply
  25. Oh – I love wearing heels, August. Just like most other women, I would consider. If I only wouldn’t get burning feet which makes me cranky, my back starts hurting and often my knees too… I could swear I’m getting old.
    I therefore decided for me heels for special occasions and events or from the house to the car, into the restaurant and the same way back.
    Other than that, I prefer my shoes comfortable.
    🙂

    Reply
  26. I’ve had a weird journey with heels. I was self-conscious about being tall when I was younger, so always avoided them even though I admired the way they looked on friends and family who rocked them (and at least seemed to do so pain-free!). When I got older and more confident I started giving them a whirl now and then, less concerned about feeling “too tall” in shoes I thought were pretty. Maybe in part because I’d never learned to walk in them as a younger and more adaptable girl, I felt REALLY awkward and my feet HURT. So I went back to my beloved flats and boots without regret. For me it is also all about choice, and I’m happy to work in an environment where even though I end up in a lot of “power meetings” where I’m the only woman not rocking heels, I don’t seem to get any flack or lack of respect for it. More power to the ladies who love wearing them, and a big boo to environments that make women who don’t want to feel like they should!

    Reply
  27. Mike Vinson

     /  August 31, 2015

    I’ve been getting away from heels for the last year. I’ve made the switch to vivobarefoot at work and home…I hope you’re still at it.

    Reply
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