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High heels offer a ‘leg-up’ in office
July 23, 2013, 10:33 am

Some say an elevated appearance leads to success at work; others say lower is better. OK, ladies, think fast: Do high heels empower women in the workplace, or do they oppress us and ultimately harm us? If your gut is giving you conflicting responses to that question, don't worry — that is normal.

Depending on whom you consult, you could hear that towering footwear: Can boost your career by transforming you into a confident, strident force to be reckoned with can hamper your career by putting too much emphasis on your feminine appeal rather than your brains. Can wreak permanent damage on your feet and ankles, including — but not limited to — bunions, corns, calluses, shortening of the Achilles tendon, ankle fractures and nerve damage.

Nevertheless, a wide range of experts — from podiatrists to fashionistas to career gurus to anthropologists — agree on at least this one bit of advice for women: Tread carefully. Protagonists swear that high heels can empower women at work, believing that heels help women look and feel confident and selfassured, and they also help them stand out from the pack. They believe that heels give you an important physiological advantage in that they bring you eye level to male superiors. Don't underestimate that 'leg up.'

" But even the most steadfast believer acknowledges that this fashion statement has its limits. The line gets crossed at stilettos. In most traditional workplaces they are simply a fashion NO. Heels that are too high send the worst kind of image to bosses and colleagues: tawdry. It makes your colleagues uncomfortable. It makes you look cheap. Look around to the woman you most admire at work; bet they are not wearing stilettos.

A symbol in transition: For decades, feminists and supporters of equality in the workplace have advised women to avoid anything that might reduce them to mere womanly objects. However, some now feel that women have been able to turn the tables when it comes to high heels. They claim that while Heels may be inextricably linked with femininity, over the past 10 years or so women have reclaimed them as symbols of female power, not subjugation. The best career advice probably comes from a female boss: 'Whenever you know you are going to have a challenging meeting, and especially if that meeting is mainly with men, wear high heels.'

She isn't being flippant — she is right. Supporters of heels make the case that stubbornly comfy shoes in the workplace indicate a woman isn't a go-getter. Flats scream either demure or comfortable. Neither is an image you want to project at work. But what if you are just someone who wants to look nice at work and also wants to avoid agony? After all, the pain and suffering endured by high-heel-wearing women is so common that it is the subject of humor.

Loving your feet and your career: Actually, plenty of reasonable compromises exist for women who want to avoid lasting damage to their feet. It may sound obvious, but fashion experts and foot doctors recommend finding attractive shoes with slightly shorter heels. The official position of the American Podiatric Medical Association is that the ideal heel height to wear for eight to 10 hours a day is about 6cm. It is a good height, and then you can splurge on 10cm heels for going out to dinner.

Other tricks for saving your feet include: Wearing sneakers or comfortable flats while walking to and from your destination and then switching to high heels only after you arrive. Wearing high heels that fit well — meaning that they aren't too tight or they don't have a big gap in the back after your feet slide forward in the shoe. Wearing a chunkier or thicker heel to improve balance and stability. Wearing open-toed heels to take at least some pressure off your toes. Cushioning the bottom of your feet with products such as fullshoe inserts or silicone metatarsal pads. 

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