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May 21, 2015

What Cannes’ High-Heel Rule tells Us about Society & Women.

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As someone who holds a variety of job titles, one of my favorite is that of movie reviewer.

It’s a good thing that I am unlikely to ever go to the Cannes Film Festival though, because it seems I would not have met the dress code. Apparently, women in flat shoes are not welcome. A group of women in their 50s were turned away from the movie Carol for wearing flats. While the director of the festival originally denied that female attendees were required to wear heels, the director Asif Kapadia, who is currently receiving raves for his documentary on the late singer Amy WInehouse, tweeted that his wife was nearly denied entry to a film for wearing flats while at another event, a female producer who is an amputee was also stopped for her failure to wear high heels.

Many people who heard these reports were understandably outraged. Some pointed out that men weren’t required to wear footwear that can be a potential safety hazard and can cause them distress.

Lest any male reading this think this is an exaggeration, then just ask your female friends if any of them ever had a foot injury that resulted from wearing high-heeled shoes. I would bet money you will have at least one if not more.

While some women I know practically live in high heels and have no problems as a result, I happen to be someone who loves the appearance of stiletto shoes but cannot wear them. In my case, I have to have very small, wide, flat feet. Classic “peasant feet” as my late father would say.

I tried to wear high heels but even with orthopedic inserts or shoes with sturdier heels and wider toeboxes than most, it is simply impossible for me to wear them for more than few hours at most. And by “wearing” I’m implying very limited walking.

Indeed, the idea of walking on a red carpet at Cannes—no matter how glamorous it sounds—would be pure hell for me if I were forced to wear high heels.

If there is any comfort, then it comes from knowing that I am hardly alone.

In her book, My Feet are Killing Me, Park Avenue podiatrist Dr. Suzanne Levine talks at length at the number of women (including very famous ones) who cram their wide, flat feet in shoes that are far too narrow and small for them. Even Oprah Winfrey, arguably one of the most famous and powerful women on earth, talks about suffering in designer heels—sometimes in a size smaller than her actual size-for the sake of looking good.

The idea that feet in high heels “look good” or are “feminine” and womanly has always been a topic of interest for me, leading me to wonder why this is.

A doctor friend of mine who had a number of transgender patients transitioning from male to female told me once that nearly all of them wore high heels. Indeed, in the above-referenced book, Dr. Levine tells a very touching story of a patient she saw who was also transitioning and she asked if there was anyway to make her wide, masculine feet more “feminine” so she could wear Manolo Blanhiks heels. (As it turns out, Dr. Levine was able to do so.)

As lovely as that story was, I wondered why that patient or anyone equated being a woman with high heeled shoes. As many have pointed out, high heels by their very nature make it harder for a woman to be mobile. Anyone who has ever tried to run in a pair of them knows it is difficult and downright dangerous. Add to that the discomfort felt by many in them and it seems the message is a strong, comfortable woman who can literally keep up with the guys is somehow not as feminine as one who can not.

In writing this, in no way am I criticizing those who wear heels. I am merely commenting on that like any other aspect of dress, it is up to the individual to wear what they want. If anyone—female or male—wants to wear towering heels, you’ve got the blessing of many (not that you need it!) However, no one should ever be forced to or feel that if they don’t, they are somehow less of a woman.

I hope Cannes is perceptive to the fallout and ends this silly “rule”. If they don’t, then perhaps the (male) director of the event should spend a day walking around in heels to experience what it is like for himself—maybe then he’ll change his mind.

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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Ronald Reyes/Flickr

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