The journal Fashion and Textiles recently published an article looking at whether women wearing heels are perceived differently than those wearing flats. The work expanded on previous work that found that men were more likely to approach and help women wearing heels than those who didn’t. It was also found in that study that heels had no effect on whether women would help other women. The conclusion of the study was that heels increase the attractiveness of women to men. Two factors were identified. 1) heels change a woman’s gait by reducing stride length (small steps are found to be more feminine in many cultures); and 2) heels cause the pelvis to tilt forward changing woman’s posture and hip rotation.
Personally, I prefer wearing (comfortable heels) exactly because it changes my posture. I have had many hip problems throughout my lifetime and wearing heels assists my body to align my hips and activate my glutes while walking. I find it very difficult to stand with proper posture without the assistance of heels. I also like that my favourite pair of heels makes me about 6’2″, which gives me a lot of confidence as, for primates, a bigger stature is associated with power. I could imagine that the combination of these factors might change how I interact with men, which would in turn change how they interact with me. So, it is a little hard to know if it is the heels affecting men’s perception, or whether it is all of the factors that change the social interaction.
The new study in Fashion and Textiles set out to explore this by just showing people pictures of two women, one wearing heels and one not. They then asked participants to rate the pictures on several features. The pictures just focused on the woman’s posture and showed the woman from the shoulders to the mid calf. The pictures did not show the shoes and, unbeknownst to the participants, the same woman was used for both pictures. Men rated the women in heels as sexier, prettier, younger, and more elegant. But interestingly, women also rated the woman in heels higher in these dimensions. It would appear that wearing heels changes the perception of both men and women, but only men change their behaviour based on the perception.
There are many studies about subtle things you can change in your appearance to alter how others treat you. Unfortunately, the literature seems skewed towards understanding how female looks change men’s behaviour, and I have seen less about how women change their behaviour around different visual cues from men. But it does raise an interesting question. Is it unethical to exploit these biological triggers to your advantage?
I know that I have many features that make me look child-like. This can be problematic because it can detract from my authority. Thus, depending on the situation, I might enhance or diminish those qualities to subconsciously alter how people interact with me. If I want a to seem non-threatening and get a lot of information out of a research informant, for example, I enhance the child-like features. Things like emphasize my wide-set eyes and adopt a smaller posture. On the other hand, going into a lecture hall, I stand tall and prefer make up that sharpens rather than softens my features. To a degree we all do this unconsciously, but is it ethical to do this consciously? What do you think? Tell me below in the comments.
Guéguen, N., Stefan, J., & Renault, Q. (2016). Judgments toward women wearing high heels: a forced-choice evaluation. Fashion and Textiles, 3(1), 1-7.