Despite rumors that COVID killed off high heels for good, recent research has found that heels — and women wearing them — are still considered attractive even in our considerably more dressed-down post-pandemic era. The study, published last month in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that women wearing high heels are perceived as more sexually and physically attractive, feminine and of a higher status than their flat-footed counterparts.
Researchers analyzed responses from 448 participants, both male and female, who were asked to compare two silhouettes of women with or without high heels and rate them on various characteristics, including their physical attractiveness, sexual attractiveness, dominance, strength, warmth, enthusiasm, trustworthiness, nurturance, masculinity, femininity, social competence, affectionateness, friendliness, overall good mate potential, short-term mate potential, long-term mate potential, parenting ability, health, intelligence, success and status. Unsurprisingly, at least to a high heel aficionado like myself, the woman shown wearing heels was considered more sexually attractive, physically attractive, feminine and of higher status by the majority of respondents.
This, according to the researchers, tracks with what most of us already know: high heels are sexy. Literally why else would anyone wear them? While heels are often written off as impractical and even sexist in our current, more laid-back era of women’s fashion, it seems they haven’t actually lost their charm after all. As the study authors noted, “While women’s fashion constantly evolves, this research aligns well with previous research that men perceive women in high heels as more attractive than those in flat shoes.”
However, while the study found that women in heels are considered more sexually attractive, the researchers, somewhat confusingly, argued that high heels aren’t sexualized. Based on participants’ responses, wearing heels didn’t seem to “signal any personality traits, or cues to health or intelligence,” which, according to the researchers, means that the women wearing them weren’t being objectified. “Sexualized women are perceived to be less mentally capable, less competent and less deserving of moral status,” the report explained. “These decreases were not found in the current study, which leads us to conclude that high heels are not sexualized as compared to other forms of sexy or revealing clothing.”
This doesn’t quite track for me. Based on years of personal experience, I can promise you that women definitely get catcalled way more often if they are wearing heels rather than flats, even if they’re wearing the exact same outfit otherwise, and I would actually like to see a follow-up study testing this hypothesis. Either way, as a devoted high heels enthusiast who often gets dragged for wearing impractical and/or loud footwear, I’m happy to see heels getting the respect they deserve.
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