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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

High Heel

Footwear. A woman's shoe with a thin, elevated heel designed to a. enhance the derriere, b. firm the leg, and c. showcase the feminine ankle.

Usage I: Visually, high heels suggest a. that a woman's feet are delicate, submissive, and ethereal, i.e., destabilized--not planted firmly on the ground (cf. ANTIGRAVITY SIGNBOOT)--and b. that her body weight defies earth's gravitational pull.
Usage II: Nonverbally, high heels stand wearers precariously up on their tiptoes, thus shifting the body's center of gravity forward, and causing a compensatory forward lean. The derri?--already prominent by primate standards--protrudes an additional 25% (see LOVE SIGN).
Usage III: Aesthetically, heels make feminine legs seem longer in proportion to body size and--through the zoological principle of mimicry--more like the slim legs of teenage girls. (N.B.: Anthropologists have determined that female bodies attain their peak of allure in the late-teen years.)

Media. 1. In the 1990s Spike magazine featured images of women's feet in high heels for the entertainment of men. 2. Reported in The New Yorker magazine's "The Talk of the Town": "It was three years ago when Ms. Maples [Mrs. Donald Trump] began filing reports with the police that her shoes were disappearing. She had a hidden video camera installed in her closet. On July 13, 1992, a shadowy figure was captured on camera rummaging among her footwear. This figure turned out to be none other than her trusted public-relations representative, Mr. [Chuck] Jones--or Chuckers, as she liked to call him" ("Time Wounds All Heels").


Evolution. Women's (and men's) elevated heels evolved from a 16th century Italian, high-platform shoe called the chopine. (The original, stilt-like design came to Italy from the far East.) Practical versions of the chopine, called pattens, made it easier to walk on muddy pathways before the advent of sidewalks and curbs. Because chopines raised both the heel and the toes above the ground, walking was difficult, and so, after two centuries on stilts, the sole was lowered while the heel was left standing. Thus the high-heel was born, an evolutionary hybrid.


Anatomy. Heels beget shapely legs a. as both heads of the calf (or gastrocnemius) muscle contract to slim and firm the back of the lower leg, andb. the ankle rides prominently high in the shoe itself. So powerful are their messaging features that, despite health warnings and the specter of bunions, high heels are not likely to appear on the endangered-shoes list. (N.B.: The American Podiatric Medical Association has determined that two out of five women who wear heels higher than 3 inches for up to eight hours a day do so "in spite of the pain.")


See also LEG WEAR.