Why Women Wear High Heels

While high-heels can be terribly uncomfortable and not recommend by most podiatrists, women’s use of high-heeled shoes is a prevalent in both developing and modernized societies. Yet, despite this fact, there has been little research into the reasons why women torment themselves in these shoes. Most speculation and conjecture revolved around the gait hypothesis (women have a sexier walk in high heels) to a media constructed preference for high heeled shoes, to a simple male preference for the shoes themselves.  In a recently published study, David Lewis addresses the unlikelihood of these theories while providing a much more likely explanation grounded in data and evolution.

The research team hypothesized based on evolutionary mating research that men would seek a partner with a lumbar curvature closet to an optimum value of 45.5 degrees.  As such, women to increase their attractiveness to potential male partners would manipulate their lumbar curvature with various methods, but in modern times this became high heeled shoes.

To test this hypothesis the research team conducted two studies.  The first study documented that when women wear high-heels their lumbar curvature changes and comes moves closer to the hypothesized optimum 45.5 degrees. As expected women were perceived as more attractive when they were wearing high heeled shoes than when they were in flats in photographs from the side.  So as the authors state, “the findings from Study 1 provide the first simultaneous evidence of the relationships between (1) high heels and lumbar curvature and (2) high heels and physical attractiveness.” However, because of limitations of using publicly available images in the first part of the  study, the research team went further and conducted a second controlled laboratory study .

In the second study, participants were brought in and photographs were cropped for uniform heights and leg lengths as well as eliminating the shoe itself and the face of the woman. Exact measurements of lumbar curvature were taken wearing flats and high-heels. Again, as hypothesized, as women’s lumbar curvature came closer to the proposed theoretical optimum value of 45.5 degrees men rated the women more attractive, but did not when shoes shifted the curvature away from this optimum.  Importantly, because no shoes were visible and there was no walking in the study the findings from study 2 cannot be explained by the theories described above.

As the authors conclude, “the current studies provide convergent evidence across methods and independent samples of a previously untested hypothesis about why women wear high heels. These studies provide the first documented evidence of high-heeled shoes’ concurrent effects on  women’s  lumbar  curvature  and  attractiveness,  and  reveal a precise, lumbar curvature-dependent effect of high heels on women’s attractiveness.”

The study, Why Women Wear High Heels: Evolution, Lumbar Curvature, and Attractiveness, was co-authored by Eric M. Russel , Laith Al-Shawaf , Vivian Ta , Zeynep Senveli , William Ickes  and David M. Buss.

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