Why do women endure high heels?


High heels are painful and make walking uncomfortable. Prolonged use can injure the feet, knees and back. Then why do they continue to wear them?

A rational explanation is to look at the subsequent benefit realized for the incurred cost. The benefits are quite apparent. "Men like an exaggerated female figure", writes fashion historian Caroline Cox in "Stilleto" where she describes the compelling lure of the needle heel.

Women in heels are more likely to attract favorable notice. In addition to making women taller, high heels force the back to arch thus accentuating the female form.

The problem is that height and appearance is a relative phenomenon and if all women wear high heels, such advantages tend to cancel out. It may be advantageous to be a few inches taller than before, but the relative height distribution is unaffected. So no one appears taller than if all had worn flats.

For fun, let's model this in game theory. Taking the simplest case of 2 women- Betty and Jane. The four possible options for (Betty, Jane) are (Flats, Heels), (Heels, Flats), (Heels, Heels) and (Flats,Flats).

Interestingly, game theory gives us  two optimal solutions to this problem. Either both wear high heels and nullify each others relative advantage or collectively decide to wear flats and stop enduring the pain.

Thus collectively if all women in the world decide to forgo high heels, they are all better off than before. Rationally, the latter is a better solution since they don't endure the pain for no incremental advantage.

But then why do we still see them wearing high heels?
Firstly, not everyone thinks like an economist. Collective decisions are nearly impossible since each one is driven by their own personal incentives, and any individual can gain relative advantage by violating the collective consensus by wearing heels. At least for a short period of time, till everyone realizes they need to follow suit to nullify their disadvantage.
Secondly, well, women are just too darn hard to understand :)

So why do you wear heels? Please do leave your comments