I Tried Wearing Heels For The First Time, Ever. It Did Not Go Well.

I’ve avoided heels for the first 26 years of my life. For me, it's always been a pragmatic choice rather than an aesthetic one. When you regularly trip on uneven sidewalks — or even over your own feet — it just seems logical to stay as close to the ground as possible. So my footwear rotates between black Converse and black sandals.
After a year at Refinery29 surrounded by women in heels (who could walk — and walk quickly!), I felt like it might be time to broaden my shoe repertoire. High heels always felt like a benchmark of adulthood, something, along with an understanding of 401(k)s, that I had skipped. But, I had recently made an appointment with a financial advisor; maybe I could click around confidently, too, inches above my average height. So I decided to test out heels for the first time, ever.
Since my shoe shopping experiences usually involve not much more than finding the sneaker that looks like it's been attacked by a finger-painting toddler, I was sent to Century21 with fashion market writer Ray Lowe for my first pair of heels. She zipped through the aisles, taking in shoe stats, analyzing them like a footwear cyborg, while the only help I could really offer was my size.

We ended up trying on about four pairs of shoes, landing first on a "functional" pair of white, block-heeled sandals with an ankle strap to keep it securely tethered to my foot.
Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
My second pair was less secure, "a pair that reflected your mental image of heels horror," Lowe told me. "Stiletto, impossible to walk in, a covert weapon." I slipped them on, and immediately feared for my life, or at least my ankles. When I turned to get out of the way of another customer, my lack of balance sent me hurtling backward into the shoe rack before sliding to the ground. The next morning, I found a giant, purple bruise on my hip; I couldn't sit normally all week.

I attempted to get through my first day in heels strapped into the casual block heels, but already I found my movement limited. I ordered lunch to be delivered. I went to the bathroom less. I felt like a kid stumbling around in her mom's heels, and I was sure I was drawing somewhat curious, somewhat concerned attention to myself with every step. My fashion sense isn't actually inconspicuous (lots of bright colors, poufy dresses, sometimes channeling multiple Disney characters in a single outfit), but the attention on my heels felt different. At least if I got a weird look for a flashy dress, I was owning it because I was comfortable in it. Heels made me feel ridiculous, and more than that, ridiculous under a spotlight.
The subway became dangerous. Even with my knees bent, like I was about to take off down the slopes, I could not keep my feet rooted to the car floor, knocking into my fellow passengers like a very apologetic pinball. I no longer simply sat in suddenly vacant seats — I collapsed.

I made it through to Thursday before donning my stilettos, the spindly things I was truly dreading. By then, being a shaky 5-foot-7 had made me a lot of things: blistered, very angry at the patriarchy, susceptible to infomercials selling leg-messaging chairs. When I slipped on the stilettos, I felt certain the heels were going to snap off, followed by my feet, like a Bratz doll. I tiptoed in slow motion to the subway, clinging to walls and beams for dear life.

When I got off the subway in the West Village, I was faced with yet another American Ninja Warrior-like challenge: cobblestones. I was already 10 minutes late to see a play, "running" at a glacial pace of one city block every five minutes, and chanting to myself, "Just keep swimming," like Dory in Finding Nemo, until I reached the theater and crumpled into my seat.

Two hours later, after a blissful seated break for the play, I wobbled back outside. A friend of a friend who moonlights as a drag queen insisted on correcting my heel-walking form. He advised me to keep my head up and attempt to "glide." He's not quite Michael Caine, but it helped — I felt more stable, less likely to fall into the nearby sewer grate. His helpful encouragement — shoulders back, walk heel-toe — carried me for three very slow blocks, before I ultimately found myself giving up and changing into my sneakers. I decided to never put those stilettos on my feet again.
One important note: My biggest fear throughout this entire experiment was falling. I was terrified of faceplanting in the hallways at work, tripping on the sidewalks of New York, toppling over in a themed bar with my friends. But other than generally sore feet, nothing bad happened to me after the first fall in the Century21 store. I wasn't taken in the night by some shadowy figure alerted to my presence by the click of my heels, as horror movies might have taught me. I didn't topple onto the subway tracks on the way home from bars. I didn't break off one of my heels, twist my ankle, or get caught in subway grates.

In fact, my general feeling toward heels is no longer fear. Instead, it's rage. I'm not an angry person, but after a night of supermarket shopping in the sandals, teetering between my Whole Foods bags, I didn't just want to take my new shoes off. I wanted to take them off and hurl them through a window. A closed window.
I understand the desire to wear heels the way I, as a vegetarian, understand a craving for a hamburger. I know the sandwich is full of protein and iron. I know, no matter how unappetizing I might find it, it's flavor and juiciness has widespread appeal. I see its merits in a distant, scientific way. But the thought of eating one myself makes me want to gag. I begrudge no one their Jimmy Choos or Happy Meals. But after my time spent in heels, I know unequivocally I want no part of either.
I still have the heels in my closet, and I no longer feel the urge to throw them out a window. I considered giving them away to a more heel-inclined friend or coworker, but I like them where they are, laying on a bed of sneakers. They're a reminder that scary things aren't impossible, and that once you've done that thing that scares you, you're allowed to call it faced and conquered. And who knows? Maybe one day I'll pull out the block heels for a friend's summer wedding. They'll look great next to everyone else's discarded heels on the side of the dance floor.

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