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Why I Started Wearing Heels

Why I Started Wearing Heels

Man with curly brown hair in a black dress with a rainbow hem

“Five foot two and a half.”

My doctor wrote down the measurement on her clipboard. “Okay, you can come down now.”

Dutifully, I stepped away from the wall, where one of those official-looking doctors’ scales hung. I wanted to scream. Five foot two and a half? I couldn’t have been only five two and a half. I’d stood up ramrod straight when they were measuring me, for God’s sake!

Somewhere in the last year or so, I’d started dreading physical check-ups simply because of the standard height measuring they had to do. I was getting more and more dismayed about my height, or lack thereof. It was going to just be a matter of time before my growth plates fused and I stopped getting taller. I had just turned fourteen, and unless I acted fast, I would be stuck being short for the rest of my life. 

Tick, tock, bitch, my body seemed to be saying. Not only will you be growing BOOBS, but you’re also probably going to be short for the rest of your Earthly existence!

My time was running out. I was already doing everything I could to coax along a growth spurt, but now I really had to take matters into my own hands. 

That night, I asked my mom for my first pair of high heels.

I was born a small infant, and throughout elementary and middle school, I’d easily been one of the shortest kids, the ones who went straight to the front when it was time for class pictures. Back then, I’d been okay with all of this. The height-related body dysmorphia was a recent occurrence. I had suddenly become obsessed with my height because my close friends, all of whom were cis guys, had started going through puberty. It was disconcerting to see their voices crack and then drop, to have them go from being the same height as me to three inches taller seemingly overnight. It was a grating, lonely feeling that made me feel like they were all heading on a journey to somewhere exciting, leaving me further and further behind.

I had to catch up.

Surprisingly, I chose to ask my father for advice on this matter. My dad and I weren’t very close — he didn’t exactly get along with my mom, and he worked across the country besides — but on one of his rare visits home, I told him that I intended to do everything I could to grow taller. My mom had once told me that he’d managed to grow way taller than his parents through physical exercise. I was determined to know his secret.

“You want to grow taller?” he asked. “That’s a good goal, but what’s the reason behind it?”

“Well, all of my male friends are getting taller, and I feel really awkward suddenly being the shortest person in the room. We used to be more or less the same size,” I confessed. “I want to be just as tall as all of them.”

My dad laughed at this. “Well, it’s natural for boys to grow taller than girls eventually. That’s just how nature works.”

I winced. “So there’s nothing I can do?”

“That’s not necessarily true. You may not be as tall as your friends, but doesn’t mean that you can’t also grow taller naturally.”

“Mom said that you did it through exercise.”

He considered this for a moment. “Yes, I did, although I didn’t have a specific goal to increase my height. I was a student athlete in China, and we had to run long distances every single day. I did this for a long time, and I think that that was what made a difference.”

“I see.” Fuck, I hated running, but if that was what I had to do, then so be it.

“What’s your goal height?”

“Five nine,” I said casually, as if I hadn’t Googled average American male height, spending the subsequent hours simultaneously discouraged and galvanized by the results. The average height in the country was five foot nine inches for men and five foot four inches for women. I’d decided that if I couldn’t be five nine, then I would at least have to be over five four, genetics be damned.

My father raised an eyebrow. “Five nine is an ambitious goal. I’m five eight, and your mother is five three, I believe. I think if you really worked at it — and here, I’m not saying that running every day will guarantee a growth spurt, you will definitely want to do your own research on this — you could probably be five six to five eight.”

He went on to say that he was no expert and that I shouldn’t take his ballpark guess as truth before looking at the facts, but I was elated regardless. I was still growing, after all. At the very least, exercising to further along my vertical expansion wouldn’t be totally impossible.

I threw myself into this with the dedication of … well, a trans boy who was told that he could do something to reduce his physical female-ness. In many ways, this was my first long-term goal, the first thing that I wanted so fucking badly that I would have sacrificed almost everything else in my life for it. [1] 

The ferocity of how much I was determined to achieve this goal stunned me. I ran around my neighborhood cul-de-sac almost every morning, side stitches and all. My friend’s mom suggested that I jump up and touch the top of each doorframe I walked through, so I did that, too. I hung off the pull-up bar in my doorway until my arms physically gave out. I came up with a complex leg-stretching routine inspired by my days at the ballet barre, and I stuffed myself with calcium- and protein-rich foods.

Of course, this was a long-term goal, so I could not and did not expect results right away. I realized this that day at the doctor’s office — by then, I’d been stretching and doing exercises for months. Thus, on the days where I felt particularly dysphoric (which soon became every day), I put on a pair of heels, and enjoyed the little shift in reality they gave me, no matter how temporary it was.

My first pair of “heels” were actually a pair of three-inch white summer sandals with a wedge. My mom had bought them for herself, but gave them to me after seeing how happy I was to suddenly be taller.

I wore those damn shoes everywhere. I learned how to walk very quickly in them to the point that I could keep up with my friends’ normal strides. I ran through the streets in them. I wore them to school, to the store, to the mall. When it came time to pick out new shoes, I went for ones with heels. I even bought wedge flip-flops for the beach, a pair of white BCBG platforms adorned with plastic flowers.

As my heel collection grew, so did my reputation for being a “fashionista,” which always made me laugh because, to me, nothing seemed further from the truth. I wore heels because I wanted to be as tall as my male friends, not because I wanted to be stylish. I picked the shoes that could go with any outfit and then wore them until they fell apart. The only reason I had so many pairs was because heels weren’t made for serious walking and gallivanting around — to my disappointment, most of them fell apart after a month or two of nonstop wear.

It wasn’t until I started ironically wearing dresses that I started thinking of my shoes as fashion statements. To be honest, I’m still not a big shoe fan now; if you look at any full-body picture of me, you’ll see that I own maybe five pairs of heels that I rotate out for photoshoots, and that they’re hella scuffed — I mean well-loved, my bad — because I still don’t give enough fucks. Oh well.

The summer before ninth and tenth grade, my legs started getting super sore at random intervals. I thought it was because of the excessive heel-wearing, so I toned it down a notch, but the pain continued to the point where I was lying on the couch in pain for hours.

“What’s happening?” I asked my mom, concerned. I was no hypochondriac, but I didn’t want whatever this was to affect my vertical-ascension goals. “My legs hurt, especially the lower parts. Did I accidentally pull a muscle or something?”

“I believe you’re getting taller,” she replied with a smile.

Sure enough, my next doctor’s appointment confirmed it — I was five foot five, which caused my jaw to literally drop in surprise. I’d had my own three-inch growth spurt! Ironically, I hadn’t noticed it because I’d been wearing heels all the time.

“You’re still growing,” my doctor, who knew just how much I wanted to be taller, said with a wink. “I’m not sure if you can be five nine, but five six is certainly realistic … and you can always make up for the last three inches with a pair of your fabulous heels.”

I beamed. Maybe growing up wasn’t that bad after all.

I ended up growing just one more inch; I now stand at five six, a height that I’d like to think I worked for. I’m not sure if I actually grew taller as a result of those exercises or not, but the point is that I grew taller period, and that’s good enough for me.

I kept my stretching routine well into college, although by then it was more for flexibility than for growing taller. By now, everyone had gone through puberty and I realized how dumb it was to base masculinity off of height. I had guy friends of all heights, after all. I had nothing left to prove to myself. That’s when I finally stopped wearing heels for functional purposes and started wearing them for fashion.

These days, I’m a dress-and-heels guy. I tower over some of the cis guys at work and regularly get comments about how “tall” I am in heels, which never fails to make me feel good.

“It didn’t start out as a fashion statement,” I imagine myself saying sometimes. “I actually started wearing heels to alleviate my growing dysmorphia around my height, and then became a clotheshorse for girly outfits to troll the general population, so that’s the real reason why I’m un homme élégant!”

But I don’t do that. Instead, I let them know that I have a website, where I talk about style … among other things, and secretly smile while thinking about how my “fashion” obsession came about in the first place. ♚

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