Skip to main content

Are women foolish to love stilettos?

By Rachel Simmons, Special to CNN
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
Stepping into high-heeled shoes. Stepping into high-heeled shoes.
HIDE CAPTION
For the sake of beauty
For the sake of beauty
For the sake of beauty
For the sake of beauty
For the sake of beauty
For the sake of beauty
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rachel Simmons: Even though high-heeled shoes are bad for our feet, women still wear them
  • Simmons: You would think that the End of Men might also herald the end of the Brazilian
  • She says there's a reason why women suffer for beauty and pay to be more beautiful
  • Simmons: It's because attractive people are more likely to be successful and earn more

Editor's note: Rachel Simmons is co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and author of "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence." Follow her on Twitter: @Racheljsimmons

(CNN) -- I've long been haunted by a chilling statistic from an old study: 54% of women 18 to 25 said they would rather be hit by a truck than be fat.

When I read it, I was aghast. Who, I wondered, were the women who would choose blood and broken bones over some extra body weight?

Turns out they are my friends -- and maybe yours. And, perhaps, a few men (more on that later).

Rachel Simmons
Rachel Simmons

"How fast is the truck going?" my friend Lisa asked. "How fat would I have to be?"

"Does it run over my lower half or upper half?" Naomi mused. "Oh, also," she said, chewing on a Japanese noodle as we chatted over dinner, "you might have to get your jaw wired shut and then you'd definitely lose weight."

But women don't need to wade into traffic to suffer for beauty; these horrific would-you-rather games are closer to reality than we might think.

Many of us endure pain in the service of beauty every single day. We rip off our hair with hot wax, jam our soft skin into modern-day corsets, and burn our scalps with dyes.

We ask doctors to suck out the fat in our thighs, pump Botox into our faces and inflate our breasts with silicon. We smush our feet into unholy angles in skyscraper heels, and as medical professionals have said yet again, those fabulous Louboutins cause everything from muscle strains and ligament tears to stress fractures.

Aren't we beyond this? Haven't we come a long way, baby? You would think that the End of Men might also herald the end of the Brazilian.

Hardly.

According to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons, nearly 15 million cosmetic surgery procedures were done last year, a 5% bump for the industry. Botox and facelifts saw the biggest increases. The founder of Spanx recently became the world's youngest female self-made billionaire, to the tune of $250 million in annual sales.

At a moment when girls and women have never been more empowered, they are in thrall to ever more ruthless standards of beauty. This is likely not a coincidence.

In her 1991 bombshell book, "The Beauty Myth," a young Rhodes Scholar named Naomi Wolf observed that as the women's movement powers up, the beauty industry clamps down on our self-esteem.

Unprecedented billions of marketing dollars have been unleashed to promote beauty as essential to female confidence. Yet beauty is defined in such a way as to be inaccessible to all but an elite few. Still, we buy into it. As our paychecks increase, so does our beauty spending -- and suffering.

Is the price of freedom an actual pound of flesh?

Not just freedom, as it turns out, but success. Beauty pays off -- literally.

Cornell professor Michael Lynn has found that attractive waitresses make better tips.

Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, studies pulchronomics, or the economics of beauty.

In his book, "Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful," he reports that attractive women are more likely to land a wealthy spouse, and that attractive American workers will earn $230,000 more in their lifetimes than their less fetching colleagues. Unattractive women are less likely to work at all than their attractive peers, a phenomenon that does not show up in men.

Hamermesh goes so far as to propose legal protection for "ugly" people through an extension of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

By this logic, is the nearly $4,000 a woman will spend on mascara in her lifetime a kind of perverse retirement investment? Apparently we women have to spend money to make money, though perhaps not in the way we anticipated.

Lest the guys think this is yet another unfortunate burden for women to shoulder, think again. Men are showing up in the crosshairs of beauty marketers and under the knives of surgeons.

Last year, fewer women had breast enlargements, but "moobs" -- that's man boobs -- clearly caused an unprecedented amount of anxiety. More than 21,000 breast reductions were performed on men, an increase of 5%. And in Hamermesh's work, men's salaries were docked more for unattractiveness than women's.

My friend Lisa can't stop thinking about getting hit by the truck.

"The thing is," she told me, "if I got run over it wouldn't be my fault, but being fat is something other people can blame me for."

That's precisely what beauty marketers want us to think: If we cripple our feet in heels, buy the Spanx, and go under the knife, hey, at least we tried.

I can't help but wonder who we are trying for, and if the extra cash is worth it. The beauty industry is driving that truck, and it's going to hit us no matter what.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Simmons.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT