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 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT