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 2:19 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
updated 10:52 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT