High heels have a riveting place in our society. They captivate as much as they charm. They entertain as much as they establish. They eroticize as much as they stigmatize. They are quite the subtlety we all take for granted. Besides being a centuries-old fashion statement that has and continues to evolve in style, meaning and interpretation, high heels have an indelible mark in today’s culture for both men and women. High-heeled shoes can also be quite the conversation starter in the topics of health, lifestyle, business, history, and fashion. A new documentary entitled, High On Heels, does just that–bring the conversation squarely on high heels. It features an open and honest discussion with shoe designers, stylists, dancers, models, fashion bloggers, influencers, educators, doctors, and everyday women.
Where did heels come from? How did it get here? What does it represent? Why is it popular? And, where is it going? These questions are what prompted two filmmakers from Atlanta to dare take on such a broad, global topic. Adelin Gasana and Lola Kayode produced “High On Heels” in a little over a year’s time. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. So, how did both filmmakers get inspired to do a fashion film all about high heels? “Initially, I ventured out to work on a film about a mainstream, pop culture topic,” Gasana remembers. “So, when Lola and I talked about her personal experience of lingering back pain associated with wearing heels on a regular long-term basis we thought high heels would make for quite the storyline for a documentary film.” With heavy research and conducting multiple interviews, their camera traversed a diverse range of women representing various industries in entertainment, retail, health, and academia. Gasana says the conversation and the information he uncovered on high heels pointed to little-known facts–like men were actually the first to wear them and heels have been medically been linked to long-term health misalignments.
From the classy pump, comfortable wedge, sexy stiletto, and exotic platform high heels are an experience for women. They symbolize women’s highest attributes in society worth aspiring to–professionalism, style, maturity, empowerment, confidence, beauty, sexiness, and sophistication. They are also a source of women’s personal experience with discomfort and pain. “High On Heels” paints the portrait of high heels as a character in Western society by connecting its historical evolution with the nuance of women’s lifestyle. So, while it’s filled with so much emotional baggage it is still the shoe women put on for events, display, performance, authority, and urbanity. No matter the size, shape, or color for women high heels are more than just a shoe. One could argue that heels are their sole mate. It fills their closets with the assurance that every expression worth donning is ready and available.
Adelin Gasana approached the making of “High On Heels” in a “cinéma vérité” style of filmmaking. By being a “fly on the wall” in the world of women Gasana captures women’s relationship with heels with an undiluted lens. Highlighting these women in their natural element allowed every passion to be expressed. We see this in the opening segment of the documentary where we as viewers are thrust into a high-heel dance class. Women are enjoying strutting and dancing in 3 and 4-inch heels while learning dance choreography by a seasoned instructor. Later, Gasana takes us into a shoe repair shop where a master cobbler speaks passionately on his craft for fixing high-heeled shoes. The master cobbler walks us not only into his everyday process in repairing the soles of the shoes but the emotion and soul of women who come to get their favorite pairs of heels fixed.
Gasana even takes viewers into a modeling school where girls as young as 8-years-old are learning to walk in heels. The camera vividly captures the young girls practice-strutting down a model runway with some stumbling and others finding their balance. Gasana doesn’t hesitate to delve into old high heel taboos either. His camera profiles a pole dance fitness company where women in platform heels 5 inches and above are learning the choreography and fitness of pole dancing. These visuals provide candid testimony to the impact high heels have on a plethora of different domains women find themselves in.
For young girls heels begins as a symbolic rite of passage into womanhood and maturation. As they evolve into young adulthood heels become a symbol of a loss of innocence in the move toward what is beautiful and what is sexy. This fashion film provides an insightful look and perspective on the role high-heeled shoes have on women’s lives. Designers and entrepreneurs talk about the business side of high heel products bought and sold in today’s diversified marketplace. Models and dancers working in their industry chime in on the role heels play in their careers. Influencers and historians provide input on the multidimensional change heels continue to make in today’s culture. Doctors add forewarnings on long-term use on women’s health with solid medical reporting.
“High On Heels” leaves nothing out in the long storyline of the high-heeled shoe. It covers the history of heels which dates back to 10th-century Persian cavalrymen who used heeled footwear to keep their feet in stirrups in order to stabilize themselves while riding horses during the war. Over time heels evolved into a high-class fashion accessory for men and women who came from a background of wealth and aristocracy. Lisa Small, a New York-based historian and museum curator opines in the film: “High heels can never be neutral.” The film also dives into the medical reality of short-term and long-term health effects of wearing high heels with a podiatrist and chiropractor leading the way. We watch and listen to everything that is associated with long-term wear like arthritis, spinal issues, plantar fasciitis, sciatica, neuroma, broken bones, bunions, and blisters. Both doctors featured display warning signs with skeletal models for the camera.
Through an exploration of the fine line between pain and power, “High On Heels” offers a glimpse into the complex relationship women have with high-heeled shoes. By approaching the subject from the perspective of artists, entrepreneurs, and doctors, the film captures a well-rounded look at the history of the shoe and its influence on what defines a woman in today’s society. The film lets the women elucidate the reality of sexism, gender norms, womanhood, beauty, and sexual expression. This flowing and visually-appealing fashion documentary doesn’t discourage young women from wearing heels due to potential health problems that may come. The film dares not to favor one heel style or heel type over the other. Instead, the film delivers an impartial look on heeled shoes as a cultural mark in our diverse world as well as a fashion statement that means something more than just a shoe for women. You as the viewer do walk away hearing a frank, honest discussion of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
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