If the shoe fits? Using sexual selection theories to examine potential between-women and within- women variation in their responses to high heels

Christopher D. Watkins, Amanda Leitch

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


High heels are cultural symbols of female sexuality and are ‘costly signals’ if the risks of wearing them are offset by improving women’s attractiveness to men. From a functionalist perspective, the costs versus benefits of wearing heels may vary according to personal and contextual factors, such as her effectiveness at same-sex competition for mates or trait- or state-level factors that predict the intensity of mating competition, such as when mating motivations are stronger. We conducted a series of studies to examine potential between-women variation (self-rated attractiveness, dyadic versus solitary sexual desire, chronological age, and competitive attitudes toward other women) and within-women variation (priming mating and competitive motives) in their responses to high heels. Here, attractive women were more oriented toward heeled shoes than their less-attractive peers were. When examining women’s responses to two shoes at the extremes of attractiveness (one higher-heel, one lower-heel) dyadic sexual desire, but not solitary sexual desire, predicted their inclination to buy the higher-heeled shoe. On average, young women chose high heels when primed with the scenario that they were free to buy any designer shoe (Study three: 95%CI[53.02mm, 67.37mm]), and preferred a heel 22mm (0.87”) higher than older women. Contrary to predictions, priming mating or competitive motives did not alter women’s preference toward a higher heel. Our studies suggest that attractive women augment their physical appeal via heels. High heels may be a subtle indicator of dyadic sexual desire, and preferences for heels are stronger at times in the lifespan when mating competition is relatively intense.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventInternational Society for Human Ethology: XXIV Biennal Conference on Human Ethology - Hotel Plaza San Francisco, Santiago, Chile
Duration: 3 Sep 20187 Sep 2018


ConferenceInternational Society for Human Ethology
Abbreviated titleISHE
Internet address


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