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Tower of Power: Tall Women, Shorter Men and High Heels of Dominance

Heels in Hollywood have gone from symbols of submission to power as women on the up-and-up barely give shorter guys any pause.

Stacy Keibler and George Clooney
Getty Images

The hottest accessory for women on the red carpet this season, along with killer stilettos, is a table-turner of a trend: having a shorter man hanging on their arm.

The days of female arm candy appear ancient when you observe multitudes of couples in which the ladies are virtually towering over their powerful men in Louboutin and Jimmy Choo 5-inch-plus spike heels.

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And these aren’t men with small egos. But Mick Jagger (5'9") hardly looks threatened next to 6'4" designer girlfriend L’Wren Scott, who in heels seems twice his size. Nor does George Clooney (5'11") cower when 5'11"-before-spikes Stacy Keibler outsizes him. Tina Fey is five inches taller than husband Jeff Richmond, and she still wears heels. Katie Holmes (5'9") towered over Tom Cruise (5'7") when she wore heels -- as did Nicole Kidman (5'11"), who towers slightly less over husband Keith Urban (5'10"). Still, heels are paramount, paired with short dresses and long. Sometimes dresses are procured to flatter favorite shoes.

If these ladies traversed the carpet in flats, these height differences wouldn’t be nearly so pronounced. The way celeb stylist Penny Lovell sees it, “High heels just make everything look good on you” — despite Christian Louboutin’s warning: “High heels are pleasure with pain.”

L.A.-based chic shoe designer Jerome Rousseau explains the phenom this way: “The cliche that men love heels because they make women more vulnerable feels old. In the last 10 years, women fell in love with heels for the right reasons: They feel both seductive and powerful.”

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But this is not just an issue of aesthetics, or even sex. Couples counselor Dr. Adam Scheck ventures that “shorter men might have made up for their Napoleonic complexes by becoming extremely successful -- very desirable to women from an evolutionary psychology perspective.” (“He’s not short when he stands on his wallet,” goes the old yarn.) New York-based psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Gillow has a different theory: She attributes the new female tower of power to “the rise of the working mom in the ’60s and ’70s. This created a phase shift. Boys of working moms don’t have a problem with women who take up more room.”

And while it’s easy to salivate over feet enclosed by sculpted, jeweled and wildly expensive heels, what no doubt was originally intended to encourage foot fetishes of all kinds also can be a real pain. Podiatrist Dr. Noreen Oswell of The Foot Center at Cedars-Sinai is always seeing hammertoes, bunions and damage to the balls of the feet. “My big tip,” she says, “is not to wear high heels all day or you’ll wind up in my office. My red carpet patients have one great secret: They take them off under the table.”

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