It felt like needles were piercing her entire body as she lay on the floor. She had never experienced anything like this before, her body felt like it was on fire.
News spread fast through the upper echelon, staff members crowding the entrance to the room as they stared at her. Some were concerned while others were simply curious. But she only realized how bad it was when she heard one word: “ambulance.”
Bartending at a casino was the farthest thing from Maddie’s ‘dream’ job. The hours were long, and she had to deal with countless drunk and annoying people daily. So, what compelled her to stay?
For Maddie, the reason was simple: she stayed for the enormous tips. Every cent she earned was one step closer to opening a small cafe and bakery. It had been manageable at first. Then came one fateful meeting.
Maddy and her friend rolled their eyes as the manager stood before the bartending staff, proudly adjusting his brand-new suit as he spoke. He was attempting to look like one of the bigwigs that owned the casino, but everyone knew better.
“We’re changing the dress code,” he proclaimed. And the details that were revealed next left blindsided them all.
While the men were given the easy job of staying behind the counter, the girls were now expected to wear skimpy black dresses and high heels while walking the gambling floors. And the real kicker?
They had to wear them for their entire 12-hour shift. The room immediately began to erupt with complaints. But the manager’s reaction only made Maddy want to spring up on stage and strangle him.
The manager expected them all to just “Suck it up.” That was all there was to it. Combined with a not-so-veiled threat that they could quit if they didn’t like it. Girls like them were dispensable.
Simmering rage began to course through Maddie’s veins. But it completely spilled over when she saw the new “uniform.”
Maddie could barely breathe when she tried the dress on. It was so intentionally tight that she could feel it squeezing the air from her lungs. And the heels were so high that after 10 minutes, she could already feel the tight pain in her calves.
Every part of her being was screaming at her to rip everything off. She wanted to unleash a tirade on her sexist bosses and storm right out of the building. But that wouldn’t help the other girls. She calmed herself and schemed until she had a brilliant idea.
The other girls planned sneaky rotation schedules to allow themselves to take extra breaks. They had a few minutes off their feet and to unzip their dresses. But not Maddie. She stood tall and walked the floor precisely as she was supposed to.
It wasn’t long before the burning pain began to spread throughout her entire body. But that was just the beginning of her plan.
With her knees feeling like embers and her hips filled with needles, she carried on until her feet were pure, wet fire. “Please stop!” the girls begged.
But Maddie wasn’t about to quit. She dug deep, gritted her teeth, and served drinks. If this was what the vile manager demanded of her, she would give him exactly what he asked for. When 9 PM rolled around, all eyes were on her. What was she doing?
Maddie hobbled into the changing room at the end of her excruciating shift, feeling every nerve in her body scream in agony.
There, Ms. Markems from upper management stood in the middle of the room, looking very confused. One of the staff had called her in. The entire changing room gasped as Maddy unzipped the back of her dress.
Deep, red indentations stayed where the seams and other parts of the tight dress had pressed into Maddy’s skin. A few would definitely leave bruises.
The new gasp of easy air made Maddy’s head swim and swirl. But it was as the high heels came off, Ms. Markems’ eyes went wide, and she clutched her stomach.
Blood oozed from worn, open wounds on her heels and around her toes. The entire inside of her shoes was coated in slimy red. Suddenly, Maddy’s world turned blurry, and her body finally gave out.
By the time she woke up again, the agony was still there like the fires of some actual hell, but she could also hear furious yelling.
As Maddy’s distraught friend cradled her in her arms, Ms. Markems stood nose-to-nose with their immediate manager, who had insisted on the dress code changes.
As paramedics rushed in and got her on a gurney, she could hear the blissfully sweet words “PR disaster, lawsuit, misogynistic, ridiculous, and crazy.” The rest of her crusade unfolded in the hospital.
Between the entire female wait staff and their video phones, they had captured everything. Maddy watched the compilation with satisfaction and awe.
Even she was stunned that she had made it through the shift. Her raw rage and utter determination had triggered some vital changes. But there was one, in particular, that was very gratifying.
The skimpy dresses would stay, but they would be loose and flowing. The dreary high-heeled shoes were changed back to flats. Men and women bartenders would rotate between the floor and the bar as before the change.
The vile manager was also put under review before being transferred to an insignificant department. But would Maddie stay?
Upper management had cut her a generous check for her pain and suffering. It wasn’t enough to hand in her resignation the next day, but she was so much closer to her dream.
In a couple of years, she would smell Oolong and scones instead of cocktails and addiction. Then, she would never step foot in a casino again.
Maddie had sacrificed her own well-being for her female coworkers, and she made an important point to her boss.
High heels are not only painful to work in, but it was sexist to expect the ladies to be uncomfortable while they carried out their shifts, but the men weren’t forced to wear anything uncomfortable. Her boss clearly had double standards.
When asked how Maddie’s loved ones felt about the incident, Maddie said: “With the initial changes, my mother was a bit hesitant, saying to wait and see what the dress is like.”
“…how there wasn’t any real need to change it at all, but the heels were a silly idea and a major health and safety hazard.”
“She told me to take flat shoes with me and not to push myself, but when I got home at about 8 AM, she was horrified,” Maddie explained.
“[she said] it was ridiculous that they expect us to wear them all shift. And they clearly back-tracked when they saw my feet because they knew it meant potential problems.”
“She was supportive but was really concerned about my injuries,” Maddie continued.
“[she said] I should have listened to my coworkers but was proud that I stood up for myself and others. My mother didn’t want me to get hurt. My mother was the one who ended up putting the bandages on [my feet] properly for a while, as she was a nurse.”
“It was about 4-5 years since it happened, but I remember I couldn’t even wear comfortable flat shoes without bandages for around three weeks to over a month,” Maddie revealed.
“That was just with the injury to heal enough to not open from the friction. On my days off, I was either sitting because it was sore to walk or pretty much skating around in my socks when it was almost healed.”
Despite the injuries on her feet, Maddie said that if she were faced with the same situation, she’d do it all over again.
“Yes, I would if there is no other option or it was given on short notice. Not because of vanity reasons, but companies that expect women to wear high heels for extended periods of time is against basic health and safety for individuals and the company.”
“It can permanently damage a woman’s feet and cause unnecessary strain, which could lead to further problems. When these dress codes are enforced, they do not seem to consider the individual’s comfort in a busy working environment,” Maddie said.
“I have hypermobility syndrome in my right knee, which I grew up with, which causes my joints to dislocate (especially under pressure). Wearing heels does not help.”
“If I knew what I know now back then, I would have definitely joined a workforce union to help with such matters,” Maddie revealed.
“Also, check your company policy is in line with laws and regulations regarding work where you stay. Always make sure you know your rights. If they violate it, report it to your union representative.”
“I think women should not be forced to wear high heels. Heels should be optional, as long as the shoes don’t cause harm to the individuals,” Maddie expressed.
“Companies could easily say that they want their employees to have professional/smart attire without the inclusion of high heels. There are smart flat shoes available to women as well as heels, so it should be up to the individual.”
In 2017, more than 150,000 people signed a petition supporting London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work without pay after refusing to wear high heels.
Furthermore, an inquiry into work dress codes has exposed “widespread discrimination” against women. Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, said there was a “long way” to go to solve the problems, but “everyone in the workplace deserves better than this.”
Nicola Thorp, a resident of Hackney, was only twenty-seven years old when her superior kicked her out of the office for not adhering to the dress code. Nicola had only wanted to make ends meet.
After all, living in London was costly, and Nicola, like many Londoners, was doing her best to get by. She didn’t know what terrible future awaited her.
Nicola had found a job at a finance company, where she could finally find a way to pay her bills. But she wasn’t there for a day before trouble came knocking.
It was early morning when it happened. Nicola had just arrived at the office when management informed her she had to wear shoes with heels between two and four inches. She wasn’t having it.
Nicola’s issue wasn’t as simple as not wanting to wear heels to work. Granted, she highlighted that working in heels for seven or more hours was a hellish experience.
Nicola asked for a chance to wear presentable flat shoes. She would have struggled to work her shift in heels. She hoped management would hear her out, only to be met by the worst answer she could ever wish for.
The company asked Nicola to go buy heeled shoes. Nicola said to BBC London, “I told them, ‘if you can give me a reason why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough, but they couldn’t.”
Nicola’s job included a nine-hour shift escorting clients to and from the office. There was no way she could do it in high heels. There was only one thing she could do.
Nicola shared her story, and to her surprise, many women across the world came to her side, sharing their harsh experiences with the office dress code. Nicola admits she was scared of opening up but is glad she did so.
She started a petition for the law to be changed regarding women being forced to wear high heels at work. Her petition is still going strong, and she hopes that one day, women will be able to work in comfortable conditions. After all, it is only fitting.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.