I’m one of those girls who cannot completely forgo my six-inch platforms for the modest flats. Despite my 5’6″ stature, sometimes I just want to get my head in the clouds like a wandering giantess, or a runway model, floating effortlessly among the sea of well-heeled strangers. In the name of fashion, every girl who’s gone through a glitzy evening in heels would understand this.
Lately, though, I’ve grown into a habit of limiting myself to wearing heels of any height, from half-inch loafers to sky-high stilettos, to a maximum of twice a week.
In general, I believe women want to give that illusion of long, beautiful legs (plus the pronounced buttocks and angled torso) to feel more confident in our stature. The truth is, men don’t even notice the difference; and above everything else, they look for a pair of happy feet first thing in a woman they see as mate potential.
There’s a lot to tell bystanders about you just by how you take care of your least noticeable parts, or at least what you think are the least noticeable parts, such as your hands and feet. I am guilty for one, as I move around in a pretty ugly (and often painful) pair of feet. I’ve been torturing my tootsies since puberty with super-tall pairs of footkillers at least four times a week. Before I knew it, I was walking around with the regular foot pain.
For one thing, driving around in high heels is, quite literally, a pain in the butt. Ever since I received my black Civic last October, I’ve learned to keep a stash of heels in the backseat while steering in a glam dress for some glam event. Look beyond the car window and you’ll see I’m actually hitting the brakes in a pair of Havainas flip-flops. Then I’d heave a deep sigh as soon as I reached my destination. Lest the fashion police catches me, I’d switch to a Manolo to go with the gown I’m wearing.
The way I see it, I don’t want to put up the enormous pressure any longer. At least, not as often as I’d like.
Here’s the cold hard truth, girls: Whenever you’re strutting your stuff with the extra height, you are essentially putting your entire body weight on the two little bones sitting underneath your big toe – just as it is shown on the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH)’s recent x-ray video above.
I know right. Why in our right minds do we put up with that amount of pain and discomfort in the first place, much less for the whole day?!
“If a woman wants to wear really high heels on weekends or a night out or even at work because they make her look good, she’s going to wear them,” said Ohio State’s podiatrist Alan Block to Today. “Fashion is going to win, so I think the message needs to be just don’t wear them all the time and for everything that you do.”
Podiatrists have warned us girls about the hazardous effects of wearing high heels for years. As much as I hate to admit it, I was always quite ignorant about this. The moment I think of Victoria Beckham, I convinced myself that walking in heels is just like anything else I can come close to perfect – you just have to practice. But since I’m pretty active and running a lot, some weird stuff have came up over the last five years since I’ve taken up the sport. I thought tight hips, ankle sprains and ingrown toenails just mean I don’t stretch enough post-workout, but the leading cause behind these conditions is my habitual wearing of super high heels.
Here are some of the other related conditions Dr. Consuelo H. Wilkins, M.D. listed on her article for The St. Louis American:
- Corns and calluses. Thick, hardened layers of skin develop in areas wear the shoe and foot rub. Painful rubbing can occur from wearing a high heel that slides your foot forward in your shoe.
- Hammertoe. When your toes are forced against the front of your shoe, an unnatural bending of your toes results. This can lead to hammertoe — a deformity in which the toe curls at the middle joint. Your toes may press against the top of the toe box of your shoe, causing pain and pressure.
- Tight heel cords. If you wear high heels all the time, you risk tightening and shortening your Achilles tendon — the strong, fibrous cord that connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. Over time, the Achilles tendon shortens to the point that you no longer feel comfortable wearing flat shoes.
- Stress fractures. Tiny cracks in one of the bones of your foot, stress fractures, may result from the pressure high heels place on your forefoot.
Why it’s a big deal
A quarter of ALL the bones in the average human body rests in the feet, so naturally, any form of foot issue means serious business.
Women’s Health also covered the skinny on wearing heels yesterday, which I think is a must-share since we’re on the topic. Turns out you’re not just inducing foot pain, but pretty much the rest of your body as well:
• Normally, your feet act like spring-loaded, weight-distributing shock absorbers, cushioning your skeleton from crazy amounts of pounding. Jam these engineering marvels into high heels and … ouch. You’ve shifted much of your mass onto the balls of your feet and your tiny, delicate toe bones.
• The higher the heel, the bigger the impact: One study found that four-inch stilettos can up the amount of pressure on the front of the foot by 30 percent or more.
• Your heel-to-toe transition becomes abrupt, forcing you to swap your natural stride for a staccato walk. Strutting like this all the time could usher in bone and nerve damage (not to mention blisters and ingrown toenails).
Ankles and Calves
• Wearing heels forces your ankles to bend forward, a movement that could restrict circulation in your lower limbs. If you’re a perennial high-heel wearer, this could eventually spell spider veins.
• Walking in heels also stiffens your Achilles tendons, which anchor your calf muscles to your heels, causing your calves to bunch up. If you’ve had your tall pumps on all day, you might have trouble walking naturally when you first kick off your kicks. (You can work to offset this stiffness by flexing your feet—shoeless—several times throughout the day.)
• Over time, stiletto devotees can develop chronically taut (and shortened!) ankle and calf tendons, making walking—even in flats—painful.
• Another pro shock absorber, the knee is the largest joint in your body. It’s built to take a licking, but frequent high-heel use can put extra stress on the inner sides of the knees, fast-tracking the wear and tear that leads to osteoarthritis.
• To keep from keeling over in stacked shoes, you have to thrust your hips forward, arch your back, and push out your chest. That familiar sexy stance works the outer hip muscles and tendons hard (and not in a good way).
• In order to sashay around in heels, your spine needs to sway unnaturally, a process that stresses your lumbar erector spinae muscle. Result: sore lower back.
• As with your other body parts, your back needs a break. If you wear high pumps one day, don cushioned flats the next. Or save your spikes for special nights out—and never walk around in them for longer than a few hours at a time.
With all things considered, my vanity is still keeping me from throwing away all the heels in the cupboard. Some of them are really comfortable to walk in for up to a whole day, particularly the chunky pumps and wide-toe platforms. The rest I just can’t bear to throw away, even though I never wear them anymore (that’s three or more years of collecting dust). The one thing I changed after I had my most recent fallen toenail, which I’ve experienced about ten times now, was placing my loafers and flip flops right by my doorstep.
It’s just logic: A solid foundation is a prerequisite to a healthy body, and for the record, uncomfortable shoes and activities just don’t mix. I learned the hard way (a really bad back pain and lots of blisters later) that if my base of support isn’t happy, then the rest above won’t be.
How to deal
Since I didn’t fully trade comfort over style (and I believe you’re not ready to toss out all your heels from the shoe rack as well), I have no choice but to show my foot a little extra TLC while keeping my toes on those extra inches on a regular weekend. It took time for me to discover the practices that work for me to ease the pain, because there’s actually plenty of solutions to foot problems other than the following four I’m sharing. In any case, I hope you find them useful:
1. Get a regular foot and body massage.
Massages work like magic, especially for pain relief, tension release, and an overall sense of wellbeing. Aside from getting pampered by the pre-massage foot bath, (only available at selected parlors), I usually get out from my two-hour sessions feeling a lot lighter. Traditionally, the Chinese believe that pressure points on the foot directly stimulates specific parts of the body, much as the tDCS technique affects nerve cells. So whenever you get your fix at the reflexology parlor, you’re essentially stabilizing blood flow all across your body. Excellent blood circulation is the foundation to fluidity in your strut, so book a session at your local parlor right now.
2. Adopt a yoga routine.
Some months ago I felt a terrible pain on the back of my foot, even when I was only wearing ballet flats. The same thing happens during my runs: My calves were so tight and every stride felt heavy. When striding forward was supposed to release stress, it became quite stressful – thanks to my wearing high heels regularly and flexing the muscles I don’t need to contract. Since then I realized how important stretching is to balance the body’s energy. Even though I’ve had no professional guidance to yoga, certain poses, such as the Pigeon and the Cobra, do feel orgasmic when most of my daily hours are spent on stressing specific musculature of the legs. The goal of yoga here is to increase your range of motion so that when you walk or run or swim, you’re really using every part of your body as effectively as you can.
3. Make your flats a statement piece.
Lately I’ve been investing more on comfortable flats that would go with anything I wear, which is usually a set of basics and adorned with little-to-no accessories. Arguably boring, I know, but no matter what kind of simple look I styled myself up, the first thing people would notice is usually these ultra comfortable yellow flats by Aldo. Initially I just thought these would be the perfect pair to go with the usual T-shirt and jeans. I even remember it was an impulse buy. But over time I realized the pair fits almost anything I wear, not to mention they’re much less boring than the standard nudes. The best part of all? I can even run on them and still look good.
4. Rely on a healthy body image.
For years, girls have always had a ranging degree of trouble with their body image. Today, thanks to mass-media brainwash, it’s as if the pressure to look and act and behave a certain way is so strongly embedded within our collective unconscious that we don’t second-guess to “edit” ourselves. Somehow we listen to others’ opinions more about ourselves than maintaining our own stance, for approval or otherwise.
While I don’t claim to have a consistently healthy body image, I believe that ultimately we have more power over ourselves than others do against us. I admit I wear heels often because I want to do the whole fake-it-till-you-make-it thing so I can feel less insecure. After all, forcing yourself to stand up straight does make you look at least five pounds lighter and a hundred times more confident than you really feel inside. But hey, I never felt good refusing to eat pork just to get along with a certain social circle, or the countless times I pretend it’s effortless to walk in stilettos even though I’m excruciating inside. To be brutally honest, I do have a desire to live up to the modern alpha-female expectations – perfect job, perfect body, perfect household and perfect everything – which obviously no one can measure up to because the word ‘perfect’ does not exist within the human vocabulary, much less in the distorted images made up by human beings.
At some point there is a line you have to draw that says, “Enough is enough.”
Let go, stretch out, and make your statement instead. No one is telling you that you need heels to look good.