Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kicking the High Heel Habit

Three years ago, a medical study showed that wearing high-heeled shoes doesn't necessarily increase one's risk for osteoarthritis of the knee; in fact, being significantly overweight over the age of forty was a bigger risk factor. The news media, which understands science about as well as it understands religion and politics, immediately declared that the idea that high-heeled shoes are bad for women is just a myth (like Christianity or Democratic presidential candidates). But were they right?

Not necessarily, if you read this report from the Mayo Clinic from two years ago.

It seems that whether or not high-heeled shoes affect the knees over the long term, it's pretty well known that they affect the feet in all sorts of unpleasant ways. These ways are cumulative, of course, but many women go years cramming their feet into shoes that are not only too high, but also too small and too tight, and then suffer for that as they grow older.

The Mayo Clinic article says that it's fine to wear these sort of shoes occasionally; they actually even mention church on Sunday, a shocking idea to a Catholic woman like me who knows that Sunday attire in these enlightened days consists not of smart dressy suits and glossy heels, but instead must be charitably described as "grungy casual."

Still, I have to confess it: I've never much liked high-heeled shoes, aside from the ten minute time period in junior high after I received my first permission to buy a pair, and before I actually tried to walk in them. I think that nature was having a laugh at my expense, as I combine exactly the sort of stature-challenge that high-heels can help solve with an incredible lack of balance or coordination and a really low tolerance for having my toes squashed into painful oblivion at the opposite end of that "towering" two-inch heel.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for heels, I've bought and owned many a pair. When I was working in a corporate office I wore them to work, more often than not--and kicked them off under my desk, and kept a pair of tennis shoes close by so I could run errands for my boss without injuring myself. Once I became a stay-at-home mom, I bought and wore them for church, for special occasions, for office parties, and for those types of outfits that just didn't look right with flats no matter how hard I would try.

I've had some close calls with them, too. There was the black pair that was just a tiny bit too large, and that therefore would come off Cinderella-like any time I encountered a stair--only, unlike Cinderella, I would have ended up nose-first in concrete had not my patient prince been close at hand to grab hold of my arm and save me from disaster. There was the strappy silver sandal pair I bought to wear to one sister's wedding, which apparently, unknown to me, were members of the evil shoe mafia, and had a contract out on my ankles--in all honesty I'm surprised I was able to get them off without cutting them off by the end of the event. There were the high-heeled boots I unwisely wore to another wedding, which surrounded my legs and caused me to walk in a part-robot, part-hunchback-of-Notre-Dame gait whenever I had to move forward more than an inch at a time. And there was the shoe that I wore all day never noticing till I got home that the heel had broken, and that I was walking on an exposed nail where the bottom of the heel used to be.

In the last year or so, I've really started to question whether the high-heel is really necessary, at least for me. I don't need to maintain a "professional" image, and question anyway why a woman's "professional" image includes elevating her a couple of inches off the ground. I've never had a love for high-heeled shoes, and seldom wear them anymore.

Yet there are still a pair or two in my closet. And as I ponder the usefulness of many of the objects in my life, I have to wonder why they're there at all.

Am I going to conform my whole life to what I can only see as an extremely outdated notion, the notion that women should expect to wear uncomfortable footwear any time they are really dressed up?

Am I going to let the fashion designers who see little value in short women anyway convince me that to "count" I have to wear the footwear equivalent of forced tiptoeing?

Am I going to keep a pair or two of high-heels on hand--or worse, go out and shop for more--whenever a special occasion arises? And then let them remain in my closet, gathering dust, for years on end?

Not anymore.


Anonymous said...

Have you tried wedge styled high heal shoes? I own a few pairs and they are remarkably comfortable. You can wear them with nice pants or jeans, and they just polish off an outfit. I for one can't wear flats too long, they hurt the arch of my foot. So heels, atleast 1.5" are a must for me. Cole Hahn has some nice ones with Nike Air technology.

Lisa said...

Ok, you're speaking to me here, for sure (see how shallow I am?)... I have a sprained toe right now, and a history of knee issues, so the very thought of high heels makes me cringe! But, at Mass last night, limping around on my sore toe, I noticed ( and I'm curious to see if anyone else has made this same observation...) that it was the tall women who were wearing the high heels and the short women who were wearing the flats. Was that a coincidence? Are we short women just so used to being short, that we opt for comfort more readily? Or what? (Those wedges are actually more comfortable, as Jennifer says. They're my high heel option of choice. &:o)

nutmeg said...

The only "heels" I wear are the elevated flats.... the funky kind. I have never been able to walk in heels, and at 5'9", I never felt I needed to be taller.

BUT! I had to buy a pair of silver strappy sandals with 2" heels for my sister's wedding... I hope I can survive the day!


Red Cardigan said...

I actually have tried the wedge heeled shoes. Alas! What's painful to me is having 3/4 of my foot ride up and get crammed into the toe box.

Nutmeg, PLEASE take my advice here, 'cause this is what I wished I had done! Take along a pair of silver ballet flats--keep them in your car, or somewhere you can get at them if needed.

The only extra shoes I had with me were tan casual sandals, which couldn't work with my dress at all--so I limped around for hours.

If you have to change from the sandals to the flats during the reception, approximately two women will notice at the most.


nicole said...

I love heels! Of course, I only wear them sometimes and I've been lucky enough to buy some pricier, but more comfortable, ones. More power to you should you ditch them once and for all.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big advocate of high-heels. There is something about them that is so feminine and pretty. Have you ever slipped your foot in one and seen how your ankle immediately looks attractively curved and ultra cute?

Plus, there was another study recently released by an Italian Doctor who found that high-heels may actually be healthier for women. I don't have a link for it, but I'll see if I can find one.

Unfortunately I won't be wearing any of my "big girl shoes" for a while. I sprained my tennis shoes. =)