Are high heels really bad for you?
The Times | March 7 2014.
I’m not ashamed to say I have a shoe fetish, especially when it comes to high heels. In fact, I probably need to get some sort of therapy, such is my love for towering foot bling. Open my wardrobe and you’ll find them lovingly packed away in their original boxes, and I take great delight in matching my outfit to my footwear. When I walk out the door in a favourite pair I feel a million bucks.
My addiction to high heels is sometimes a problem given I’m five feet nine inches. Add an extra couple of inches or six to my frame and I end up well over six feet. So I use the shoes for strategic advantage in work situations. If I’m going to a meeting and I need to scare the client, I’ll make sure I wear the highest heels possible. But if I want to put the client in a position of power, I’ll choose lower ones.
Anyway, massaging my tootsies one evening after a particularly gruelling day got me thinking. Could I be doing myself damage by wearing my stilettos? Am I sacrificing long-term physical strength for short-term pleasure?
I posed this question to podiatrist Dr Paul Dowie from Melbourne’s Foot and Leg Pain Clinics. Surprisingly – and thank goodness – he says it’s normal to get sore feet if you’re on them all day and that high heels are not necessarily bad for you. He says it’s about wearing the right shoe for the job.
“If you work in retail and you’re in heels and on your feet all day, it’s all about your body and your genetics, the type of shoe you’re wearing and the structure of your feet. Some people are conditioned and adept at wearing high heels while others struggle,” Dowie says.
If you love wearing heels but you can’t cope with the pain, he suggests modifying your behaviour to reduce the impact of the heels. “If you have a desk job, think about how you get to work because wearing office shoes doesn’t always suit being in transit. If you catch the train and walk to and from the station, think about wearing runners instead. Wearing multiple pairs of shoes can help you to cope.”
In fact, Dowie says wearing flat shoes can be just as much of a problem for your feet as wearing heels. Take a look at the shoes you’re wearing at the moment and look at the ‘’pitch’’ or elevation of the heel. According to Dowie, a pitch of around four centimetres helps propel you forward and results in less strain and pain. But he says there’s no universal heel height that is considered ‘’right’’.
“You also have to factor in the psychological aspect. People who are vertically challenged often wear heels to increase their confidence,” he argues.
I’m pretty much flabbergasted when he says this – it’s not at all what I expected a foot doctor to say. But it’s a sentiment with which Jodie Fox, who runs Shoes of Prey, a business that allows customers to design their own shoes, agrees.
“If I go to a board meeting I wear high heels; it’s part of creating a sense of gravitas. Plus the two co-founders of the business are very tall and I’m not. So it’s also about standing at an even height,” she explains.
Fox says high heels are a way of expressing yourself in the workplace. “But you don’t have to wear bold party shoes. You might choose a shoe with coloured piping, to help give you confidence and perform at your best. And there’s lots of research that suggests that if you’re in a positive mind frame, even if you’re heading into a difficult situation you’ll perform better.”
She says wearing heels allows women to maintain their femininity, which can be an advantage in the workplace.
Fox also pooh-poohs the notion high heels are uncomfortable – in fact, on the Shoes of Prey YouTube channel you can watch her run the three kilometres between Bondi and Bronte in four-and-a-half-inch heels. It’s quite the feat.
As to whether heels damage your feet, Fox offers some practical tips. You can find videos on her YouTube channel that show women – and I guess men, too, if they’re into wearing heels – how to strengthen their calves, which are compressed by wearing heels, and stretch their legs after a long day in them.
“Heels raise your stature and confidence; they’re all about allowing women to express themselves in a work situation. I’m all for them,” she says.