Back in the day when I was a singer in a rock & roll band, I always wore high heel shoes. On stage, off stage, the higher the better. I even tried to get married wearing four inch platform shoes, but was faced with an intervention by family members who rejected the look as inappropriate for the occasion. Since “peace at all costs” is my life motto, I acquiesced and borrowed a pair of more sensible, lower heeled shoes. I had needed something borrowed anyways. Looking back at the one lone picture of me in my originally intended heels, I must admit that they did look a bit, actually more than just a bit, they looked absolutely ridiculous.
Now that I’m older and hopefully much wiser, my shoe choices are more aligned with comfort and in all honesty, with the well being of my body, than the fashion of the day. I’m always shocked when I catch a glimpse of the evolution of the shoe and how although the shape of the heel may have changed over the years, they seem to be getting even higher. I’m sure the impact they are having on women and their physical well being is still very real.
I again sat up and took notice when I heard that Lady Gaga had an incident directly related to her shoes, after accidentally catching her very high heel on her piano bench and falling, landing flat on her back on stage. Very big ouch! And without missing a beat got up and went on singing. She was even quoted recently as saying “I would rather die than have my fans not see me in a pair of high heels. And that’s show biz.”
I’m trying to understand what the real scoop is here on women and this shoe biz. Shoe collection obsession is no secret. Think of Imelda Marcos and her infamous collection reported to have up to 3,000 pairs in it. Or even Oprah or heroine Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City. Even Cinderella got her man cause the shoe fit!
Personally, I’ve never been that caught up in collecting shoes. I really don’t think that eight pairs of Birks in two styles, in a variety of colours qualifies as a collection, does it? In my search for the “whys” I read that it makes women feel good about themselves. I acknowledge that, but am also aware of the price tag that goes with the more sought after designer shoes. Who has that kind of money to invest in their feet simply to look good?
Looking deeper, I found some really interesting things that possibly explain what is at the heart of this shoe thing. Martin Lindstrom, branding expert and author of the book Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, explains that the neurotransmitter dopamine is released and provides a mood boost when we try on any type of apparel. Okay, shoes definitely qualify.
Daniel Amen, M.D. and author of numerous books based on his own scientific research on the brain, takes it much further. He reveals that our minds are structured in a way that may associate feet with sex. Bingo! Amen says “The area of the brain that communicates with the genitals is right next to the area that deals with the feet.” Now I’m looking down, (you’ll generally find me looking up), trying to understand how these correlate in me. Dr. Amen goes on to say “these areas share neural crosstalk, which may be why shoes can be erotic.” Perhaps I’ve been missing something in my life by not collecting shoes, I’m now thinking.
Helen Fisher, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers and currently the most referenced scholar in the love research community, has said that we are wired to associate height with power and “High heels can literally raise your status because you’re taller when you wear them.” I can somewhat understand that, but being as I’m already reasonably tall, and not that concerned about power, that has never really been a strong consideration for me. She goes on to point out that in previous centuries shoes were a measure of class, as only the wealthy wore high heels. Sex, history and status. Can’t fight those three too easily. Personally, I’ve always been more interested with how my mind, my ideas and creativity, humour and integrity were received. After all, that’s what I find most attractive in a man. Yes, a great smile helps too!
It is the element of sex that is most widely tied to women who wear stilettos though. I admit that some women do look extremely sexy when they wear high heels, others, well if I’m honest, they just can’t carry it off. And when I see how awkward many women look trying to walk in them, I wonder who that looks sexy to?
Fisher went on to say that “When a woman wears them (stilettos), she assumes a primal mating pose called lordosis. Her butt lifts, and her back arches.” Isn’t that what it always comes back to? Doesn’t the word stiletto have another relationship; to an object that’s a dangerous weapon? That’s why the shoes were named that way in the first place.
Okay, I feeling more aware of the whys. Based on my personal experiences, I have come to know all too well, the physical stress high heels can place on your feet, ankles, knees, hips, back and even your neck. You get it; most of your body.
When you wear high heels ladies, and men if you so choose to, it creates increased pressure on your toes which asks the rest of your body to adjust just to maintain balance. High heels put the centre of gravity on the ball of your foot, the higher the heel, the worse. As the lower part of your body leans forward, the body has to decrease the forward curve of your spine to help keep you in line. I often hear women complain that their (high) heels are killing their feet. Yes, they are. Women who have consistently worn high heels eventually get to a point where they can’t even wear flats anymore because their Achilles tendon has shortened, making it too short for flats.
High heels also cause your foot and ankle to turn outward creating both risk of falling and ankle sprains. Your hip flexors and knee muscles have to work harder than normal too. For me, my back was most affected when I trotted through life and onto the stage with my high heels. Because our backs are in the form of an S-shape, it acts as a shock absorber and reduces stress on your vertebrae. Unfortunately high heels cause the lower part of your spine to flatten and cause displacement of your head and mid-back. The negative impacts go on and on. Do your own research, as it is no secret how high heels can create havoc in your body. Women are more prone to osteoarthritis and to foot deformities like hammertoes and bunions. Corns, calluses and blisters are common too. All these related to wearing high heels. What are we doing to ourselves for the sake of looking good?
Check out babies feet and see how spread apart their toes are. Now look at an adults. Often the toes are squished together. I even found interesting information on minimalist shoes that mimic how our foot is meant to walk on the ground. The ideal would always be barefoot. Tim Ferriss, in his revolutionary book The 4-Hour Body, talks about how he erased 10 years of lower back pain by switching to minimalist shoes. That sounded so good to me that I went out and bought a pair of New Balance Minimus shoes for walking and I love them. There are also companies who are now designing high heels for women addressing these very real concerns this love affair with them is creating. Seek and ye shall find.
So luckily, I don’t have fans I must please in the name of show biz and given the option of high heels or death, I have to choose life for me and death for high heels. Ladies and gentlemen; I would really love to hear your shoe stories. Step right up, jump in, feet first.
PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Thomas Hawk