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Fashion & Health: Footwear Fallout

I’ve heard it said that women wear high heels because men invented them. Or that it’s a man’s design for women. This could partly be true, that the high heel was designed by a man, but whether women wear it for a man or for themselves is open to debate. Face it, if a woman was the shoe’s inventor would she make only sensible shoes (probably designed by men too) or would she make flattering and sexy shoes? I think she would make the latter but there would be some women to make the former as well.

When we get down to it, people will often wear sexy, interesting and beautiful things. The Baroque period of the 18th century saw men in heels as much as women. Heels came about first for fitting the shoe/boot into a stirrup and holding it there. And there were pattens, wooden clogs to slip one’s shoe into, for protection from the wet and inclement elements. These went to ridiculous heights in Italy and there are drawings of women being supported by two assistants as they walk around in teetering towers of wood.

The 20th century certainly saw its share of high heels. There were heels right from the begining of the century and slowly they rose through the decades. The 30s and 40s saw high shoes with small platforms. Then along came the true platform shoes, reminiscent of the pattens of the Renaissance. And we also had the stiletto heel, very thin with a very pointy toe. These heels could put holes in floors with the pounds per square inch of pressure. And they were pretty unstable for supporting a person’s weight. But they were considered sexy.

Women and men have been wearing the affectations of fashion for a very long time. And I was no exception. I started wearing high heels when I was in art college. I wore them to dress up and to work in. I worked at Sears and often had to wear dresses, so therefore I wore the heels to go with them. That would often encompass four-eight hours of standing on hard floors in heels. I remember going home at night and taking off my shoes, and rubbing my feet on the carpet because they itched and burned so much from the pressure.

I continued to wear high heels, developing a callous thick enough to resist all but the sharpest implements. And then one year, in the stupidity of my youth, I walked downtown in high heels because the buses were on strike. I walked home barefoot but developed blood blisters under the callouses, which made them slough off.

I grew a little wiser over the years, no longer standing for hours or walking miles in high heels. But the damage had been done. I’m not a podiatrist but pretty much what the high heels did was cause the bones to drop or shift in the ball of my foot and crush the nerves, which resulted in pain, cramps and numbness. I believe it is plantar fascitis and the cramping can be supremely painful. Lucky for me, I didn’t develop bunions, another side effect to wearing tight or pointy shoes, but it can also come from other causes.

Along the way, wearing flat shoes, I managed to experience pain as if someone was hammering on my heels. My ankles swelled up like balloons and took a week to come down. That was the beginning of heel spurs, which I don’t believe had any genesis in high heels or not.

So these days, yes, I wear orthotics but I’ve been having problems with the new ones (now a year or two old) not quite working for my right foot. My podiatrist moves the pad around and we keep trying. I still wear shoes with high heels. Not as high as they once were and I plan. If I’m going out for dinner or some other function where I will be sitting mostly, I’ll wear them but not if I have to stand as my feet can’t take them. So, if you’re planning on wearing shoes with mega heels, consider now when and where, and protect your feet for the future.

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