What Price Vanity?

Comfort is not a consideration when it comes to high fashion. No one seems to care that spiked heels and pointed toes have been proven to ruin feet over time, these days the higher the better. Although I agree that high heels make a woman’s legs look longer and slimmer and pointed toes are stylish, women weren’t built to stand on our toes or have our toes pressed together for any length of time.

I was curious as to exactly what kind of damage high heels do to a woman’s feet and/or legs so I did a little research and following is what I found:

A group of researchers from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia were dining in a restaurant, they watched a woman who looked quite unstable and uncomfortable stumble past them in heels and they got the idea to do a study on the effect of high heels on the muscle and skeletal level of the leg. For the study, published in the Jan. 12 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology– Dr. Neil J. Cronin, a postdoctoral researcher at the university’s Musculoskeletal Research Program and his colleagues put 9 “habitual high heel wearers” to the test and studied their walking. These women wore two-inch heels for at least 40 hours a week for a minimum of two years. The daily high heel-wearers walked with shorter and more forceful strides as compared to those who wore high heels for 10 hours a week. The habitual heel wearers were found to constantly have their feet in a flexed, toes-pointed position – so much so, that it became the norm for their foot position. This position – along with the shortened stride – actually caused the women’s calf muscles to shorten, leading them to put more strain on their muscles. Cronin said that when these women slip on more comfortable shoes like sneakers or flip-flops, they face an even greater injury risk since they’re introducing their permanently deformed feet into a different environment. Wearing high heels daily can cause hammer- toes, bunions, dislocated or sprained ankles, fractures, and ligament tears – some of which may require surgery. The bigger the heel the woman wears, the greater the risk. For some women who wear high heels during a night on the town, alcohol impairs balance and coordination making risk even greater for fractures and ligament tears.

Ballet dancers also experience this kind of damage as they spend a lot of time standing or dancing on their toes. Most practice self-treatment prior to seeing a podiatrist. Some self-treatment is as benign as wrapping their feet in tape, or lamb’s wool or stuffing chamois leather and old tights into point shoes. More dangerously, they attack their feet with scissors or razor blades. Dancers will beg their foot doctors not to remove the thick layers of dead skin that has formed as a result of the wounding and healing process their feet go through. The dead skin prevents them from getting too many blisters. For most dancers, blisters, bunions and corns are the norm, the inevitable result of feet compressed into unforgiving pointe shoes (with blocks built up using layer upon layer of hessian triangles, paper and glue) that give the illusion of dancing on tiptoe. With constant wear, the kind of minor ailments that most people would find merely irritating become self-perpetuating agonies. Corns develop sinuses and become ulcers; nails thicken and grow hard skin underneath; and dancers, compensating for one kind of pain, risk putting undue stress elsewhere, causing new injuries. While podiatrists can provide some relief and treat infections with antibiotics, even their work has its limits. Ballet is extremely competitive so there is always pressure on the dancer to get parts, to guard their places in the companies so they push themselves too far.

I have read about how women in China would break their daughter’s feet and bind them tightly with cloth. When the daughters were young, the bones were soft so the mothers could break their toes more easily and would bind them underneath the sole of the foot with bandages. In the early stages the feet would be rebound daily tighter and tighter and would become swollen and filled with pus and would frequently break open. Rebinding became a regular part of a girl’s hygiene as she soaked her feet in scented water to prevent strong odor and infection. Some would make it a regular practice to soak their feet in urine to make their feet supple, relieve swelling and prevent expansion of the compressed areas. Bound feet were a status symbol, the only way for a woman to marry into money. The smaller her feet the more desirable she was to prospective husbands. The walk was practiced for many hours a day to achieve perfection. I once heard the gait of a woman whose feet had been bound described as rocking side to side as smooth as a lotus flower swaying in the wind. In fact the revered lotus flower was the desired shape of bound feet and called “Golden Lotus”. However, bound feet restricted movement so that it was physically impossible for these women to travel very far from home and it was impossible for them to run without damaging their feet. Yet even after foot binding was outlawed, women continued to do it in secret.

What do the ballet dancer and Chinese woman with bound feet have in common with the fashion forward woman? Vanity.

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