No this title is no typo; I went to schedule this post on the calendar and put hell instead of heels. I’ve learned to go with my instincts that this was meant to be the title. Being a young woman (24), I understand heels. What is the expression, ‘women must suffer for fashion.’ But are we really suffering. We want to look sexy or professional or whatever other adjective you use to describe heels. The worse part is that shoes are getting taller. While looking for picks I typed in high heels, and the search kept suggesting higher number until I clicked 16 inch heels! We see it though, those crazy shoes that Lady Gaga wears, and the out-of-control Alexander McQueen’s (pictured). I used to buy into the fashion of it. As a 21 year old, my high heel collection was enviable and donning a pair of 4+ inch heels every night of the weekend was no big deal. I was a pro, I could walk well in them, dance; hell I could even run circles in them. Cue in my transition from the world of partying and college to real life and a real job (here at Body Change). I dug into research and stumbled upon barefoot training and Vibram Five Fingers. Two years ago I got my first pair and gradually began wearing them more in more. Eventually I got rid of all my other tennis shoes (yes it’s true I have no other ‘sneakers’). I felt like a
walking billboard for the shoes, but I didn’t wear them to be trendy or to be fashionable. They had a purpose. I read about shoes weakening the feet, joints and posture, but after gradually dedicating more of my foot time to being either completing barefoot (this summer I tended to do hikes at the park completely barefoot, practicing Earthing, click the link for more) or in my Five Fingers, I noticed a difference. After a mere week in the shoes I could tell that my calves were more defined. After two years, my calves have more tone than they ever have. I can testify that I’ve felt the shoes working their way up (I should note that I wore them for everything: kettlebell workouts, once a week sprints, hikes, to the grocery (check out this post on Why to Shed Shoes for more) my body. First my feet got stronger and of course my toes. When I would run I could instantly feel my toes separate and grip the track. It felt natural and instinctual. Add to that my stride. Whereas traditional shoes made me strike heel first, these new ‘toe’ shoes made me strikes mid-heel or toe first. With time I felt the tightening of tendons in my ankle joint, up to my knees, and then eventually my hips. I was becoming naturally aligned. The more aware I became of my body, the more I realized the positive affects of the shoes and the more I believed in them. Cue in this summer, I wore them for the first time to the bar and since then, I have rarely made an appearance in heels (much to the disappointment of my friend Chelsey who is 5’10 and hates having such short friends). By the time New Years came and I was in maybe 3 inch heels (these would have been previously considered low for me), I barely made it. As soon as we exited the building they were off my feet, aching for hours later (actually my feet began crying as soon as I put them on). I realized that I hated this feeling and I wanted to be barefoot all the time. After stumbling upon this article on the risks of high heels I firmly believed it. What do I do then? I’ve been simplifying and dematerializing my life the last year anyways, so why not get rid of the remaining bit of my high heels (and I had some fabulousness, from over-the-knee boots, to sparkly amaziness). I tried to talk to myself out of it, but really I had been wearing my Five Fingers more anyways. What did the article have to say about high heels? Neil Cronin did research with 9 women who had been frequent high heel wearers for at least two years, and a control of 10 women who rarely wore heels. He had them stride down a 26 foot long walkway 10 times (the women in heels did it times barefoot and 10 times in heels). What he found was:
- The women in heels had shorter, more forceful strides
- Feet-flexed toe-point position (even once they were barefoot)
- Fibers in their calf muscles were shortened, placing greater mechanical strain on their calves
- This strain and stretch required more energy to cover the same amount of ground (thus probably causing more fatigue)
In that control group, the women who rarely wore heels, walking primarily involved stretching and stressing their tendons, especially the Achilles tendon. But in the heel wearers, the walking mostly engaged their muscles. “Several studies have shown that optimal muscle-tendon efficiency” while walking “occurs when the muscle stays approximately the same length while the tendon lengthens. When the tendon lengthens, it stores elastic energy and later returns it when the foot pushes off the ground. Tendons are more effective springs than muscles,” he continues.
You don’t have to be like me and quit high heels cold turkey (I admit I take things to the extreme sometimes) and sport toe shoes everywhere. But you may consider bumping down how often you wear heels (Cronin suggests 2-3 times a week), or start lowering your heel height. I mean, hello 8-inch heels are insanity! What I can give is my own testimony, though to how I and my calves loves being barefoot. There is no looking back here at those tall monsters, my toes and arches quiver just looking at them. To suffer for fashion or not!