With heels reaching ever-greater heights, self-proclaimed sky-high shoe addict Kate Birch asks if you are putting your heels before your health
Killer heels are all the rage, but putting these sky-high shoes before your health could spell disaster.
My name is Kate Birch and I’m addicted to heels. There, I’ve said it. My four-inch (10-centimetre) heel habit is out in the open and I can move on… in my skyscraper stilettoes, of course. Thankfully, I’m not alone. Beyoncé is hooked on heels (“I love the super-high shoes that are out. I’m addicted”) while Eva Longoria admits to wearing them all the time, and always ones over four inches; she even does aerobics in them.
These days though, Eva’s and my four-inch habits seem positively pedestrian, with stilettos staggering to dizzying heights of 10 inches. Is that even legal?
A decade ago, the most popular red-carpet Jimmy Choo was the Smooth, a moderate 3.3-inches; today, it’s the Kalpa, just shy of six. In the past five years, fashion gurus have been falling over themselves to outdo one another in the high-heeled stakes. In 2008, after 30 years of sticking to five inches, Manolo Blahnik unveiled six inches.
The following year, six inchers hit the high street, while high-end designer Christian Louboutin revealed an eight-incher. And so it goes on.
And while the coming season is more about comfy chic – platform-free pumps, low-ish heels – there are some towering treasures to be had: Brian Atwood’s pre-Fall collection includes a dizzying duo – a 6.5-inch heel and 2.5-inch platform on a yellow lizard Mary Jane – while Prabal Gurung’s Fall 2013 footwear collection features five-inch gold spindly heels.
Falling from a dizzying height
This high-end shopping list is enough to make podiatrists panic. And they have good reason. “We frequently see trauma injuries in our clinic, from sprained ankles to broken wrists and head injuries, not to mention detached toenails from people who have been stood on by a high heel,” explains founder and chief podiatrist of Dubai Podiatry Centre, Michelle Champlin.
A-list accidents due to silly shoes are nothing new (the most recent one involved British TV presenter Carol Vorderman, who broke her nose after falling down stairs in her towering heels), but there’s been an increase in the real world too.
Michelle cites a recent Australian study showing a significant increase in paramedic call-outs for footwearrelated falls of women, many resulting in ankle fractures, broken wrists and dislocated knees.
We’ve all been there, of course. I’ve had my fair share of high-heel horrors – though more humiliating than
harmful, with the loss of my Sergio Rossi heel in a Dubai roadside grille a particularly painful point in my shoe life.
OK, so heels may well be dangerous, but they make me feel good. Like actress Meg Ryan (“When I wear high heels, I have a great vocabulary and I speak in paragraphs. I’m more eloquent”) heels give me confidence, making me more fluid, funnier, fearless.
The footwear equivalent of red lippy, slipping on a pair of ‘nines’ – industry shorthand for 9-centimetre (3.5-inch) heels – is quite simply the quickest beauty fix on the planet. Shoe queen and co-founder of Jimmy Choo Tamara Mellon admits a pair of stilettos make her feel “empowered and feminine”.
Much of this power comes from height, posture and body shape: your legs look longer, your feet slimmer, your curves more voluptuous, your back more arched and your walk and posture more feminine. And, apparently, high heels raise the buttocks around 20-30 degrees – a fabulous asset for older women, in particular, and necessary when you work in an office of stunning twenty-somethings. I should know. As Linda O’Keefe, author of Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps,
Sandals, Slippers and More writes, “Physically, it is impossible for a woman to cower in high heels. She is forced to take a stand, to strike a pose… and added height provides psychological empowerment to the wearer.”
But while we in the heel-high club view the situation from five inches up, the experts see it from a ground level perspective and what is wonderful to us – lengthening of legs and uplifting of bottoms – is equally destructive to us, they say.
High heels force the wearer to alter the natural alignment of her body, thereby causing stress and strain in the feet, legs, knees and back. “Heels change your centre of gravity, pushing your pelvis forward, straining the lower back muscles and increasing spinal curvature,” says Michelle, explaining this is one of the main reasons why osteoarthritis of the knee is twice as common in women. “The frequent wearing of heels above two inches can result in long-term chronic problems,” she says. In fact, experts believe a day-long heel habit is not unlike smoking when it comes to long-term damage and suggest heels higher than two inches should carry a health warning.
And if that doesn’t send you running for your flip-flops, then the terrifying list of foot deformities common in habitual heel wearers might: deformed and thickened toenails; calluses under the ball of the foot; Achilles tendonitis; bunions (a large bump on the side of foot); hammer toes (the curling up of toes like a claw); and horror of all horrors, a new bone growing off another foot bone, also known as a ‘pump bump’. Those five-inch Pradas don’t look quite so pretty now, do they?
And if you don’t believe stilettos are to blame, think about actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who as Carrie