With heels reach­ing ever-greater heights, self-pro­claimed sky-high shoe addict Kate Birch asks if you are putting your heels be­fore your health

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

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.”

Do­ing dam­age

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

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