With kids mak­ing buy­ing decisions ear­lier than ever be­fore, a num­ber of young girls are opt­ing for higher heels. But par­ents are fiercely di­vided on when they be­come age-ap­pro­pri­ate.

Footwear News - - INSIDER - By Erin E. Clack

Kiana Mehran picked out her very first pair of heels — a glit­tery pink style — when she was just 2 years old. They were three sizes too big, but she had to have them. She wore them so much that her mother, Kat Java­her­shi, re­sorted to sev­eral vis­its to a shoe re­pair shop to fix a bro­ken zip­per and patch up holes in the soles. ➵ Since then, heels — block, wedge and spool styles — have be­come a sta­ple in Mehran’s closet. Al­though the New Yorker, now 7, is on the younger side of the spec­trum, she’s part of a grow­ing num­ber of girls slip­ping into heels at an ear­lier age — whether driven by the de­sire to dress like an older sib­ling or to keep up with the lat­est trends trick­ling down from the women’s mar­ket.

Not sur­pris­ingly, kids wear­ing heels has be­come a hot-but­ton topic that is sharply di­vid­ing par­ents, with some shrug­ging it off as harm­less fun and oth­ers putting their foot down on a look they feel is much too ma­ture. Java­her­shi re­lated be­ing “shamed” by other moms, who scoffed at her de­ci­sion to al­low her daugh­ter to walk around in such so­phis­ti­cated shoes, but she said she be­lieves in giv­ing Mehran the free­dom to ex­per­i­ment and wear what makes her happy.

“I al­ways tell my kids, ‘We do what is right for us, and we don’t worry about what other peo­ple think,’” she ex­plained. “Kiana’s a child — she wouldn’t wear heels if she didn’t truly like them or if they felt un­com­fort­able. She hap­pens to en­joy them, and I make sure she un­der­stands that she has to wear more ap­pro­pri­ate shoes for school, sports ac­tiv­i­ties and the play­ground.”

Philadel­phia-based Emma Cook’s han­ker­ing for heels started two years ago when she watched her celebrity idol, Ari­ana Grande, dance on TV in tow­er­ing plat­form

shoes. But the 11-year-old has yet to win her mother over to the idea. “I’m just not OK with heels for girls this young, so I’ve had to stand my ground, as much as it dis­ap­points Emma,” said Sarah Cook. “I worry about her grow­ing up too fast and the mes­sage that these types of styles send.”

At 13, Cal­i­for­nian Lily Feld­man and her peers are cel­e­brat­ing their bat mitz­vahs, a Jewish rite of pas­sage marked with for­mal dress par­ties. While many of her friends are tot­ter­ing around in trendy heels, Lily — who pri­or­i­tizes com­fort over fash­ion — wore bal­let flats to her ser­vice, ac­ces­soriz­ing her evening party dress with Vans sneak­ers.

“I feel lucky that Lily hasn’t wanted to ex­per­i­ment with heels yet,” said mom Nikki Feld­man. “To me, 13 is too young to be wear­ing them; kids that age are still run­ning around and hav­ing fun, and their feet are not used to the shape of a heel. At many of the par­ties we have at­tended to­gether, we watch the guest of honor ditch her heels within the first 20 min­utes be­cause they are un­com­fort­able. So­cial

me­dia plays a big part in girls’ want­ing to grow up so quickly.”

New York-based at­tor­ney Jes­sica Roth­man has de­cided to take the mid­dle ground on the is­sue, al­low­ing her 7- and 8-year-old daugh­ters, Abi­gail and Rachel, to wear wedges and plat­forms but not pumps. “That’s my com­pro­mise,” she said. “And none of the styles avail­able in their sizes even have very high plat­forms or steep wedges. But [my girls] are not al­lowed to wear these styles to school or the park be­cause they’re not safe for run­ning and climb­ing.”

Roth­man said she doesn’t have a magic age in mind when she be­lieves girls are ready for higher heels. “I think it’s im­por­tant to know your daugh­ter and make a de­ci­sion that’s suit­able for her and you as her mother,” she said.

While par­ents’ opin­ions on the sub­ject may dif­fer widely, ex­perts are uni­fied in their stance that kids and teens are too young for high heels. New York-based psy­chol­o­gist and Hunter Col­lege pro­fes­sor Kathryn Sta­moulis, who spe­cial­izes in fe­male ado­les­cent sex­u­al­ity, said dress­ing too so­phis­ti­cated too soon — and be­liev­ing that your value is tied to how you look — is di­rectly linked to is­sues such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and self-con­scious­ness.

“Heels in­hibit move­ment — the free­dom to run, jump and play. And when this kind of footwear is mar­keted to girls, they are sent the mes­sage that look­ing sexy is more im­por­tant than per­sonal com­fort,” she ex­plained, cit­ing the per­va­sive­ness of so­cial me­dia as a key fac­tor driv­ing girls’ de­sire to ex­per­i­ment with more grown-up fash­ions. “It’s cre­at­ing un­prece­dented pres­sure for girls. They are com­par­ing them­selves not only to glossy mag­a­zine spreads but to hun­dreds of dig­i­tally en­hanced images of other girls ‘just like them’ ev­ery day. For many kids, wear­ing heels is part of this im­pos­si­ble stan­dard of beauty that they feel pres­sured to chase.”

Sta­moulis ad­vises par­ents strug­gling to nav­i­gate the topic to look at the big­ger pic­ture. “If your daugh­ter gets her self-worth from other do­mains in life such as aca­demics, sports or hob­bies, then it prob­a­bly won’t have a neg­a­tive im­pact. But it’s al­ways good to ask your child why she is in­ter­ested in some­thing,” she ex­plained. “Per­haps she feels that heels are spe­cial and she would be just as happy choos­ing a spe­cial pair of flats. If she wants them be­cause she thinks they will make her look sexy, then a much big­ger con­ver­sa­tion is nec­es­sary.”

The po­di­atric pro­fes­sion is equally out­spo­ken about the phys­i­cal risks of wear­ing higher-heel styles too soon. Dr. Ra­mona Brooks, an At­lanta-based prac­ti­tioner and a spokes­woman for the Amer­i­can Po­di­atric Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, rec­om­mends that girls wait un­til they are be­tween 14 and 16 years old — if not longer. “By this age, the growth plates have fully closed and feet have stopped grow­ing. Also, the mus­cles in the legs and feet are well-de­vel­oped to be able to tol­er­ate greater stress,” she said, adding that heels can con­trib­ute to a wide va­ri­ety of prob­lems, in­clud­ing lower back pain, shin splints, an­kle sprains and frac­tures, mus­cle fa­tigue, bunions and ham­mer­toes.

Even once girls stop grow­ing, wear­ing high-heeled footwear can shift their cen­ter of grav­ity for­ward, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Vera Malezhik, a New York po­di­a­trist. “This may cause changes in the pos­tural sys­tem and a shift in an­gu­lar align­ment of the an­kles and knees,

putting girls at a higher risk for falls, stress frac­tures and other in­juries.”

As Feld­man pointed out, “girls have their whole life to be in pain from high heels. They al­ready grow up so fast; we should keep them young and in­no­cent for as long as pos­si­ble.”

In the mean­time, wor­ried par­ents may find some com­fort in know­ing most brands don’t al­low heel heights to ex­ceed 1.5 inches in chi­dren’s shoes.

(L-R): Aryana and Kiana Mehran, Lily Feld­man, Abi­gail and Rachel Roth­man

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