Jahn Westbrook

By jahn westbrook

Women knowingly pay this price to adorn this fashion to look good and, ironically, to feel good. Beyond the negative attention heels get, there are positive effects wearing heels have on the female body and mind.

More than just my calves taught me a painful lesson, when I walked to work in my 2 1/2″ heels from Penn Station, in NYC, down to Greenwich Village(a little over a mile). That was the pinnacle moment in my fight for “fashion over function,” much to the playful amusement of my girlfriend. But, what was I doing to myself all in the name of fashion?

Us bipeds were meant to ambulate on bare feet, flat to the ground, in a comfortable gait. It isn’t practical to parade around like hobbits, so shoes were invented. More than 5,000 years ago cultures like the Ancient Egyptians wore wedge style shoes. High Heels -Centuries of Fashion, has additional heel history.

The foot is a natural shock absorber, with each bare step producing less impact on the joints and tendons of the feet, knees and back, than when wearing cushioned footwear. Even when wearing sneakers, flip-flops or sandals, this natural impact is summarily usurped. The reason is that a shod foot strikes the ground with a greater force then a bare foot. Some of this impact is absorbed by the springy, spongy material of the outsole, midsole and the instep of the shoe. The balance of force is transmitted up through the legs, hips and spine.


When we walk in heels, our feet are placed out of natural alignment, causing improper shock absorption. The major force is, unnaturally, placed on the ball and toes of the feet. A survey conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association showed some 42% of women admitted they’d wear a shoe they liked even if it gave them discomfort; 73% admitted already having a shoe-related foot issue. But when you add high heels in to the equation, podiatrist Stuart Mogul, DPM, says “pain can quickly escalate to damage.”

Negative effects:

  • Fatigue -Wearing heels create extra work for the feet, legs, knees, hips, arms and back, creating muscle tiredness, or fatigue.
  • Corns -Excessive pressure on the skin causes Keratin build up resulting in painful corns.
  • Sprains and Fractures -The unstable nature of the heel leaves the wearer susceptible to tripping and falling. When the heel becomes wedged in a crevice or in some other fashion stuck, the foot may not be able to twist free, resulting in minor or major injury.
  • Achilles Tendinitis -This is caused by the lack of flexing of the tendon when in heels. Pain is associated when stepping out of heels and stretching the Achilles Tendon.

Pressure Ulcers -Are conditions where excess pressure to the balls of the foot squelch blood flow and skin may die. This is dangerous for diabetics, where extreme results may result in foot amputation.

Hammer Toes -The permanent bending of the second, third, or forth toe resulting from forcing the toes into a smaller toe box then the wearers foot width.

  • Bunions -Are a deformity where the joint of the big toe meets the foot. This is believed to stem from wearing pointy toed shoes, unnaturally shaping the foot. Even though this may be true, there is also a debate over genetic inheritance of this condition, exasperated by wearing pointy shoes.

  • Crooked Feet -Excessive wearing of heels for scores of years can permanently cause the feet to misshapen. This damage appears permanent without surgical intervention.
  • Nerve and Bone Damage -The natural heel-to-toe plantation is foreshortened which results in an unsteady gait and a shorter than natural stride
  • Spider Veins -Are the gnarled looking veins appearing on the surface of your legs. These may be caused by the reduced blood circulation when the ankle is bent at an angle for long durations of time. Though spider veins are not physically harmful, they are unsightly and may affect self-esteem and confidence.

  • Calf and Ankle Tendon Foreshortening -Wearing heels for prolonged durations of time and years can cause the tendons to shorten, and calves to bunch, making it painful to walk in anything. Once tendons shorten, there is little to do to correct them. Periodically stretching your calves and Achilles’ Tendons may help in pain management.
  • Osteoarthritis -Wearing heels often causes extraneous pressure on the knee joint. Built to accept pressures from standing and walking, heels bend the knee forward exerting force unnaturally.
    plantar fasciitis
  • Plantar Fasciitis -Is the inflammation of the Plantar Fascia, thick tissue on the bottom of the foot causing extreme pain in the heel. Minor instances of this painful condition may be treated with oral steroids, but aggravated cases may require crutches, a walking boot, or even cortisone injections.

  • Lumbar pain -Lower back pain is due in part to the thrusting of the buttocks backward and the upper chest forward. Heels create an unnatural sway that pivots in the lower back. Alternating days in and out of heels may help reduce the duration of lower back pain.
  • Calluses -Continuous rubbing of the skin against the inside of the shoe toe box causes hardening of skin build up.
  • Inability to Run -Restricting the stride by instability, and reducing the heel-to-toe step, women in heels simply cannot run fluidly. This places females in a vulnerable position.
  • Floor Damage -The tip of heels may damage hard wood floors and snag on carpet.

Some transgender women can have a further challenge with the physical size of their feet. This conundrum is resolved by either cramming into the largest size shoe available, going to a specialty shoe shop for larger sizes, or forgoing the heels altogether.


The reality, girls, is that no other form of fashion is more contradictory than our high heels. There is little debate that female comportment is sexier in heels than flats, so we endure the discomfort for that attention. Slipping into a pair of heels boosts confidence. What other piece of apparel does that?

Positive effects:

  • Accentuates Calves -The calf extensor muscle contraction angles the foot downward, tightening and adding definition to the calf muscle.
  • Upright Gait -Thrusts the chest forward and the buttocks slightly backward, forming a classic “ess” curvature to the spine. This creates a more confident stride, and coupled with a more curvaceous carriage, is considered more seductive.
  • Taller Appearance -Heels add as much height as the heel itself. For instance, a 4-inch heel will add 4 inches of height to the wearer, and that practical benefit gives people of short stature more independence, in terms of improving access to and using items.
  • Legs Appear Longer
  • Feet Appear Smaller
  • Toes Appear Shorter
  • Improve Pelvic Floor Muscle Tone -Think Kegel Exercises. Although results have been disputed, high heels may improve the muscle tone of some women’s pelvic floor. This may also aid in reducing female incontinence and enhance sexual pleasure.
  • Added Confidence -When you look good, you feel good. Heels benefit the mental health of the wearer by making them feel good, which releases serotonin and endorphins which are mood enhancing chemicals in the brain.

Still rather not endure the pain, then just go and have a “hallux valgus correction with osteotomy and screw fixation,” or daintily referred to as a Cinderella procedure by Podiatrist Dr. Sadrieh. Now, women are electing to shave off parts of their tarsal bones, have fat injected into the balls and heels of their feet, even have toes removed to fit into fashionable heels! No, thank you, I’ll adapt my shoes, not my feet.

I love wearing my heels. And I accept that I am doing my feet, knees, hips, back an injustice, all for sashaying my femininity. However, no longer will I walk a mile in my heels. I now wear my flats or sneakers through the streets, then change in my office.

Next week we’ll take a more scientific exploration in what happens when we step into heels, in High Heels -Foot Biometrics.

mir, irini, peace, amn,



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