In a quest for the heights of fashion, girls put themselves at risk of foot, leg and back pain
"You can't beat a vampy high glam stiletto for nights on the town," raves Steven Cojocaru on the People Magazine website, where he serves as resident fashion guru. What Cojocaru fails to mention is the hefty price tag on vamp: Strapping on stilettos, platforms and pumps to follow in J. Lo's bone-crunching footsteps can mean a lifetime of pain for teenage girls.
Wearing high heels only occasionally can lead to permanent foot and leg damage, a fact that 42 percent of female Blazers are unaware of, according to an informal survey of 100 girls taken on Jan 13 and 14. Especially at risk are teens, whose growing feet are vulnerable and who remain ignorant of or indifferent to the dangers of heels.
Plenty of pain, what gain?
Sitting in the SAC on Jan 13, senior Elizabeth Herrera cites Cosmopolitan and People Magazine as major influences on her style and estimates that she owns 50 pairs of high heels. She sports form-fitting jeans and a black leather jacket, with silver hoops dangling from her ears. As usual, her feet are adorned in three-inch, narrow-toed stiletto boots. "[High heels] look classy. The models, they look nice, and I want to look nice, too," she says.
However, the runway models that Herrera emulates may be suffering more than their lip-gloss-enhanced smiles let on. "A lot of the manufacturers who make women's shoes are men and do it for fashion instead of comfort," says podiatrist Michael Herbst.
Despite the discomfort, girls still elevate their shoes to stand out of the crowd. While a few Blazers hope to attract the attention of the boy across the hallway, 85 percent of the girls surveyed on Jan 13 and 14 expressed a strong aversion to dressing up for anybody but themselves, with many citing uniqueness of style as the reason they wear heels. "I wear high heels to look different from everyone else," says Herrera. "I just feel better."
Foot binding for 2003
For many Blazers, reaping the fashion benefits of heels has led to health detriments. A Jan 29 survey of 100 Blair girls reveals that 44 percent wear high heels regularly and that 57 percent of those experience foot and lower-back pain.
Though she suffers from pain on her soles, senior Lorpu Kpadeh is confident of a problem-free future for her feet. "In the future, I won't be wearing heels, so it won't matter," she explains. "I won't be one of those wannabe hot mammas."
Unfortunately, according to the website of the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, the damage may already be done.
Much as a result of high-heeled shoes, women suffer four times as many foot problems as men, says the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Wearing high-heeled shoes can result in a variety of physical problems, including back and knee pain, shortened calf muscles and permanent foot deformations, according to the APMA.
The American Physical Therapy Association adds that the forced posture caused by heels can create muscle cramping and fatigue in the hips and back. The developing feet of children and adolescents are particularly at risk from the latter, says Herbst.
By the time senior Kathleen Portillo, who wears two- to three-inch heels every other day, arrives home from school, the balls of her feet are "throbbing," she says. That's because high heels force additional pressure onto the front of the foot. The APMA states that a three-inch heel will increase pressure on the forefoot by seven times that of a one-inch heel.
Heeled shoes that condense into pointed toes are an even greater nemesis to female feet than are broader high heels. "Trying to put a square peg into a round area—it just doesn't work properly," says Herbst. Pointed shoes can cause problems, such as neural pinching and rigid hammertoe, that require surgical treatment.
Senior Diana Hughes has already suffered the consequences of frequently donning high-heeled shoes to walk through the halls of Blair. She developed a swelling in her side that her doctor attributed to her heel habit. Hughes' doctor recommended that she avoid heels for two to four weeks. Regardless of the pain she had already suffered, after one month Hughes went back to her normal routine: heels nearly every day.
For girls like Hughes who want to continue wearing high heels, the APMA recommends alternating heels with flats during the day to reduce the risk of injury. The organization also advises that women buy shoes in the afternoon to avoid uncomfortable tightness, as feet become larger later in the day. But the best path to healthy feet, warns the APMA, is to avoid heels over three-quarters of an inch in height.
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