(written with Marie Claire in mind for an assignment)
The higher you get, the harder you fall. Australian women are beginning to realise that the price of fashionable high heels is too lofty, and not because of their dollar cost. According to NSW Paramedics spokesman Craig Pusser, high heels are now injuring more women than sports accidents.
One has only to walk into a department store such as Target or Kmart to find low-price high heels that resemble those seen on catwalks. Soaring shoes adorned with metal and spikes look more like armour than footwear. Weaponised and deadly, women hit the streets as if to fulfill the saying “if looks could kill.” Killer heels are defined on the online urban dictionary as “a type of shoe that one could kill with. The shoe must be ridiculously sexy, stunning and an instant eye-catcher.”
Increasingly, women return to their homes after a night out looking like they have survived a battlefield.
In an exclusive statement to Marie Claire this week, health minister Tanya Plibersek has slammed high heels, noting a significant spike in the number of women admitted to hospital for high heel related injuries.
Ms Plibersek blames the increasing availability of the shoes at cheap prices.
“High heels are becoming more easily available at cheaper prices, and I urge women to wear them with caution, and to choose heels they are satisfied are made of quality materials,” she warns.
She is not the only authority warning against the wearing of the accessory. NSW Paramedic spokesman Craig Pusser says that injuries are more frequent and worse than ever. He recalls a 20-year-old woman who recently rolled her ankle inwards so dramatically that her bone stuck out in a compound fracture – a common sports injury. Just two weeks ago a young woman had sprained her hamstring and broken her knee as a result of a fall, her bone sticking out of her leg.
“The chance of hurting yourself in heels is not new, it’s been happening forever. But recently paramedic reports have written about the huge rise in women injuring themselves,” Mr Pusser told Marie Claire.
“I think it’s got something to do with the design of high heels now. They seem to be getting higher. What people don’t realise is that the higher they are, the more you’re putting yourself at risk.”
Mr Pusser says that in the past year, high heel related hospitalisations have become the “standard” for Friday and Saturday nights. These women have been coming forward with more grisly tales, offering warnings and words of advice for the increasingly fashion-conscious public.
Ex-fashion worker Janet Chakar, 29, is a woman disillusioned with the joys high heels used to bring. As a teenager, she would “strut her stuff” as if the world were her catwalk.
“I used to feel empowered when I wore heels,” Ms Chakar says. “Suddenly, I was Janet 2.0, the fitter, taller, more feminine and more elevated version of me.”
Nowadays, she won’t let a heel near her foot. Ms Chakar has decided to start an anti-heels website, “Emancipated Feet” to launch on the 24th June 2013, which she plans to use to educate fashion conscious women against the dangerous accessory.
She recalls a pair of green 17 centimetre Jimmy Choo heels that “deserved the attention of every eye in the room” as she presented at a meeting. She endured the discomfort, ignoring the strap on the heel that dug into her foot. Throughout the meeting, the eyes of her coworkers drifted to her feet, and she stood in confidence and pride with the knowledge that she commanded attention and admiration.
It was only after the meeting that Ms Chakar realised they had been looking at the pool of blood that had been “thickening” as she presented each idea. The heel-strap had dug into the side of her foot, deeply piercing the skin.
“It was that day that I realised I was being ridiculous,” Ms Chakar says.
“I knew I was uncomfortable, I knew my straps were too tight, and I felt like my pinky toe was going to fly off the second I stepped out of the house, but I just thought they looked so good. And I had felt that same sense of pain ever since I first put on a pair of heels.”
She realised that outside of her home, she had never worn anything but heels for a decade.
“I danced in heels, I worked in heels, I shopped in heels – hey, I even slept in heels,” she laughs, explaining that had more to do with alcohol than the desire to appear fashionable.
“[My website] is essentially an ode to flats,” Ms Chakar says. “We’re also keeping track of all the high heel-related incidents in the media on the website, as well as interviewing devout flat-wearers on why they chose the flat lifestyle, and why they swear by them.”
Ms Chakar hopes the website will inspire young women to feel free to wear flats on a night out without judgement.
“These girls need to know that in the long run it’s going to affect them badly, and that they can look just as good in an infinitely more comfortable pair of flats.”
President of the NSW Podiatry Council, Andrew Schox, is also unsettled by the increase in high heel injuries, and shares Ms Chakar’s assessment that women are not generally aware of the short and long term impact heels have on the feet. He lists a number of issues associated with high heel wear, including muscle shortening in the calf, postural problems, gait changes, balance problems, back and hip problems, and an increased risk of knee osteoarthritis.
“In the feet they cause you to put much more pressure under the ball of the foot, and the toes are jammed into a narrow toe box, which was not designed with anatomy in mind,” he says.
“This can cause corns, callouses and blisters to develop, and may possibly exacerbate toe deformities.”
He also says the structure of the shoes can contribute to the formation of neuromas – tumours on the nerve tissue of the foot.
“If you must wear high heels, wear them for special occasions only,” Mr Schox recommends.
“Try to pick a shoe which is wide enough to fit your forefoot in, and doesn’t crowd the toes too much. A wider heel gives more stability, and may make it less likely to get an ankle sprain or other injuries.”
Recent studies have also noted previously unreported injuries. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that long term high heel wear drastically alters the mechanics of walking.
The research studied nine “habitual high heel wearers” who wore heels of at least five centimetres in height for 40 hours a week over a two year period.
The high heel wearers walked with shortened strides, experiencing compromised muscle efficiency and intense muscle fatigue. This pattern continued even after they took off the shoes and began to walk barefoot.
The President of the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA), Dr Joseph Ierano, says that women are reluctant to give up high heels, despite constant pain. According to a 2013 media release by the CAA, 65 per cent of chiropractors list heels as their number one concern about fashion injuries.
Due to the structure of heels, the wearer has to lean backwards to maintain balance.
“This overcompensation often leads to low back pain, while instability through the ankle can put additional strain on the knees and hips,” he says.
Dr Ierano believes that women are prepared to tolerate a high level of discomfort in their effort to keep up with the latest trends.
Michelle Ellison, 35, has a high heel obsession, her collection including 108 pairs of stilettos and platforms.
After rolling her ankle a few years ago, resulting in three physiotherapists and a high heel ban for three months, Ms Ellison has to do regular exercises to strengthen her ankles.
Still, she is undeterred – her heel collection is growing.
“I just have a shoe fetish and I like the way they make your legs look,” she says.
19-year-old Rebecca says she too suffers ongoing pain after breaking her ankle on a night out this year, as her huge seven-inch heel was caught in timber floorboards.
“I used to be able to wear heels all the time without a problem. Now it’s getting harder especially that heels are getting higher,” she says.
Rebecca’s recovering injury makes it painful for her to stand for long hours, making work challenging.
“I definitely have a lot of pain, almost like arthritis, it’s just ongoing. I’ve had to start seeing a physiotherapist as well, so it’s expensive too,” she says.
Not wishing her pain on anyone else, she has offered a warning to all her friends.
“But that said, it’s the style now, it’s the norm, so as soon as I can I will most likely be back in them,” says Rebecca.
Visit www.emancipatedfeet.com.au on the 24th of June for regular updates from Janet Chakar.