5 Ways to Choose the Best Shoes for Your Feet #HeelFree

“She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her.” — Naomi Wolf

Most articles on choosing the right shoes for your feet aim at managing problems caused or worsened by high heels, or athletes, who tend to care more about their extremities than the average Joanne. One thing my #HeelFree campaign has taught me is that foot care is an invaluable form of self-care. We should all prioritize it.

1. Know your foot type and needs.

Back in my acting and modeling days, I was a leg double for a film actress in a photo shoot. I spent hours walking up and down a runway in shoes that were too small and narrow for my feet—which haven’t been the same since. Shoes that don’t fit aren’t worth it (even if you’re being paid to wear them).

Size is only one important consideration while shoe shopping. Stop by an athletic store or see a podiatrist for a proper fitting. If you have high arches, you need a flexible shoe with good cushioning, says sports physician Dr. Low Wye Mu. If you have flatter feet, you need greater arch support and stability. If you have bunions you’ll need a roomier toe box, and all shoes should fit comfortably—while you’re sitting, standing and walking.

Women are encouraged to have fittings for bras, dresses and even jeans—yet our shoes, apparel that play a significant role in our safety and well-being, get little attention…until something bad happens.

2. Avoid heels.

If you really want to prevent or manage foot and body pain, keep your body in proper alignment and guard against heel-related injuries, such as sprains and fractures, and chronic conditions, such as bunions and osteo-arthritis, you’ve got to stick to supportive shoes. If you simply can’t let go of taller, angular shoes yet, shift to lower heels. While you’re at it, limit time wearing them. (To learn more about high-heel risks, click here.)

3. Avoid non-supportive flats, too.

While they don’t offset your alignment or bring as much pain as heels, flip flops aren’t the safest or most supportive bet either. Don’t make flip flops, ballet slippers and anything that strips of material tied on with string your regulars. Wear them around the house, if you’d like. Take your flip flops to the beach. For other daily activity, stick to more supportive options such as quality flats, walking clogs or sandals, athletic shoes and heel-free boots.

4. Invest in quality.

Very often, we get what we pay for in the shoe department. In some cases, lower prices brings the greater risk. A recent study showed that women have an average of 20 pairs of shoes. I’d rather have five or six pairs of sturdy, comfy shoes that cost a bit more than loads of cheap, potentially hurtful ones. Find deals by shopping the clearance section of athletic and quality shoe stores. (These shoes are often simply last season’s model, and still great quality.) As a bonus, quality shoes last far longer. The investment will pay for itself over time.

The turquoise number are Pasadena Drea sandals by Dansko—love them!

The turquoise number are Pasadena Drea sandals by Dansko—love them!

5. Choose styles you dig.

No matter what your shape, size or height, you can look and feel sexy in ultra-supportive shoes. (Shut up, society. You’re wrong.) To do so, you’ve got to shop for shoes that bring you joy, says motivational stylist Rayne Parvis of Style by Rayne. “If you’re going to go out and buy cheap flip flops, they’re not going to bring you joy,” she said on Girl Boner® Radio last week. Choose styles and prints you love, she suggests. Dress in color and start seeing your own beauty precisely as you are.

To learn more about #HeelFree fashion and ways to feel sexy no matter what your height or size, listen our chat here or watch the video below. The episode also features Shannon Hammer, a healthy living advocate who overcame decades of disordered eating.

What’s your favorite pair of comfy shoes? How much time and consideration do you invest in foot care? What’s your favorite way to nurture your feet? I love hearing from you! ♥

Risky Business: Common Pitfalls of High Heel Shoes #HeelFree

“I cannot tell you how bad your feet will get in the future if you don’t bother helping yourself now, and if you’re already in pain and decide not to do anything about it, I guarantee things will only get worse with time. This is not to scare you, but to emphasize how important your feet are and teach you to look at your feet in a different way than you may have before.”

Dr. Sara Johnson, chiropractic physician

Dr. Johnson’s message summarizes much of what I’ve been pondering since my #HeelFree campaign began: the importance of foot care and how seldom we, as a culture, tend to consider it.

The average woman in the U.S. spends around $25,000 on shoes in her lifetime. If she gets bimonthly pedicures, she’ll spend about $1,345 per year on prettying up her toes. Time and money invested in protecting her feet from damage? Not shockingly, I couldn’t find a study on that. I’m guessing very little. Chance she’ll suffer to some degree as a result? Pretty darn high.

Why all of this is the case became pretty obvious as I delved into my personal history and the history of heels overall. In short, we’re all taught that high heels are sexy, attractive and practically essential in certain situations. As a result, we tend to feel more confident wearing them.

Here’s a little secret: Our legs don’t need to be elongated, clenched or upheld at a particular angle to be beautiful and perfect as they are. No “buts” about it. 

No one seems to say that, so I’m not going to stop saying it. (You should’ve seen the clerk’s face at the grocery store just now…)

As I’ve mentioned, my goal is not to shun anyone who wears or makes high heels, but to encourage more women to think about these factors. With knowledge, we can make our own informed decisions. Part of that knowledge is understanding the risks.

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Common Risks of High Heels (2″ or higher)

♦ Your feet contain 25% of your bones. (WOAH, right?) Stress or misalignment of any of these bones or the surrounding tendons, ligaments or muscles can affect the rest of your body.

♦ So it’s no wonder that high heels are the leading cause of foot pain and injury in women.

♦ Because heels change the way you walk, placing added strain on various bones, they commonly cause knee, back and hip pain as well. They may also up your risk for osteoarthritis of the knee—a type more common in women than men.

♦ Over time, high heels can shorten the muscles in your back and calves, causing more pain plus, potentially, stiffness and muscle spasms.

♦ Frequent wearing can shorten your Achilles tendon, which could contribute to tendinitis, shin splints and plantar fasciitis.

♦ Along with pain comes inflammation, the root cause of many diseases. High heels can also make pain and inflammation from other causes throughout your body worse.

♦ Pain and inflammation tend to have emotional consequences, too, so heels can cause heightened stress, anxiety, depressive moods and mental fatigue.

♦ Pressure from high heels on the nerves in your feet can trigger numbness and pain in your toes.

♦ High heel-wearing negatively affects your walk even when you remove them and go barefoot, shows research. This is because of heels shorten leg muscle fibers, increasing strain on your calves.

♦ Up to one-third of high heel wearers suffer permanent residual problems.

♦ Two such problems are bunions and hammertoes, especially if you wear particularly tall or pointy heels or if either condition runs in your family.

♦ One-third of women who wear high heels at least three times per week have reportedly fallen while wearing them—complications of which are on the rise. High heel-related injuries, including broken bones, doubled between 2002 and 2012.

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Image credit: The Washington Post

And yet, almost no one suggests not wearing them.

I find it interesting that virtually no articles on high heel risks suggest giving them up as a viable way to prevent or minimize these problems. Most simply suggest cutting back on how often you wear them and lowering the height—I’m guessing because they realize that for many women, giving them up is simply not perceivable. Or maybe my friend Scott was right: they’re concerned about losing profit. (Heels bring them loads of business.)

No one should tell us what to wear, of course, but shouldn’t they at least mention that bypassing heels is not only an option, but the surest way to prevent high heel side effects? Otherwise, it’s a bit like saying, “It’s okay to wear pants so tight you can barely breathe, just don’t wear them daily” for less abdominal angst, or, “Look both ways when you cross the street, most of the time,” for lower risks of falling or getting hit by a car.

Trust me, I’m glad there’s plenty of information out there for high heel fans to wear them more safely. I just wish women were encouraged to consider comfortable, health-promoting shoes without any sense that doing so might end their world, style- or confidence- wise.

Many women who switch to lower shoes do so because they’ve already experienced problems or can’t wear heels for health reasons. Huge kudos for that. Many women keep on wearing heels anyway. But there’s also this little thing called prevention. I’m a fan.

We really can feel confident without heels. It may take effort for some of us (it has for me), but it’s worthy. There’s serious strength in feeling strong and authentic as we are, no shape/height/weight altering devices required. As a bonus, the less we rely on high heels, the lower our risks become for crippling our feet and bodies over time.

To learn more about high heel risks, click the hyperlinks throughout this post.

More related links:

Standing with Confidence: Body Image, Height and High Heels – a post I wrote for the National Eating Disorders Association

Why I Won’t Wear High Heels Ever Again, via XOXO Jane

Science Weighs in on High Heels, via the New York Times

How to Cultivate “Belly Out” Self-Confidence, on Girl Boner® Radio

Were you aware of these risks? Which have you experienced? If you wear heels, what do you love about them? What are your favorite flats? I love hearing from you! ♥

PS Check out my new #HeelFree Pinterest board for resources and links to gorgeous, comfy heel alternatives. 🙂

Eye Candy and Power Tools? The Sexist History of High Heels

Did you know that privileged men were the first to wear high heels? Way back in the 17th century, heels provided a beneficial lift while riding horses. Gradually, privileged women followed suit, both genders wearing them to convey prestige and power.

This all changed in the next century, when men and women’s dress began to reflect social class and profession.

And here’s the clincher, IMO:

Because men were considered the more intellectual and capable sex, they gave up heels for practical shoes they could do work that smart and powerful folks do (such as business and politics). Women’s perceived inadequacies made walking well less important. To ensure that they stayed as lovely to look at as possible—their main skill set other than childbirth—high heels became more decorative.

Men’s shoes became comfortable, reliable and supportive, while women’s remained decorative, unstable and painful. Because who cares if decorations can walk well or get hurt?

I wish I were kidding. (Learn more herehere, here and here.)

While women have more opportunities, choices and respect nowadays, it’s still complicated…

Stilettos, the most hazardous heels, appeared in the 1950s, when the fashion industry made the wartime pinup-girl look a trend. Women did everything from housecleaning to posing for erotic photos in the steep shoes. Meanwhile, they were seldom allowed positions of power or leadership.

heels sexist

The heels trend diminished a bunch during the 60s and 70s (I LOVE YOU, HIPPIES!), but not for long.

In the 1980s, as women began readily climbing the corporate ladder, people feared that such work would strip away their desirability—by, you know, doing all that “man stuff.” Particularly tall stilettos were marketed as a solution, a way to stay sexually appealing while moving forward professionally.

skyscraper shoes

By 2000, high heels were called a woman’s “power tools.” Her sex appeal was popularly considered her main source of professional strength, one she could use to manipulate people, giving “working your way to the top” a whole new meaning.

High heels are still associated with prestige and sexiness, regardless of well-known risks they raise for pain, bunions, fractures, bone deterioration and more. Related injuries have nearly doubled in the last decade, which speaks of their popularity and women’s determination to wear and embrace them, but more so of the media and fashion industry’s power of persuasion. (If comfortable, supportive shoes were all the rage, we’d be wearing them by the masses.)

Does any of this make wearing high heels wrong? Or anti-feminist?

Of course not. Feminism is about equality. We should all have the freedom to dress and express ourselves as we choose.

If you feel empowered by high heels and love wearing them, go for it. (If you do, consider these doctor recommended tips.) No one should be shamed for wearing any particular type of apparel.

I think it’s important, however, to put thought into what we find strengthening and why. The more informed we are, the better choices we can make for ourselves. And the better choices we make for ourselves, the better role models we become for others.

HeelFree

My latest #HeelFree faves. Wearing flatter shoes with a dress felt freeing.

I also feel there’s a fine line between putting a bandaid on insecurity and empowerment. A few months ago, I probably would’ve told you I wore heels at important events because they helped me feel empowered—more capable, attractive and confident. Now I realize they gave me a false sense of security and worked against me in numerous ways, from foot pain and poor body control to a lack of authenticity.

Why did I feel the need to stand taller? To have my calf muscles clenched? To make my legs look any different than they naturally are? (I explored these questions in my first #HeelFree post, available here.) Why do any of us?

In short, because of societal messages. We’re taught that high heels are a near prerequisite to sexiness, confidence and success. They’re considered a way up in the world, literally and figuratively, as they have been since their invention.

But times have changed. We don’t need to rely on our society’s idea of “sexiness” in order to have the careers, respect and lives we desire. I plan to live as long and as happily as possible, and I just don’t think that footwear that causes irreparable damage and makes walking comfortably difficult facilitates that—at least not for me.

I’ve also noticed in my years of work with folks with eating disorders and related issues that poor body image often goes hand-in-hand with high-heel wearing; it’s another common means of changing our outsides to aid inner wounds. But again, that’s a bandaid, not a solution.

If you can relate, I hope you’ll prioritize greater self-love and acceptance—regardless of your shoe choices. If there are any “power tools” worth having, it’s these.

If we wish to change the harsh pressures placed on women to appear a certain shape, size and height, we have to start with ourselves—by not holding ourselves up to those standards and by valuing what matters most. Whether you’re joining me in going #HeelFree or not, I hope you’ll consider taking whatever positive steps you can.

If you’re obsessive passionate like me, you’ll blab about it in the process. 😉 If not, you can still help better the world.

As a reminder, I’m posting #HeelFree photos and links on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Feel free to join the conversation!

What surprised you about high heels’ history? If you wear them regularly, how do they make you feel? Have you embraced your legs and height as they are? I’d love to hear your thoughts! ♥