Bear with me today: the following is something I feel strongly about, and while it relates heavily to podiatry (and shoe gear in particular) it was written more to discuss the strange state of current women’s fashion, and why we ladies insist on harming ourselves with our shoes. We’ve gotten it into our heads that we can’t be feminine or powerful without strapping instruments of torture to our feet.
I have a question for you: What is your definition of a professional men’s shoe? Probably leather, suede, or a nice man-made equivalent. Might be a loafer-style, or similar pull-on type of shoe, or it may be a more traditional lace-up. No heel, appropriate width. Some truly trendy men’s shoes these days are narrow and quite shallow in the front, where the toes go (this is the “toe box”), but the majority of professional and dressy men’s shoes are flats, with a good width, and if they don’t have good arch support, they are at least built in such a way that they can accommodate an orthotic device if needed.
Now, what is your definition of a dressy women’s shoe? What is your definition of a professional women’s shoe? Probably a heel. Some form of pump. A sparkly sandal with jewelry on it and nothing wrapping your heel. Maybe it’s a flat, but it’s a narrow ballet flat with a thin, often completely bendable sole, or a strappy gladiator sandal with a similarly pitiful lack of support for the bottom of your foot. Often the fancier sandal flats have less support than the $7 flip flops you can buy at a drug store.
Women who work in a professional environment ask me all the time why they end up with plantar fasciitis, tough calluses, cracked feet, or tired arches by the end of the day. The truth is that changing your shoes goes a long way to fixing the majority of mild–but chronic–foot pain.
“But my work has a dress code.”I guarantee that dress code does not extend to shoes that negatively affect your health. Think about how much effort has gone in to keeping workers in America safe these days. Ergonomic chairs, split keyboards, mandated stair height, elevator access, required ramps, back braces for heavy lifting, eye shields when working with chemicals, etc. The list goes on and on. I’m sure if OSHA extended to foot wear in offices the way that it does in professional kitchens, factories, and warehouses, the heels women tend to wear would not meet any of their requirements. Your corporate company’s dress code cannot keep you from wearing appropriate shoes.
“No, I HAVE TO wear these kind of shoes for work. I’ll lose my job.”If your work does not mandate a type of shoe (ie. steel-toed, or slip-resistant), they cannot fire you for wearing a flat, comfortable pair of shoes to work. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects you from that. Some people have joint fusions in their big toe that don’t allow them to raise on the ball of their foot to wear heels. Others have bunions that don’t fit in narrow pumps. Just like your boss can’t fire you for having asthma that requires an inhaler, he or she can’t fire you for having foot pain that requires a supportive shoe. If you continue to perform your job exactly the same in flats as in heels, they cannot fire you for choosing flats.
“But the kind of shoes you’re suggesting are ugly.”There is a myriad of different shoes out there. There are plenty of cute flats that accommodate orthotics or have built in support that will get you through your day, but if you’re unwilling to adjust your standard of Shoe Beauty to accommodate the health of your feet, that’s your choice. Some women have actually told me they would rather continue to hurt and wear pretty, six-inch platform heels. Ladies: we need to change the way we look at shoes. There is no other article of clothing that can physically hurt you like a pair of shoes can (other than corsets and girdles, which we’ve been intellignet enough to move past in this day and age). A men’s tie might be a little uncomfortable, but ties don’t cause them to go to a chiropractor with neck pain. Out of everything you wear, what else has the potential to give you blisters, tendinitis, chronic pain, nerve entrapments, painful calluses, and ingrown toenails, and hasten arthritic deformities? You’re willing to continue (or risk) suffering through those things to maintain a self-imposed standard of beauty?
If you have it set in your head that heels are the only shoes a woman can wear to look professional and feminine, it may be time to reexamine your paradigm of what makes a woman beautiful and powerful.