On university campuses, young women are often seen tripping over stairs or sidewalk cracks as they teeter their way to class in four-inch stilettos. Is this a coming-of-age ritual for our day? They may be common fashion in clubs or fancy dinners, but a classroom is no place for stilettos.
Egged on by celebrities and television shows like Sex in the City, high heels have gained popularity amongst younger women. They say heels make them feel more powerful because of their increased height and the image these shoes portray.
Though these young women may feel their heels project the height of modernity, their shoes’ origins are ancient. High heels are thought to have been around since 4000 B.C. Ancient Egyptian murals depicted high heel shoes, although there is no proof they were actually worn that far back.
In the fifteenth century, a style of elevated shoe called a chopine was commonly worn in Italy, Spain and France. These shoes were up to 24 inches in height and people used walking canes while wearing them, to keep their balance.
Around this time medical problems associated with raised footware were first addressed. Chopines were banned because too many pregnant women were falling, causing miscarriages. They are thought to be the predecessor of the high heel.
The earliest recorded high heel wearer was Catherine de Medici of Florence in the early sixteenth century. She wore them during her wedding to the king of France to increase her height. High heels became fashionable for men also and were popular with sex trade workers of the time.
In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries Louis XIV, the Sun King, banned anyone except the privileged from wearing high heels. For the lower classes that resisted, it was the death penalty.
A new type of heel emerged in the mid 1950s, named after a long narrow-bladed dagger. The stiletto is often credited to Roger Vivier who worked for Christian Dior in Paris.
As high heels are once again in vogue, it is a mystery that women aren’t more aware of medical problems continued high-heel wearing can cause. When high heels are worn, the whole body’s weight is shifted forward, putting pressure on the toes and throwing off the body’s alignment. This causes poor stability and is an unnatural way for feet to move. The narrow space at the front of many heels forces the toes together in an unnatural way. Unsightly bunions and corns often form, and in extreme cases, the toes can even become deformed. They can also damage the tendons in the foot and ankle, and the increased strain in the knees can lead to osteoarthritis.
Celebrities like Victoria Beckham are an extreme example of what can happen after years of high heel wearing. She reached the point where surgery was needed to recover from the damage done by heels. If medical reasons weren’t enough reason to stop wearing high heels, they also don’t make sense for those with an active life. Students run for the bus or to class, and high heels slow them down. They can also be flat out dangerous. It is easy to get a heel caught in a small space like a sewer grate or crack and if one isn’t entirely comfortable walking in them, it’s easy to trip and fall. Yet women of all ages and occupations continue to wear them. Is it social pressure or do women really just love the way they look enough to risk their long-term health and mobility?
High heels can be worn occasionally without harm, but there is a time and place for them. So girls take note: Tripping and falling down isn’t a good way to project confidence, and the halls of a university aren’t runways. Keeping your heels in the closet except for special occasions will keep you healthier and more mobile, and just might save you some unnecessary embarrassment to boot. It’s not hot if you can’t walk.