January 17, 2008

Models are known for sporting high heel shoes down the runway. These shoes have the power to transform an ordinary outfit into a high-end fashion statement, can give the model her distinctive strut, and seem to magically slim and lengthen legs of even the shortest 5' 10" model.

Why Heels Are an Attractive Shoe to Wear

Apart from being associated with top fashion, scientists think that the reason why we wear heels may really just boil down to attractiveness. In one study, researchers measured the leg to body ratio and compared it to people's perception of sexual attractiveness. In other words, they wanted to determine if having longer legs make a female more attractive. The answer, they found, was yes.

One possible reason for this finding is that having longer legs has been shown to be associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes resistance, low blood pressure, lower adult mortality and reduced risk of cancer.

So, when you are wearing high heels and accentuating your long leg features, you are telling your date: "Yep! I'm healthy!" — a great feature when seeking out a mate.

Did you know? If you are ever asked to chose between facing a stamped of super models wearing high heel shoes or a herd of elephants, choose the elephants.

The typical pressure generated under high heel shoes is 1,500 psi (pounds per square inch) versus an elephant feet which is a mere 75 psi. The reason is that the smaller the area (like in a stiletto), the higher the pressure. Granted you will still be squished flat by the elephants, but a stampede of super models might be a little more painful.

Fashion Over Function?

High heels are not just a recent fashion statement. Wearing raised heels dates back all the way to the 1500s when horse riders use to wear them to prevent their feet from slipping off the stirrups. Yes, even the manly cowboy used to wear high heel shoes!

These days, high heel shoes come in so many styles, and with trends changing almost every season, a woman's wardrobe could have countless pairs, from a pointy toed stiletto style to one with a chunkier heal.

Now I'm sure you've heard from your parents about eating right, sleeping enough hours, or brushing your teeth but have they ever tried to get on your case about wearing high heel shoes? Well if they have, it may be for good reason. It's now well-known that wearing high heel shoes can be damaging to your body.

Did you know? High heel shoes may be bad for your feet but flip flops may be just as bad! Flip flops and flat ballet shoes (that look so cute!) do not provide support for the arch in your foot. So they may look comfortable, but they really are not.

So, what kind of problems are we talking about? Well, high heels have been known to cause corns, sprained ankles, calluses, toenail problems, hammertoe, bunions, tight heel cords, pump bums, and joint pain.

Incidentally, the makers of Barbie did get it right. Prolong use of high heel shoes can cause something known as "tight heel cords." Your calf muscle is connected to your heel bone via the Achilles tendon. The job of this tendon is to point your foot downward as you walk.

However, if you are always wearing high heel shoes, the Achilles tendon never gets a chance to stretch. Thus over time, it will shorten until you will no longer be able to wear flats. Who knew that Barbie can be used as a teaching tool for anatomy!

Also, for those who frequently wear heels, they've even been known to cause tiny stress fractures in the bones of the leg simply because of the pressure. Talk about a weapon in disguise!

Here are some shoe shopping pointers:

- Try on both shoes before buying. Sounds intuitive, but surprisingly a lot of people don't do that. Go figure.

- Shop for shoes in late afternoon or evening. Your feet will swell during the day. So shoes that fit you in the morning may not necessarily fit in during the evening. Hey, another excuse to go shopping at night, right?

- There is no such thing as a "break in" period. If it doesn't fit. It doesn't fit.

But if you really want to wear these shoes:

- Try to stick to an inch and a half or less — with a wide heel base

- Stand next to the shoe. The width of the shoe should be wider than the width of your foot. i.e. avoid shoes that are too narrow for your feet

- Try not to spend too much time wearing them

- Or at least don't wear the same pair of high heels everyday

Learn More!

High Heel Shoe Museum

HyperTextbook

Mayo Clinic on Foot Problems

American Podiatric Medical Association

Viren Swami, Dorothy Einon and Adrian Furnham. "The leg-to-body ratio as a human aesthetic criterion" Body Image. 3: 317 — 323.

Iris is a second year Masters student in Microbiology and Immunology at UBC. Her favourite past times include reading, listening to Christian rock, scratching her head and kicking her bench. On occasions, she comes out to hike or bake with her friends.

Iris Liu

I am a medical student at the UBC, Island Medical Program. Between coordinating for Gene skool, learning about medicine, and playing on my guitar, percussing my food and co-managing the In the News section of CurioCity, I occasionally wonder when I sleep! But all is well when I take the time to just reflect on the day by reading my Bible and writing plays about a fictional character named Cindy.


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