My children and I were studying the ancient practice of foot binding recently. They were shocked that the Chinese broke and bound little girls' feet to keep them from growing any longer than 4 inches. My son shuddered at one of the pictures and asked, "Why would they do that to just to look good?" My little girl chimed in, "But these girls could never run or jump again! I'm glad we don't do that now." I hugged her and said, “Me, too.” But a little voice in my head wondered if women are still hanging onto remnants of this past torture. Could our current culture of wearing high heels be a variation of the same thinking...exchanging health for beauty?
We've all been there - dancing at a wedding with our high heels in our hands (or tossed under a table somewhere). The evening starts with the fun of dressing up and wearing heels (so our legs look awesome), but it ends in pain. As long as it’s our choice to put up with sore feet, it’s not that big of a deal. However, it becomes a big deal when women feel pressure to wear high heels at work.
Last year there was an incident in the UK in which a woman was sent home from work, without pay, for not wearing high heels. She didn’t wear heels because she was going to be escorting clients back and forth from the lobby to the meeting rooms for 9 hours. Heels would have been impossible for her feet. She fought beck and later won a petition to improve the law protecting women from discriminating dress codes.
Most companies won’t go so far as to send women home for not wearing heels, but there is still an unwritten expectation from corporate America that heels are standard office attire. As a modern, health-conscious society that is just beginning to embrace the idea of standing desks and movement in our workplaces, wearing heels a collision of ideals.
"As a modern, health-conscious society that is just beginning to embrace the idea of standing desks and movement in our workplaces , wearing heels is a collision of ideals."
We are how we move
Our feet are the foundation of all posture and movement. Katy Bowman from Nutritious Movement suggests that “we are how we move,” and she is a major advocate of treating your feet well for optimal health. Her colleague, Dani Hemmat, claims that any shoe raising your heel more than 1-2 inches causes joint alignment to be displaced by 20-40 degrees. Our bodies become pitched forward and have to create an unnatural counterbalance. Dani likens our bodies to machines and asks what machine would last very long if it is 20 degrees out of alignment? Our cars wouldn’t drive straight and our washing machines would wear out and malfunction. So it is with our bodies.
Katy teaches the concept of micro and macro nutrients of movement. For example, walking or biking using big muscle groups is macro movement, while balancing on one foot or walking across uneven surfaces is micro movement. It’s really hard to have good micro movement when our toes are crammed into pointy shoes and when our heels are higher than the balls of the feet. Both of these alter our movement and disrupt our musculoskeletal system at a foundational level.
Domino effectThe position of the feet determine how the rest of the body will stack. Changing the angles in the feet with high heels changes the body’s center of gravity and, therefore, sets off a domino effect of postural compensations:
Before real damage is done, though, our bodies have a built in warning system. The warning varies from person to person, so I encourage to listening when your feet start talking to you.
Don’t despair if you are a committed high heels wearer (or have been in the past). It’s not the end of the world, but try these things to mitigate the damage:
Heel the workplace
However, if you don't have to wear heels at work, then join me, and let's be the generation that ‘heels’ the workplace and stops the unhealthy expectations for women’s shoes. Let’s take our heels out of our work wardrobe and toss them in the party box, or better, yet, in the bin. We can end our modern day foot binding and claim our right to be healthy at work - starting from our feet up. #
For more information about how to move in healthier ways at work, go to www.myofficemoves.com and sign up for my free educational emails.
Resources & References
I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. This blog is a mixture of travel adventures and wellness topics that affect women and their families. We've travelled, first in our Airstream and then in Australia, while attempting to balance work, life, health, and relationships. It's been an amazing journey so far. Join me as we navigate new places, adjust to small spaces, and meet new faces.