Recently I became acutely aware of the massive difference in the shoes that women and men are expected to wear by ‘fashion standards’. It got me wondering about the health impacts of these inequalities and if we have really thought about the long term impacts of this. In January this year I started a more corporate job than I’m used to. My previous roles involved more of a smart causal look. Jeans and boots… maybe some flats in summer. I also drove 10 minutes from home to get to the office and was pretty well office based and so wasn’t on my feet so much. I could get away with less supportive shoes from time to time, and I never would’ve dreamed of wearing heels! Now, I travel an hour and half each day (each way) and that’s if the trains are running well. I walk about 15 minutes each evening to a train station further away from my office, even though there is a loop station right near my office where I get off in the mornings. I have made the decision to walk to a further away station so that I can catch a double express train- I figure I might as well use the time exercising in the fresh air than sitting (or probably standing given the stop near my work is about 4 stations into the run and the train is full by the time it gets there) on a train that stops all stations. I also generally walk a few blocks each day to get my lunch or attend meetings. So, I’m on my feet a lot more! And there’s always a chance I could be standing for an hour or more if there are issues with the trains.
I have always had some issues with my feet. I was born with a type of club feet. When I was about 3, my family noticed that I only walked on my tip toes and my toes and then feet had started turning up under themselves. Basically, my tendons in the back of my legs weren’t growing with my legs causing them to pull my feet behind my legs. These days they would fix it with stretches and maybe some boots but when I was three the option was surgery and they cut my tendons to ‘release them’. I wore walking casts for weeks after the surgery. It has always meant I have a lot of weakness in my feet and my ankles roll quite significantly. I’ve worn orthotics my whole life. But I could still manage a good (or bad but pretty none the less) pair of heels with little worry. About a year and half ago I broke my foot and did quite a lot of ligament damage. Because the foot was broken, they put it in an immobilisation boot to help the break heal, but it meant that the ligaments weren’t able to be rehabbed for 8 weeks and they weakened significantly. Fast forward a year later and suddenly I’m thrust into a lifestyle where I’m on my feet more than I have been since I was a nurse 10 years ago (where I wore Clark’s school shoes with my orthotics as my uniform because they honestly provided the best support!).
I was having physio twice a week and still in worlds of pain. I started trying to wear runners with an ankle brace on my way to work and switch into ‘work shoes’ once I was in the office. But by lunch time I’d have to switch back to the runners due to the swelling and pain. Then one day when I was walking along the busy train station, I looked down… I was amazed at the difference between men and women’s footwear. Men had these beautifully supportive leather, lace up flat shoes. Women had heels, which are contorting your foot in all sorts of unhealthy ways or flimsy ballet flats which while don’t have you walking on your tip toes all day still offer no support! You could see the pressure on women’s ankles just looking. Even without all of my additional issues with my feet it was clear how unhealthy this was for basically all women. How did this standard come to be? I get that once upon a time women didn’t work, they stayed home raising children (probably wearing sensible house shoes in the home) and when they went out it was to look good on their husbands arms so fashion standards for women became so that in order to be presentable you needed to be wearing heels. But women have been in the workforce for some time now, why are there not more comfortable fashionable work footwear for women.
I couldn’t live in the pain I was in and trying to look fashionable was setting back my recovery. So I decided that the best support I ever had in way of footwear was my school shoes, which is pretty much what men get to wear everyday to work, so I bought myself some black leather lace up shoes (with a little bit of a pattern so I can pretend I’m a little bit hipster and it’s the look I’m going for). There are days when it means I can’t chuck on a nice dress for work because my shoes just don’t go. But I’m pretty pleased with my decision and am thinking of investing in a brown pair just to mix it up. I’m really keen to challenge what is considered ‘appropriate women’s attire’. I LOVE dressing up, I LOVE shoes, and although I really can’t wear the heels I once did, I will still brave a night out in a pair of wedge heels to help me feel pretty and sexy and FUN! But come on? Every day? Women are expected to mess with the whole alignment of their bodies and damage the fragile structures of the very thing that keeps us standing, in order to fit with an outdated norm of what is acceptable for women to wear. I for one will be putting my health and my body first and wearing the most supportive shoe, with orthotics, from now on!