I am a typical woman: I love shoes. I really love high heels, particularly the red-soled sort (in case my nearest and dearest are thinking of Christmas presents). I believe there’s no other way to complete an outfit than by being elegantly shod.
Alas, there’s a trade-off. Few high-heel wearers escape the post-party torture of aching feet. Several hours in stilettos can result in the wincing gait of an arthritic crab. Or desperate girls braving filthy pavements for the relief of going barefoot, their instruments of torture in hand.
The soreness is due to pressure. Wearing any kind of raised heel shifts your weight forward onto the ball of the foot. The higher the heel, the more weight and pressure gets shifted forward. To counterbalance this, your knees and hips also have to push forward while your spine arches backwards. It’s not just your feet that suffer; your entire skeleton goes out of shape. This can lead to lower back and hip pain. And some very strange ways of walking.
Worse still, long-term high-heel wearing can also cause bunions, hammer toes, ingrowing toenails, shortened calf and hamstring muscles, tendinitis, stress fractures, pinched nerves, heel spurs, arthritis, and ankle twists and sprains (especially at closing time). In a nutshell, it all hurts.
So, will women stop wearing high heels? Don’t be ridiculous. This is the sex built to endure childbirth and a lifetime’s uterine complications. They will never be defeated by a shoe.
But they will compromise. They will wear trainers or flat shoes to work and then change into their heels. They will put their heels on in the transport to an evening’s venue. And God bless Scholl’s Party Feet, the gel inserts that absorb some of the pressure on your poor soles. I don’t go out without them.
Yet I don’t know many women who practise aftercare. Podiatrists recommend a quick massage and runner’s stretches at night to realign Achilles tendons and calf muscles. Health websites suggest bathing one’s feet in Epsom’s Salts after a night out. And I occasionally nip to the local nail bar for a commercial soak, scrub and polish.
But I had never heard of a dry pedicure by a qualified podiatrist until a friend’s recent trip to the spa at the Metropole Hotel in Monaco.
The treatment and array of surgical equipment used were remarkable. But so was the result. His City-bashed feet were literally a feat of restored health and beauty. He spent over an hour in the reclining chair, but his once tired hooves were baby soft with glassily buffed toenails and looked at least 10 years younger.
This was a treatment in the format of French Pedi-Mani-Cure maestro Bastien Gonzalez. Pricy but pedi-tastic and still evident six weeks’ later. As my delighted friend floated out of the spa, I spotted something half-familiar.
Like many women, I paint my toenails using sponge toe spacers to keep my toes apart to prevent the polish from smudging. For about half an hour while it dries, I leave my spacers in as a DIY bid to realign my toes. Initially a bit uncomfortable, by the end it feels rather therapeutic.
And there in the spa, I saw Bastien Gonzalez had taken this idea and made it his own. The result is Happy Feet, a set of gel toe spacers specifically designed to do what I hoped my old sponges would: make my stiletto-squashed toes straight again. Thirty-two Euros for “the essential fitness regime for tired, damaged feet”? Had to be done.
In the spirit of research, I have worn them (UK women’s size 5½) for twenty minutes and so has my friend (UK men’s size 9). We both agree they are what they claim to be on the box: a workout for the toes. You can walk, wiggle and work your bones back into shape. And the bigger the feet or longer the toes, the better the experience.
So once upon a time, the trade-off of loving high heels used to be pain. Then came gel pads. Now there are gel spacers. Now there are not just happy girls in fabulous footwear. There are fabulous girls (and guys) with Happy Feet.