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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 06/17/2010

The pain of graduation: 5-inch heels

By Valerie Strauss

After attending several graduation ceremonies and being regaled with a treasure chest full of bejeweled uplifting messages about the grand journey of life (“This is not an end but a beginning”) and the meaning of success (hint: “it’s not about money”) and the richness of friendship and the importance of persistence and the power of big dreams, I can say that the overwhelming image that I carried away from each of these lovely occasions is this one: Girls and young women with sky-high heels literally tripping down the aisle to pick up their diplomas.

Call me unsentimental, call me old fashioned; go ahead and accuse me of being in the pocket of the podiatrists’ lobby.

There is not a single decent reason for eighth grade girls or 12th grade girls or college graduates, or, frankly, women of any age, to be wearing heels (considered by podiatrists to be more than two inches high) that not only are impossible to walk in normally but strain the knee, push hips and spine out of alignment, shorten calf muscles, cause toes to hurt or become numb, lead to hammertoes and joint pain in the ball of the foot, impair balance and risk a sprained or broken ankle, or even create a bony enlargement on the heel known as Haglund’s deformity.

You’d think that knowledge of the Haglund's deformity possibility alone would significantly cut down on the sale of 4-inch and 5-inch and 6-inch heels. Aren’t 3-inch heels back enough?

Yet in ceremony after ceremony, you can see the audience nervously watch some poor girl start to topple as she heads toward the podium to collect her diploma, and collectively breathe a sigh of relief when she steadies herself just in time.

If you’ve been shopping for graduation or prom shoes, you know what I mean.

Somehow, American women have been sold on the notion that they look better in shoes that are harmful to them.

Nowhere in the curriculum from preschool through college graduation is there enough emphasis on teaching girls enough about physiology, long-term health consequences, or the importance of having the strength to say ‘no’ to sadistic shoe designers.

So I propose that somewhere in between lessons on quadratic equations, the elements on the periodic table and whether Romeo really loved Juliet or just loved being in love, teachers spend more time explaining why it would be better not to malign the female foot.

In fact, the British government helped fund a six-week program for 16-year-olds to teach them how to walk in high heels to prepare them for a career in the business world and for their social lives, according to the Daily Mirror. Now that’s some forward thinking.

Either we are going to have to rely on schools to give lessons on how to buy shoes, or parents and women of all ages are going to have to learn how to just say “no.”

It would be nice to attend a graduation commencement and be able to concentrate on the graduation.


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By Valerie Strauss  | June 17, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Student Life  | Tags:  girls tripping at graduation, graduation ceremonies, graduation shoes, health and high heels, heels and feet, high heels, high heels at graduation, high-heeled shoes and girls, prom shoes, shoes and fashion and graduation, the dangers of wearing high heels, what high heels do to feet  
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I just got back from a week in Paris, and one of the things I noted was that Parisian women wear sensible shoes. I don't think I saw more than 5 women in stilettos during the week, and none of those was higher than 4 inches. What I saw was predominantly flats, and the occasional 2-inch heel, but of a broader sturdier variety.

So I will continue to wear my sensible heels and flats, and embrace my inner Parisian.

Posted by: johnsondeb | June 17, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I never got the fascination with wearing these things to prom/graduation, but for a somewhat different reason: the super-high heels tend to realign the leg muscles so that your legs and butt look more appealing, yes -- but if you're wearing a big billowy graduation robe, or a long skirt, and said skirt/dress is not skin tight (I know, possibly a big assumption, but most of them I saw weren't), you're not going to realize the aesthetic benefits anyway. I wore short 1" strappy heels (which I still have, and are insanely comfortable) to my prom and HS graduation and combat boots to my college graduation (although I'll admit my undergrad graduation was a bit less formal than many -- I still did wear an academic robe though).

When I graduate with my Master's next year, I don't plan on tottering around in heels. (Then again, I'm tall in the first place, so I don't tend to wear them normally anyway; I find that the women who wear staggeringly high heels on a regular basis tend to be under about 5'4").

Posted by: | June 17, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Well, if we're going to be honest, women DO look better in high heels.

Who says?

Men say so, and also most women fashion stylists. After all, despite the health issues, that's why women wear them. Because they think, and other tell them, that they look good in them.

Posted by: dccavalier | June 17, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I have congenitally crappy ankles and hips - while I had one or two pairs of 3" stilettos I loved to wear in my 20's for dressier occasions, I had to give them up as the disease progressed. For dress, I have one pair of navy and one pair of black 2" "Spanish" square heels and a pair of great black riding-style boots (i.e. - no heel). Not fashionable, but stable. I'm the envy of every stiletto wearing woman at any party where walking on grass is part of the occasion, because they are falling and aerating the grass and I'm stable.

As for the graduations, I'm just fondly smiling on my own college graduation. It was the last one my school held in the outdoors stadium. We had bought cute dresses to wear under our gowns...but as the day neared, the weather forecast loomed hot and muggy and potentially rainy. The school banished umbrellas for the students, saying umbrellas would only be a danger on the field since we were all crammed in there at close quarters.

Both the students - and the faculty who had to sit with us on the field in their insanely expensive regalia - complained but the school wouldn't budge.

We all ended up wearing our oldest clothes under the gowns and polishing up our sneakers to wear on the grass field. Because quick tests on the hems of our gowns showed the dye wasn't waterproof, and we all knew how muddy our campus was in the wet. Even my mother - a stickler for dressing up - agreed it was the only sensible thing to do (we were lucky that the rain veered away from campus the night before). But heels would have been a moot point for us with the grass field anyway...

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | June 17, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

All things in moderation, people. I like heels and wear them with some regularity. Wearing heels three or four times a week (I have a desk job) isn't going to cripple me for life. I buy well made shoes of a reasonable height and wear them enough to walk around comfortably in them.

The problem with teenage girls in heels is that they don't have enough experience to know their height limits or how to walk in them so they end up looking like someone struck my a sudden palsy.

My grandmother, however, has AWFUL feet from wearing heels 24-7. She was short but very stylish and would even wear heels to the grocery store. Again, all things in moderation.

Posted by: em15 | June 17, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Graduation is a special occasion, and girls feel much more dressed up in heels. Ask them- I bet most of them only wear heels that high very occasionally. Go look at the high school hallways a week or two before the graduation, and I'd bet you'll see a 20:1 ratio of flip flops to heels, of any height.

Posted by: sarahee | June 17, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree, Valerie - I went to a high school graduation recently and all we talked about afterwards were the girls' shoes!

Posted by: efavorite | June 17, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse


You crack me up!

I spent 30 yrs in the corporate world- much of it in airports with heels on! If I had to do over again, flats would be on. I'd save the heels for the Holiday Party so when I toppled over they'd think it was the punch and not that I'm a clod in heels!

Result: I probably pay the podiatrist's monthly rent now just to minimize the damage already done. Also encountered back problems which dr's associated with heels.
No heel ever higher than 3 inches-most were 2-1/2-and still caused damage. Listen to Valerie--tell your daughters, they'll just hate you for another reason (its temporary!). There's vanity and then there's stupidity.

Posted by: rsolnet | June 17, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Funny - I wrote a blog for our product website in January on this very subject:

Women won't stop wearing them, so why not 'workout' to wear them - we do that for other things like training for a 10K - so as long as you take care of your feet you might have some longevity in the end.

Posted by: ruthvoss | June 17, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

When the White House was evacuated and New Yorkers had to walk home on Sept. 11, the streets and sidewalks were littered with high heels whose wearers had abandoned them in the name of safety. Do we need a better reason to stop wearing them?

And does anyone remember the feminist in the 1970s who said that women's fashions were designed to make women more dependent on men and more accessible to rape? Her rhetoric was overblown, but I knew a woman in a very conservative law office, where the dress code specified tailored skirts, hose, and high heels for the women, who carried a change of clothes with her so she didn't have to walk to and from the bus stop in high heels and a tight skirt. Of course, that meant she had to take different buses--in a town with infrequent buses--than if she were a man to be sure she had enough time to change.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 18, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

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