Enduring pain is worth the look for some women

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 2:52 p.m.

As a model, Miyoshi Anderson recalls wearing a pair of 5-inch Gucci stilettos and walking on a makeshift runway of shaky tables for a Saks Fifth Avenue fashion show.

Attendees were leaning over with drinks, so models had to dodge cocktails while attempting to stay upright.

"I have had my share of pain in shoes on the runway, especially that one," says Anderson, executive director of Pittsburgh Fashion Week.

"Talk about a catwalk. I have also worn shoes that were way too small," she says. "When you are on that runway, though, it's all about the performance to showcase the designer's collection. I think that adrenaline takes over, and you don't feel the pain. That is the epitome of fashion."

Even women who aren't strutting along New York runways endure pain of the gain of looking fashionable. From high heels to tight belts to purses -- which feel like they are full of lead -- fashion can, and does, hurt. Shoes are the worst of all evils.

"There is no fighting fashion," says podiatrist Dr. Marlene Reid, one of the leading experts in women's foot health out of Naperville, Ill. "I know that. But there are some things you can do to make your fashion days more comfortable."

She recommends alternating heel heights. "Even a half-inch difference can help, because it takes some pressure off the Achilles tendon and the ball of the foot, Reid says.

"If you wear heels on a daily basis, your feet will suffer from it one day," Reid says. "I try to be realistic, but I know I can't fight fashion. Women don't want to hear 'Don't wear heels.' "

No, they don't.

"I love wearing heels, and often, they come back to haunt me," says Cally Jamis-Vennare, 50, of Regent Square, who is 5 feet 10 inches. "I remember being in New York for business and walking all day in high-heeled boots. Afterward, I was in immense pain. I have had foot pain and back pain, but I did it in the name of fashion and would do it again, because I love the way heels look with a dress or skirt and even pants."

Women want to look their best and they care about how they look, Jamis-Vennare says. You can try to put limits such as to only wear heels for a few hours for a special event versus all day, which helps. And shoes aren't the only problem. She also loves handbags, and needs a large one to carry an iPad and iPhone and other items for business.

"There are times my shoulders really hurt, but I have to carry a lot," she says. "I do think it is a good thing for women to be aware of how fashion can affect their health."

Sherri Lynn Dunik, 36, of the South Side knows the risks. An every-day heel wearer, she admits to taping her toes together for a better fit.

"I just did it the other day," Dunik says. "Especially, when I wear heels without stockings, the shoes just fit better then when you tape the toes. Afterward, my feet are swollen and sore, but I like the way I look in heels, and so I live with the pain."

Being 5-foot-3, Dunik likes the extra four or five inches of height. Most women who are into fashion endure a stylish shoe that's uncomfortable, she says. You deal with the pain and don't often think about possible long-term consequences.

Felicia Jones, 23, of the North Side wears heels every weekend -- some as high as 4 and 5 inches.

"I wear heels to attract men," Jones says. "They sometimes get you free drinks at the bar and they make your legs look a lot nicer. I know a lot of women who wear heels even though they hurt."

Kristin DiGiacomo, 30, of Bloomfield says heels never bothered her until she had her son, A.J.. Her feet grew an entire size. She says the pain goes from her toes to the balls of her feet to her heels and ankles.

"Trying to wear heels, sometimes even just a little kitten heel, for an extended period of time is awful," DiGiacomo says. "I used to be able to wear 3- to 5-inch heels, but now I feel like I can't wear a heel over 1 to 2 inches. And being 5-foot-2 doesn't help matters because most of the time heels are necessary to add height and length. ... I miss being able to wear heels without pain, but so goes life and growing up."

Women do not wear high heels for themselves, says Ellen Goldstein, professor of accessories design at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

"They wear high heels to make them look sexy and for their boyfriends, husbands and significant others," Goldstein says. "They also wear them because they make them look taller. They say the agony is totally worth it, and under certain circumstances you just put up with the pain."

Shoes aren't the only problem.

"Bags are the worst," Goldstein says. "You should never carry any more than 5 pounds in your bag. You can affect your spine and your shoulders, and when you put your bag down, and then sigh in relief, you have already hurt yourself. You need to switch the bag from side to side, or wear it across your body, or use a back pack."

She discusses such issues in an Anatomy for Accessories class she teaches about muscles, bones, gait and posture. Even hand problems can be caused by clutching a small bag too tightly.

"My students look at me when I talk about this like I am joking, but then they realize I am not kidding," Goldstein says.

From his Downtown office, chiropractor Dr. Greg Simunick, owner of HealthQuest Chiropractic, sees plenty of women who are would-be patients lugging heavy bags and teetering on high heels.

"It's a sacrifice for fashion," Simunick says. "I know the trend is to have a bigger bag, but, over time, that bag can really pull on your shoulders and neck. Just 10 to 15 pounds of pressure can cause nerve damage. Heels have been around for years, but they can cause back pain. They can also affect the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. The less time you wear heels the better.

"Women are not going to stop wearing heels. My wife would never do it," he says.

"The pain of fashion is in every culture and goes back to when we started wearing clothing," says Emmy award-winning stylist David Zyla, who has given fashion tips to Susan Lucci and Hillary Rodham Clinton. "As human beings, we are visual, and there has always been this extreme decoration of the woman and, at various times of history, the way she was adorned tells us about her status and wealth."

Even with the fact that we've become more casual in dressing, women still want to feel beautiful and current and in the moment, Zyla says.

"The platform shoe has helped solve the very high slope of the foot, because it's not as extreme," he says. "The corset used to be tied so tightly that it was hard for a woman to breathe. We have found ways to have fashion adhere to our sense of beauty while being more practical."

Rebecca Whitlinger of Blackridge knows the potential fashion dangers, but says she would never carry a big bag without filling it. Women need to carry lots of things, she says, despite the pain.

And, she says, women look better in high heels.

"This is a subject I know well," Whitlinger says "I try not to drive in heels, and once I walk into my house, I take them off. But for me, fashion is head to toe, and you have to consider footwear as part of putting together the entire look. Heels give you a long line, and make you look thinner, and they do hurt, but I will never give them up. I want to be buried in high heels -- as well as a gold dress."

What a pain ...

Podiatrist Dr. Marlene Reid who writes a blog about women's foot health, admits she has worn improper footwear at times, including a pair that was too small. But pain in the foot is not normal, she says.

Here are her tips:

• Buy the proper size by trying shoes on at the end of the day when feet are largest. In the store, walk on various surfaces. If the shoes don't fit properly, they can cause you to walk differently, which can affect hips, as well. Being overweight adds more force and more problems.

• Opt for a shoe with a round or box toe or a faux-pointed toe.

• The kitten heel is a perfect alternative when wearing pants.

• Make sure the back of the heel is firm to give support. Check that the shoe bends at the ball of the foot. When you twist the shoe, you should not be able to twist it like a ballet flat.

• Consider what the day is going to be like in terms of which shoes to wear. If you are sitting behind a desk all day, then it's OK to have those 4-inch platforms, but not if you have to walk a mile to the bus stop.

• Your foot type also can dictate which types of shoes are best for you.

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