If the shoe fits

Editorial Notebook

December 27, 2003|By Nicky Penttila

YOU'RE ONLY as pretty as you feel, as Jefferson Airplane put it. These days, for some ladies of fashion, feeling pretty means wearing those stiletto heels that cost more than a week's salary.

The problem, though, is the pain. Feet-shaped feet fit only imperfectly into those cantilevered, pointy-toed dressings; the attendant squeezing and smooshing can warp tender toes and soles as well as send twinges up the spine.

Women account for 80 percent of foot surgeries, most to fix load-bearing appendages damaged by years of wearing ill-fitting shoes, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. Nearly 90 percent of women routinely wear shoes that are a size or two too narrow.

One might think the solution would be to obtain better-fitting footwear, to cut the shoe to fit the foot. But not so fast. If the style makes you feel pretty enough, why not cut the foot to fit the shoe?

Some women are having bones in their feet - or a portion of toe - removed so their appendages will fit better into sexy-heeled styles. Choosing to go under the scalpel to boost "toe cleavage" or for "deboning" gives testimony to the psychic power of high heels - as well as the ubiquity of skilled surgeons.

Lengthening the leg, defining the calves, trimming the feet into dainty points - high heels are a Western aesthetic pleasure for the wearer and the viewer. Call it the Betty Grable pinup look - all gams.

Learning the hip roll to maintain forward momentum and knee flexion, along with the deliberate stride, is for many a rite of passage, as is one's first wolf-whistle when the stride is performed correctly.

Wearing teetering heels can help declare one's feminine side, and it certainly attracts attention - as well as occasional help crossing the curb. It can give a girl a leg up on the dating front, perhaps as much as can the sharpness of her mind and the content of her character.

And they don't have to be foot-killers. Some high-end designers, such as Taryn Rose and Tara, design their lines for comfort as well as style. Even some of the hot-hot Manolo Blahniks aren't that torturous, although, the designer admits, "15 percent are total madness."

It's not clear how many women have had their feet trimmed, but the number is growing at such a clip it has prompted the medical community to sound a warning. While not as gangrenous as the stepsisters' self-hacking in the original version of Cinderella, trimming a wedge off a toe or slicing a bit from the side of a foot carries the usual surgical risks, plus a few extra ones.

There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles in each foot, and even a small change, as anyone who has stubbed a toe knows, can lead to pain that can stretch all the way up the leg, the back and even the neck.

A big change, such as lopping off a balance point on a toe, can make the damage permanent. Not to mention what happens if the surgery goes wrong: floppy toes from losing too much tension, numbness, scarring and the dreaded "sausage toe," the opposite of the desired result.

To be sure, insurers don't pay for pre-emptive cosmetic foot-work, so it's pretty much a private matter whether one chooses to brave the pain for this-year's-fashion's gain. And if it doesn't work out, at least there are those trM-hs chic four-wheeled walkers with the seats built in.

Self-acceptance - feet and all - may be too tough a New Year's resolution, but perhaps one can reach a level of self-tolerance. Accept your feet.

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