Emma Thompson received her damehood (the female version of knighthood) yesterday for her services in the field of drama. Her white sneakers peeped out from beneath long-hemmed dress pants. Meanwhile, in Rome, Princess Mary of Denmark stepped out for a virtual reality tour of the city with her husband Prince Frederik, her Nike VaporMax Explorers clearly displayed beneath the mid-calf hem of her white summer dress.
Thompson and Princess Mary are in good company. Another royal, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wore a few pairs of flats during her recent tour of Australia. “I see many more women wearing flats,” says Dr. Hillary Brenner, D.P.M., a podiatric surgeon in New York City and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Embracing flat shoes is important, because wearing heels regularly can have a variety of negative impacts on musculoskeletal health, Dr. Brenner says. Heels make your tendons contract, potentially leading to injuries like muscle tears, and they can also throw off your center of gravity, putting extra stress on your feet that can lead to sprains. And that’s before you get to the stress tax that surrounds dressing for women in general, including shoe choices, as Arianna Huffington, Thrive’s Founder and CEO, has argued.
But ditching heels entirely can be difficult: Research has examined the links between footwear and identity, and the cultural associations with heels that can make it unappealing for many women to abandon their elevated shoes entirely. That holds true for royals: Meghan Markle has been seen in heels since her flat shoe outings in Australia, and Princess Mary of Denmark is often seen in heels as well. While the cultural tide may be turning against heels, it hasn’t quite washed them away yet.
If you’re happiest a few inches above your natural height, Dr. Brenner has some good news for you: A chunkier heel, like a wedge, can actually provide your feet with good support. To decide what shoes to wear when, think about what your agenda looks like for the day, and how many hours you’ll be standing. She recommends no more than two hours for heels, three hours for flats, and six hours for boots with a chunky heel. Sneakers like Princess Mary’s and Emma Thompson’s are great to wear all day, Brenner says.
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