Why in the 21st century are we still wearing corsets – on our feet?

Once upon a time, someone came up with quite a peculiar piece of clothing. It constricted the body and deformed it, leading to health problems. But fashion is fashion – and what aren’t we willing to suffer through in the name of beauty? 

This strange invention is called the modern shoe

Expecting to hear the word corset instead? Well, you’re right there too. They work in a similar way.

Would you put a corset on your child?

“I have yet to have a single female patient with healthy feet,” writes Marika Bajerová, a physiotherapist specializing in women’s health. 

How is that possible? 

While we wouldn’t put on a corset today (except for the occasional exception), we’re still lacing up our feet into tight, stiff shoes. The tip of the shoe deforms the toes, the inflexible sole puts the muscles out of operation and the heel tilts the whole body forwards. 

From childhood onwards, our feet have been adapting to our shoes – when it should be the other way around. 

And the worst thing? We’re putting inappropriate footwear on little children, deforming their feet. Would you put a corset on a child?

One foot in a high-heeled shoe, the other in a barefoot shoe; the opened toe box shows constricted toes in a high-heeled shoe and spread-out toes in a barefoot one.

See for yourself how much space there is in high-heels and how much is in barefoot shoes.

Why are classic shoes like corsets?

  • They constrict the body into an unnatural shape, deforming the bones and muscles. 
  • They limit movement. 
  • They impact the health of the whole body, as we’ve written about in the article Barefoot shoes and immunity.
  • They cause problems – from bunions and knee pain to back and head pain.
  • They impair breathing – they change the posture of the body, causing it to slouch while decreasing space for the lungs. We’ve described this in the article 7 good reasons why to walk barefoot during pregnancy.
  • Almost everyone wears them, just like corsets years ago. That’s why it’s so hard to think about how they might be harming us.

Having problems with bunions, painful knees or other foot problems? Download the free e-book Step by step to healthy walking.

The corset doesn’t support correct body posture. And the shoe doesn’t support the arch. 

“A child needs a stiff shoe. It supports the arch and proper walking.” 

This advice is reminiscent of another old wives’ tale: “The corset supports proper posture.” 

Yes, if you’re wearing a corset, you’ll be standing up straight. Just like a shoe will hold your foot in a certain position. But both limit natural movement. Without movement, the muscles weaken and the brain loses the ability to control them. 

When you take off a corset, the torso collapses. The same goes for a foot in a stiff shoe. 

A muscle that’s moving and supporting the body gets stronger. And a muscle that you constrict will weaken. 

Interested in what shoes that really benefit your foot health look like? Read the article The best shoes for hiking? They’re definitely not hiking boots.

Centered foot at left – the toes are spread out, creating a stable foundation, and their axes are aligned with the axis of the whole leg. A constricted foot at right – the toes are pushed together, the foot is decentered and the ankle is sagging.

In order for the muscles in the foot to function correctly, they need the space to be in the “centered position”, which you can see at the left of the image.

We’ve known this for 100 years

Humankind has already discovered the harmfulness of corsets. So how is it possible that we haven’t figured out the same with our shoes yet? 

But we have. Physiotherapist Marika Bajerová cites the book The Woman as a Family Doctor from 1923

“The general population quite unpractically stuffs its feet into footwear that the foot cannot adapt to without harm, that is, at the price of semi-developed joints, the friction of the corns that are created, and foul-smelling feet.”

A page from the book The Woman as a Family Doctor with an illustration of a foot crammed into a classic shoe.

The Woman as a Family Doctor from 1923. Source: Marika Bajerová’s Facebook page

Yes, humanity has known about the harmfulness of shoes for at least 100 years. But fashion is fashion. And if narrow, unnatural shoes don’t go out of fashion, we’ll continue binding our feet into them. 

How to take off the corset and not walk naked?

In the past, going out without a corset practically meant going outside naked. Unacceptable. 

People will turn around and look at you the same way when you go out barefoot. And you yourself might not like the feeling of the street under your feet. 

So how can you walk outside without your corset while not going naked? Look for shoes that don’t constrict you. It’s as if you were putting on a loose t-shirt instead of a corset.

How do you recognize shoes like this?

  • You have enough room in the toe box for the toes to move completely freely. 
  • The shoe is springy and flexible. It copies your movement.
  • It doesn’t constrict you. You feel that your feet are free. 
  • They’re not tilting you forwards. The shoe doesn’t have even the slightest heel.

It’s a strange feeling: Freedom and comfort

The moment you put on a shoe like this, you’ll feel like a lady of the past after taking off her corset. Or in modern times like taking off a tight bra after a long day.

It might be a little odd. Over the years in tight shoes, we've gotten used to the tight space. Freedom of movement is new to you. It might take you a while to get used to the fact that a natural shoe looks different than an unhealthy one. But you'll start enjoying the freedom and comfort the very first time you put them on.

But beware: Once you head out into the world without your corset, you'll never want to put one on again.

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