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It has not been popular for men to wear high heels since the late 18th century. Some men see the cultural norm, which often mandates that women must wear heels to look professional, as completely unproblematic. However, women report that they are often painful to walk in, and commonly result in negative side effects to joints and veins after prolonged use.
In a 2016 study from the Sahmyook University in Korea, researchers wanted to investigate the effects of high heels on the activation of muscles in the cervical and lumbar portions of the spine which refers to the neck and lower back. Thirteen women were recruited to walk down a walkway in three different testing conditions: barefoot, in 4 cm heels and in 10 cm heels. Surface electrodes were placed on the muscle mass of the women’s spines as well as their feet to measure the electrical activity of muscles at different points of movement. The results of the study indicated an increase in both cervical and lumbar muscle activation as heel height increased. The cervical spine, the neck, assists in maintaining head stability and postural control in the body. The usage of high heels shifts the body’s center of mass which forces the spine to adjust itself in order to maintain balance. The researchers mentioned that over time these results would increase local muscle fatigue that could lead to muscle swelling, decreased muscle movement and even tissue deformation.
The intricate and complex history of high heels has led to a variety of cultural thoughts and lens through which people view them today. Firstly, it is very exclusively gendered in the sense that few men wear high heels in present times. Secondly, magazines like Playboy, as well as other media sources portraying women in a sexual way, often do so using high heels. Paul Morris, a psychology researcher at the University of Portsmouth, argues that high heels accentuate "sex specific aspects of female gait", artificially increasing a woman's femininity. Respectively, the arching of a woman's back facilitated by wearing high heels signals a woman's willingness to be courted by a man. Keeping this sexual undercurrent in mind, heels are considered fashionable for women in most cases. It could be semi-formal with a "button down silk blouse…jeans and high heels." Or, it could be formal with a dress or pants suit. Finally, 20th and 21st century cultural values have dictated that high heels are the norm in professional settings for a woman. Some researchers argue that high heels have even become part of the female workplace uniform, and operate in a much larger and complex set of display rules. High heels are considered to pose a dilemma to women as they bring them psychosexual benefits but are detrimental to their health. The 21st century has introduced a broad spectrum and variety of styles, ranging from height and width of heel, to design and color of the shoe.
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