15 hottest products of 2008: Skyscraper heels

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Once upon a time, towering high heels could only be found in the pages of men's magazines like Exotique or Bizarre, where women strapped themselves into 5, 6, 7, or even 8-inch heels. To the extent that these outrageous shoes existed in the real world, they had to be made-to-order from companies that specialized in the fetish trade. In 2008, however, skyscraper heels, such as Christian Louboutin's 5-inch Lola pumps or Lanvin's cone heels have been burning up runways and punching holes in red carpets. From Victoria Beckham to Gwyneth Paltrow, fashionistas have been pushing the trend ever higher: in fact, some reports state that Louboutin is experimenting with an 8-inch heel. By comparison, standard stilettos are about 4 inches, and anything over 3.5 inches is considered high.

When Americans think about weird self-mutilations, the conversation usually turns to the so-called "Giraffe Women" of Burma, or the lip plate-wearing Mursi of Africa. Every so often, however, American culture takes a weird left turn, making it possible to talk about the strangeness of our own practices. Like 1990's facial-piercing craze or the subsequent primitive tattoo trend, skyscraper heels demonstrate that Americans are far from immune when it comes to bizarre beauty practices.

While high heels were originally designed to increase the height of 16th century nobles, their role in 20th century United States has generally been aesthetic. In addition to increasing height, they make leg muscles more defined, force the wearer to walk with an upright posture, and elongate the calf, creating a more statuesque profile. Unfortunately, they also are linked with a wide variety of health problems, ranging from bunions and hammertoes to tendon problems and knee disorders. Beyond this, they also make it difficult for women to walk, an effect that some liken to Chinese foot binding.

Recently, the health effects of high heels have become even more defined with the development of so-called "Cosmetic Toe Amputation." Also known as a "toe tuck" or "toe face lift," the operation involves cutting open a toe, scraping away at the bone, and sewing the digit back up. This, in turn, causes the toe to atrophy, a process that is comparable to the development of shrunken heads. Supposedly, this operation makes it easier for women with wide feet to wedge themselves into stylish Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo pumps.

Even barring reports that repeated high heel usage render many women effectively lame, there is little doubt that the shoes take their toll on their wearers. According to some reports, 75% of the patients who hobble their way into podiatrists' offices do so because of high heel usage. Here's hoping that the skyscraper heel trend slows down while America's women are still able to walk!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He has never worn high heels, despite a youthful flirtation with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.


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