The ‘Cinderella’ craze sweeping the US involves women with perfectly healthy feet getting their baby toes amputated so they can slip into stylish stilettos, writes Aileen C O’Reilly
We live in an era where what we wear on our feet says more about us than the words that come out of our mouths… Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Alexander McQueen, the red flash of a Louboutin…these are the names that can bring a gasp of pleasure and simultaneous financial pain.
But the pain incurred, apparently, is no longer confined to our credit card. It seems, in relation to our obsession with designer heels, I am part of a rather elite club. I discovered this by accident in the midst of a conversation regarding women and their attitude towards designer footwear… and their own feet.
Over the course of the past two months I have had both my fourth and fifth toes on my left foot amputated due to type 1 diabetes complications. I do not mind this in the slightest as it doesn’t affect my balance and my foot is healthy again. It also finally matches my right foot which had these same offending pinkies removed seven years ago for the same reason.
And this is where my membership of this elite, chiefly American, club came to light.
Chatting to the group about whether my four amputations would secure me a 40% discount on a pedicure, one of the girls piped up “oh my God you’re an actual real life Cinderella!” The moniker refers to a type of surgery sweeping the States whereby women with perfectly healthy feet and a penchant for designer heels are handing over €3,600 to have their baby toes removed so they can fit their newly streamlined feet into pointy stilettos.
I must admit the reduction in the size of your feet post-surgery is a fact — I used to be a size 7. I am now a petite size 5.
The name is more fitting than you might at first imagine — especially as the tale of Aschenputtel, the original Cinderella story written by the Brothers Grimm, involved the two ugly sisters desperately lopping their toes off in order to fit their less than slender hooves into the tiny glass slipper.
These days these same less than perfect fat, flat, misshapen, overly long, bunioned and calloused feet are the focus of the cosmetic surgery industry. Look around you — our tootsies are being treated to pedicures, shellac polishes and nail extensions — but that’s only the tip of this particular iceberg.
Further research into this latest “hot zone” introduced me to realms even the most self-confessed foot fetishist would baulk at — commonly requested procedures among our Stateside and UK sisters now include liposuction (for “toe-besity”), toe straightening and shortening, fat-pad injections, forefoot contouring and the aforementioned amputation of the baby toes. Yes, Kim K. had silicone injected into the balls of her feet prior to her wedding in order to make the wearing of those to-die-for heels more endurable — but please remember we are talking about a woman who had corset training and breathing classes before wearing that infamous Thierry Mugler dress to this year’s Met Gala Ball.
While these elective procedures may give women the tootsies they dream of — albeit at a very high price (notably not covered by medical insurance) they conversely put them at unnecessary risk of infection, nerve damage, chronic pain, and other complications. Not only this, but it should be remembered that even with bunion surgery there may be a recurrence of the deformity that was supposedly fixed and ensuing chronic pain when wearing not just high heels, but all shoes.
While researching this fascinating new area of cosmetic surgery my eye was caught by London’s elite Cadogan Clinic on Sloane St — most notably because there in black-and-white their menu of services offered “Cinderella surgery”.
Dr Kaser Nazir, the clinic’s cosmetic podiatric surgeon, is, however, keen to dispel any myths about what his surgeries entail.
“Yes, I have had several women come into me asking to have their baby toes removed and I have asked them the same question — will you be happy to go around barefoot or wear sandals if these toes are removed? Both women left. There are procedures that we can carry out to make feet look more aesthetically pleasing. We can remove bunions and bunionettes which will reduce the width of the foot and we can straighten crooked toes or shorten overly long ones but there is a line of mutilation you simply do not cross — infections can easily set in.
“I have been handed photographs of feet and told “this is what I want. Make my feet look like that”. I have even been asked by a woman to reduce her feet by three sizes. That is just not possible. I am a surgeon and my first duty is to do no harm.
"What I have done in cases where I have dealt with dancers or models is inject fillers into the balls of their feet — not for cosmetic reasons but purely to ease the pain they endure when walking, even in flat shoes, from a lack of natural fat in that area.
“While reconstructive procedures address problems that cause daily pain and disability in the feet, cosmetic foot surgery deals with perception of style and beauty. I strongly feel” he concludes, “ in cases where women are asking for amputations on healthy, if aesthetically unpleasing, feet then psychological assessment should also be employed”.
Christine Kiernan is head of podiatry at Tallaght University Hospital. While many in her profession would espouse the ideal of flat, comfortable, sexless shoes she is a realist when it comes to women and their footwear.
That being said she flinched when I asked her for her considered opinion on this latest trend. “Choosing to remove a healthy, functioning, piece of your foot, for cosmetic purposes, is actually quite a shocking thing to do.
“Cosmetic foot surgery purely for the purposes of fitting into shoes should be a VERY cautious decision” Christine warns, “wearing high-heeled narrow fitting shoes over time can seriously impact foot function. Your feet are sore for a good reason when you kick off those ‘car to bar’ strappy sandals. They are puffy because they are being traumatised while carrying your body weight around on a high, narrow heel”.
The funny thing is, I generally find I end up with the kitten heels stowed away in my bag and my chic little Parisian flats on my altered feet on a night out. A wise lady once pointed out a simple truth - “remember girl, the deep frown on your face in those photos is directly proportional to the height and narrowness of the heels you’re suffering in…”
Sparkly diamanté flats go with everything darling.