Margaret Jennings.


Why your love of stilettos may prove to be your Achilles heel

‘House of Cards’ Claire Underwood may like to stride around the White House in 6in Manolos but there will be a high price to pay as she hits 50, finds Margaret Jennings.

Why your love of stilettos may prove to be your Achilles heel

She is negotiating with Machiavellian skill the ruthless world of American politics, but Claire Underwood, the icy blonde First Lady in the Netflix blockbuster, House of Cards, may find that her Achilles heel is literally that, as she strides purposely and endlessly around in stilettos.

Underwood, played by 48-year-old actress Robin Wright, may live in the White House, but nevertheless it is her home, where most women kick off their high heels with relief, no longer needing to “keep up appearances”.

Not this First Lady though, who is seen wearing her Manolos and Louboutins in the kitchen, in the bedroom and even when she shares a forbidden cigarette with her husband, the closest they ever get to ‘winding down’ together.

But although she always seems cunningly a step ahead, Claire is not being too smart about the damage she is causing to her feet and her uber-erect posture, especially as she edges closer to her 50s.

Robin Wright, who plays Claire Underwood in House of Cards, wears her statement shoes in the kitchen
Robin Wright, who plays Claire Underwood in House of Cards, wears her statement shoes in the kitchen

“What happens a lot to women who are wearing high heels is that they increase their weight underneath the ball of the foot and this restricts the ankle — they can’t bend their ankle to walk forward,” says podiatrist Lorcan O’Donaile.

“The calves then become tight and shortened and it changes their posture position. As a result of having to compensate they may often have lower back problems and neck and shoulder problems, or pain in the front of the foot, through the balls of the foot.

"My advice is don’t do too much walking in them because there is a high price to pay.”

Even if you don’t warm to Underwood, you can feel her pain — if she’s not experiencing it now, she will soon.

The vast majority of female clients at Achilles Clinic in Cork, which O’Donaile owns, are aged 50 upwards and usually what brings them there are issues that have been exacerbated by those damned high heels.

But what about bunions — the scourge of our sensibly heeled grannies before us?

They can happen naturally because of “foot mechanics”, whether or not you wear tight shoes, says the podiatrist.

However for stiletto lovers, bunions can come quicker as the toes get driven down into a narrow space and squeezed together, confining their movement.

So for those of us whose one pair of stilettos rarely see the light of day, what can we expect to happen naturally, to our feet as we age?

“The biggest issue is you start to lose strength within your musculature and in your ligaments and soft tissue,” says O’Donaile.

“As a result of that you stiffen up to try and make yourself more steady.

“The physiotherapist at the clinic says that ‘motion is lotion’ so it’s good to keep exercising, as encouraging our mobility can definitely help.

"If an older person such as an 80-year-old is mobile, they may be fine, but if aged 60 and not mobile then they may not be — it’s not strictly down to how old you are,” he says.

However when it comes to shoe-influenced foot problems gender equality gets stamped out: “Men’s feet are generally better because of the type of footwear they’ve worn throughout life; that’s where the shoe has a negative influence.

"High heels are generally about fashion, whereas men are just concerned with comfort and they won’t put up with an uncomfortable shoe.”

But if you must wear the heels then toss them off as soon as you can afterwards, he says.

“And try and keep as flexible as you can generally so that your body will be more accepting then, when you wear a shoe that’s not helpful.”

Meanwhile, the fictional Claire Underwood could well take a leaf out of a real First Lady’s shoe style (good) sense.

Michelle Obama has made wearing flats and ‘kitten heels’ , no higher than two inches, a cool look, leading the way not only for other 50-somethings, but for younger women as well.

Though Obama may partly favour those styles because she is so tall, former first lady and US Democratic presidential campaigner Hillary Clinton, undoubtedly is favouring her kitten heels on the canvass because of comfort.

At 68, Clinton hopefully isn’t battling bunions as she negotiates those tricky primaries and caucuses.

But when it comes to being sensible about her footwear she’s in step with her male competitors.

Dual purpose

Women who have large calcium deposits in their breast arteries, more than likely have the same build-up in their heart arteries, according to researchers, who are suggesting that mammograms may serve a dual purpose in health detection in the future.

Researcher Dr Laurie Margolies, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, suggests when radiologists look at mammograms for signs of breast cancer, they can also see calcium deposits that have built up in the arteries that supply blood to the breasts.

Women who have large calcium deposits in their breast arteries have likely developed similar deposits in the heart arteries which would provide a warning sign of heart disease, she said.

Second spring

Menopause and ageing can leave midlife women feeling vulnerable. Add in the loss of self-esteem which can go hand in hand with hormonal symptoms, and it’s not surprising confidence can take a nosedive.

In response, Aisling Grimley, right, founder of My Second Spring, the Irish website for positive midlife and menopause, has organised a confidence masterclass called New Career, New Challenge: The Nudge you Need, on May 5, at 6.30pm at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin.

Hosted by change facilitator and body confidence expert Mags Clark-Smith, she will be joined by three women who have made — or are making— big changes at midlife.

It promises to be an inspiring and fun evening.

Tickets €30, available from:

Ageing Quote

We are always the same age inside

— US writer, Gertrude Stein

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