Monday, November 6, 2017

Talking Australian: Fake News and Alternative Facts: The Melbourne Cup, Cafe belles and High Heels

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

It's Melbourne Cup Day on the 7th November and long after the media reports on the winners the media is full of pictures of the drunk incapable women usually in high heels making their pathetic way home or to the beleaguered emergency services. Now it does happen but why when reporting misbehaving cafe belles, high heels must always be included. After all it is not the shoes that are intoxicated but those who choose to wear them. The shoe police are quick to condemn the evil heel despite their being little or no independent evidence to support their claims.

In the absence of independent evidence, the health risks of wearing high heeled shoes per se is overstated. Complications arise from the limited research available because most studies involve static analysis; small study groups and research from sponsored sources. The body is kinetic (moving and three dimensional) and not static, hence other compensatory mechanisms may play a role which help prevent universal outcomes for everyone. Published studies tend to involve small numbers and are rarely repeated which makes it difficult to put much store by their findings. Finally, many studies are sponsored and or conducted by interest groups with a vested interest in the outcome. This makes it problematic to co-relate study findings and ill advised to extrapolate to the general population. This does not stop it from happening and no one can refute prolonged wearing of footwear unfit for purpose or ill-fitting will increase the risk of a critical incident but high heels are not necessary the primary cause of major injuries in the vast majority of cases.

Kinetic studies have shown elevated heels can increase mechanical advantage or push-off power (ankle plantarflexion) during walking. There also appear to be significant biomechanical compensations in the pelvic region to counter balance any critical alteration on the centre of gravity of the body caused by wearing high heels. The same mechanism is seen in pregnancy when there is a marked increase in body mass causing changes in deportment. Studies from Oxford University have shown no evidence to support cafe belle footwear (high heels) does lasting harm to the knees. When Harvard Medical School compared “knee torque" of high-heel wearers to low heel wearers they discovered the latter had greater torque across the knee. Heel height and knee torque alone however, does not account for added wear and tear (osteo-arthrosis) but all parties agreed, heel height may be one possible contributory factor in those people prone to osteoarthritis. Studies here in Australia, have shown close co-relation between heel height and balance in older populations and this may contribute to falls in some older adults. Other studies from Italy have suggested wearing higher heels can improve continence training by increasing pelvic floor tone. Now these are small studies and their findings lack the same legitimacy as those oft quoted research data to complement the argument high heels are detrimental. In truth the jury is still out.

Vested parties, in the name of the common good construct convincing narratives connected by either false causal links (alternative facts), or no a causal link whatsoever. Part of the allure is the information is presented by an 'expert' in a syntactic structure (radio interview or newspaper article). which implies strongly there should be meaning within, whether there is or not. The claims are further legitimised by common sense (i.e. personal bias), strengthened by compelling anecdotal evidence. Health foreboding based on no evidence is sadly typical of today’s ‘fake news.’ In the end, if unchallenged this passes for truth. If we examine the story in more detail we might see a moralistic condemnation of café belles i.e. Lady larrikins (ladettes) misbehaving in public.


Some historians believe the fashion for high heeled shoes arose as a modification of the chopine (the original platform). Shoe makers carved out the forefoot section of the platform and created a heel. This made the elevated shoe easier and safer to walk in. Elevated shoes had been known from early Hellenic times however this new phase of fashion was the first-time shoes were associated with the female gender. The true heel as we know it today was not introduced until the middle of the twentieth century when technology and design fashioned the stiletto heel.

In the sixteenth century, height challenged Catherine de Medici (1519 -1589) wore heeled mules when she married the King of France. She had moved from Florence, the centre of fashion and flair to Paris, and as was the custom took with her the costumes and customs of her heritage. Heeled shoes became an instant success and the fashion remained in vogue throughout her lifetime. Many experts believe this was the true beginning of fashion because it was the first time ever a costume lasted the life time of an individual. By the beginning of the 17th century, and after her death heeled shoes for ladies, became passé but high-heeled shoes became popular with men as well as a trademark of sex workers of the time. Men wore thigh length boots sometimes heavily decorated at the thigh and attached to the doublet by suspenders. Louis XIV (1638 -1715) became fanatical about them and banned anyone other than the privileged classes from wearing them on penalty of death. The Sun King was of short stature and may have preferred the borrowed height heels could give him. The heels of men's shoes often were painted with miniature rustic or romantic scenes. Different shapes were experimented with including hourglass heels. Also during this time men's shoes were ornamented with silver buckles. The Louis Heel was invented by Louis XV (1715-1774) was splayed at the base with a wasted section, which is still used in modern female fashion. He also introduced the white shoe to match his hose but red heels survived until 1760. The term "down on your heels" is thought to relate to the habit of the rich towering over the poor.

High heels for men were considered in vogue during the 17 & 18th century. Prior to the French Revolution (1789 until 1799,) contemporary medical reports described the changes in posture associated with wearing high heels. ‘Medical gaze' was firmly transfixed to women and ignored men completely. Women of distinction no longer wore heeled shoes preferring the new style of heel-less pumps and some authorities believe this was a veiled attempt to moralize by misogynists. This has recurred throughout modern history and often corresponds to women in the workforce. Heel heights lowered after the French Revolution and when the new socialist government ran short of money and men donated their silver shoe buckles to the cause, if they wanted to keep their head.

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