Did you know your toes are designed to have as much mobility as your hands? (Minus the opposable thumb, of course!) and there are people out there with amazing dexterity in their feet. Most people have very little mobility.
One of the reasons the toes (and feet) get so stiff is from wearing shoes that act like casts for your feet. The sole of most shoes is pretty rigid – you might get some flex around the ball of the foot but for the most part they keep your foot in the same position always sensing the same flat surface. Some even have a metal shank in the sole. Tapered shoe boxes are also very popular – but most people don’t have feet shaped like that, so the toes can hardly move when they are being worn.
Most people would agree that the Chinese tradition of foot binding is extreme but the deformation that comes from narrow toe boxes and stiff unyielding shoes is not natural. It is common – and therefore seems ‘normal’, but it is not.
The photo to the right shows a hallux valgus (bunion) that can occur from habitually wearing shoes with toe boxes too small for the forefoot and toes. The big toe joint is basically dislocated. And the practice of foot binding required the dislocation and breaking of the toes so they could fold under the ball of the foot.
Your foot should look more like the photo below. That’s my foot. I am fortunate that my feet are in pretty good shape because I was a skater, I took ballet and was on pointe, so they could have been a mess.
I was just thinking that one of the best things about wearing handmade leather shoes with highly flexible soles is the ease with which I can move my toes – anywhere, any time of the day. In this photo I am demonstrating the range of movement on my cobblestone mat with the ball of my foot draped over a large stone.
These shoes are by Soft Star, (Ballerines) but really, you should get the same amount of foot flexibility/movement with any minimal shoe, which doesn’t only mean that there is no heel (or zero rise). It also means the sole is flexible so that you can get as close to going barefoot without actually going barefoot.
I usually stand on my cobblestone mat without shoes of course. It gives a wonderful massage, different pressure and sensation on the foot, because even though my shoes are flexible, the ground I walk on the majority of time isn’t. I spend the bulk of the time walking on pavement and a level floor…these are casts for your feet too!
Why It Matters
It matters because problems with your knees, hips and lower back often begin in the feet. You may address the problem in those areas, but without considering how the way you stand, the shoes you wear, or how you exercise your feet – or whether you exercise them at all, is part of the bigger picture.
Most people are aware that moving their body in different ways is beneficial. We get stiff and sore (our muscles actually atrophy) from lack of movement. But we tend to not think shoes are preventing the full range of movement that the feet are designed for. Any range of range of motion that isn’t used, is lost: but not permanently.
For more on this, read Katy Bowman (Katy Says) interview with a Podiatrist. It is about children’s feet but the same principles apply. Then, check out Movement Revolution’s blog Becoming a Toe Ninja as the next step in getting more mobility in your feet.
But, be Sensible!
If you’ve worn rigid soled shoes with a narrow toe box and a heel (even a small one) all your life, make your transition slowly.
1. Begin by lowering the height of your heel a bit and get used to that.
2. Don’t trade in your shoes for flip flops (or any other shoe that requires toe grip to keep them on your feet, because you are just trading in one problem for another.
3. Be aware that your walking gait pattern will probably change so be mindful of doing hard hiking, pounding on city pavement or running while wearing minimal shoes until you build up more mobility (and strength) in your feet.
I recently read an article on The Broad Side about aging and Frances McDormand, called, “Frances McDormand is My New Hero After Saying ‘This is What 57 Really Looks Like.”
I love the way Frances McDormand looks (always have) and love that she refers to laugh lines and furrows as a road map of what your life has been, and how having work done erases part of your history.
As McDormand points out in the video below, not everyone ages well. It would be easy to say she looks great at 57, looks more like 47, but that is missing the point. There is something about the phrase ‘aging well’ that irks me. As if those who aren’t aging as well are deficient.
Women our age can probably remember the phrase ‘she let herself go.’ The pressure, subtle or overt, to stay in the game is always there. But then if someone in the public eye gets plastic surgery it is all over the tabloids. “Does she or doesn’t she” used to mean dying your hair, now it means face lifts and botox. You are criticized if you don’t and blamed if you do.
I agree with Frances, that the willingness to look your age; to value the experience that shows in your face and your body, is a subversive act. Not playing the you-are-as-young-as-you-look game makes you a bit of a bad-ass.
In an interview with the New York Times, she says, “Looking old should be a boast about experiences accrued and insights acquired, a triumphant signal that you are someone who, beneath that white hair, has a card catalog of valuable information.”
I agree, and yet..
Me, at 57
I am also 57 and for the past couple of years I have begun to feel a bit marginalized. From my perspective this is the age when we (women especially) begin to become invisible, but no generation is completely like the previous. Boomers may feel this more than other generations: after all we are the generation of cool when you can still be a rock star (and sexy) well into your sixties. That has to change how Boomers feel about aging, doesn’t it?
We are all a different age in our minds than our chronological age, anyway. So it is hardly surprising that, as McDormand says:
“We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species,” she said. “There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.”
Well, not everyone, obviously, but I appreciate that the pressure is there to look a certain way to get jobs. It sometimes seems like the biggest game of the Boomers is The Pursuit of Youthfulness, but there is a sub-culture of new role-models for female aging that we can embrace: some by their words and actions such as Frances McDormand, and others who let the road map of their life experiences be seen: Jaimie Lee Curtis, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Helen Hunter, Terri Hatcher, Julianne Moore, Jodie Foster, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer are some names who come to mind, among the famous, beautiful people.
I think we are all aware that there is a shift in how old ‘old’ is (60 is the new 40, etc.) but here is an opportunity to revolutionize how women are supposed to look as they age. Click the link below to see the interview with Frances McDormand.
Frances McDormand on Aging
Control tops. I never thought I’d wear those again, but then I bought new jeans.
They are the first pair of jeans I’ve had in a few years and I choose these (out of all the rest) because they fit perfectly at both the waist and hip and are even the right length. So naturally I bought 3 pairs (denim, black and white jeans). They also happened to have a special slimming feature around the mid-section (cue ominous music.)
They were a bit snug but my experience with jeans is that they always stretch and the black and white ones did just that, even becoming a bit loose. But the denim ones didn’t. I don’t know why but assume it is a combination of the fabric and the pocket placement which is The Special Slimming Feature.
I am no longer accustomed to having my guts sucked in like that and it hurts! Probably it always did hurt but I must have put up with up it. Maybe I was more accustomed to ignoring the pain signals from my body.
Why it Causes Discomfort
Have you ever thought about where the belly goes when you put on control top hose, jeans or ‘Spanx’? Maybe it is wishful thinking but I think a lot of women think (and marketers would have us believe) that the fat layer is compressed and smoothed, and nothing else. Sadly, that is not the case. If you’ve ever suffered the indignity of ‘muffin top’ you know that the fat on your belly can suddenly appear above your waist band. The solution is to get even more ‘foundation’ to control that bit of flesh too.
When your belly is sucked in, whether you are sucking in actively or because you are wearing control top pants or underwear, pressure is put not only on your fat layer and abdominal muscles, but the internal organs underneath. (Also see my article Squats vs Kegels.)
If you take a balloon and put just enough air to inflate but not stretch it, and squeeze it in the middle, you’ll see the balloon change shape as the air displaces up and down. That’s what’s happening to your guts when you compress your abdomen.
Space has to be created for them somewhere, right? The displaced intestines shove whatever is below and them, like your bladder and uterus, out of the way. I don’t know if there are any studies to prove it, but my belief is when the organs are compressed in this way they get less blood flow and oxygen and, in a muscle, this can cause pain.
And if that isn’t enough of a concern, that compression continues right on down to the muscle and ligament layer that holds all your abdominal and pelvic internal organs in (as in not falling out of your body) – your pelvic floor. Downward pressure is bad news for your pelvic floor. It is why we pee a little (or a lot) when we laugh or sneeze, and can cause uterine or rectal prolapse. Downward pressure isn’t the only cause of incontinence and prolapse, but it is pretty significant.
All this for a slimmer looking belly? That’s nuts. Who made flat bellies the benchmark anyway? Maybe, by our genetic make up, some bellies are meant to be round, like some people have long waists or red hair.
Listen to your body! Unless you’ve just injured yourself (stubbed your toe or cut your finger) pain isn’t normal. It is common and therefore appears to be normal but pain is always a signal from your body that something is wrong. And a lot of the time ‘what’s wrong’ is entirely under our influence to change.
All this from a pair of jeans.
So what can you do? For starters, get your pants in a larger size. Forget what the size says on the label says. Be a Belly Freedom Fighter!
Whenever I clean, I pull out a few items that I haven’t used in a while and set them aside to dispose of. Usually I take them to my local thrift shop that supports Seniors.
When I do a bigger clean (like my wardrobe) I always find things to part with – even when I think I am done. It is because I (still) after all these years, convince myself that I need to keep it.
I think it is quite reasonable to keep outfits that are dressier – that you perhaps only wear a few times a year, but it is also reasonable to keep them to a minimum.
Among things I am parting with is a full length paisley silk skirt with velvet underskirt. It is gorgeous but after a couple of winters without finding exactly the right thing to wear with it, I’m done and I’m passing it on for someone else to enjoy.
Part of clearing clutter is also getting to know your own style. It seems every season I get caught up in something – it might be advertising or even the latest ‘must have’ lists – that I know isn’t me. I prefer solid colours that I can change with scarves or jewellery. Whether I’ve paid a lot, or a little, I get huge mileage out of those garments, while the patterned things I buy end up taking space until I admit I made a mistake.
Have you noticed a pattern with the clothing you rarely wear? Do you give away the same time of clothes every season? Perhaps it is a message that you aren’t listening to what you feel the most comfortable and natural in.