Size 8 Is the New 7: Why Our Feet Are Getting Bigger

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Premiere Screening of FX's "American Horror Story: Asylum" at the Paramount Theatre on October 13, 2012 in Hollywood, California.

Bad news: Our shoes aren’t getting smaller. Our feet are getting bigger. According to a new report by the National Shoe Retailers Association cited in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the average woman’s foot has grown by more than a size over the last three decades.

(MORE: The Real Truth About The Female Body)

The human body is constantly evolving, and as nutrition for people in the western world has increased (as has acccess to high-calorie junk food), so have body sizes.  At the beginning of the 20th century the average woman wore a size 3.5 or size 4 shoe. This increased to a 5.5 in the forties and remained this way till the 60s. By the 1970s, the average female foot was a 7.5 and now, forty years later, the most common foot size for the American female is somewhere between an 8 ½ and a 9.

“People are getting taller and heavier, as they have for generation after generation,”Podiatric historian William Rossi told the lifestyle blog Divine Caroline. “And their feet are getting larger in proportion to their bodies.”

It’s not just a U.S. phenomenon. The U.K. tabloid Daily Mail recently reported that the average size of British women’s feet has grown noticeably over the past five years and attribute the growth to changes in diet and an increase in obesity. The newspaper reports that “medical experts believe that eating high-density foods such as pizza and processed foods during puberty stimulates the growth hormone.” As British podiatrist Matthew Fitzpatrick explained to the BBC, children’s soft and supple bones can grow and spread under excess weight. “When you are young the bones in your body haven’t hardened. So if you’ve got a foot in which the bones are still forming and an excessively heavy child putting the weight on that foot, the arch [of the foot] flattens.”

(MORE: Study: Obese Kids Have Less Sensitive Taste Buds)

The question is, how do women feel about this increase in size of their feet? Many loathe the thought of going shoe-shopping, held back by the embarrassment of buying large, masculine-looking shoes. Stores often fail to stock shoes at the upper end of the curve, reports Women subsequently buy smaller shoe sizes out of embarrassment, which can result in foot pain and injuries.

Nevertheless, people will have to learn how to live with the bodies they were born with; few women, we’d imagine, would want to go back to traditions like the excruciatingly painful foot binding of imperial China. But with celebrity role models such as Kate Winslet (shoe size 11), Evangeline Lilly (size 10 t0 11) and Rhianna (size 9), women might be encouraged to embrace their larger feet. Thankfully, there’s an end in sight, so don’t worry that future generations of women will have to trade in their Blahniks for a pair of clown shoes. While feet will continue to grow in the coming decades, explains Rossi, they will eventually reach a point when “nature says enough.”