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Meet the 'Toe Whisperer' Who Fixes Models' NYFW Feet

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Photo by Getty Images
Photo by Getty Images

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The strict diets, the long hours, the endless body scrutiny: these are a few of the grueling conditions models endure just to meet the basic job expectations.

But to fully understand the harm some models do to their feet during New York Fashion Week—standing and walking for hours in killer heels, some not even sized properly—we sought the advice of an expert.

Gary Williams is an ortho-bionomist in New York City, and by performing the rare practice of osteopathic-based body therapy on models' feet, he's gained the powerful nickname, "the Toe Whisperer."

Models, tailors, and fashion execs have been banging down Williams' door, begging him to fix their feet, since he first started his practice in 1997. Williams, one of nine ortho-bionomists in the tri-state area, sees some twenty clients a week, with a 15-week wait for new clients. Fashion Week, he says, is one of his busiest time of year.

The Toe Whisperer's practice is all word of mouth; sighing dramatically, he explained he cannot advertise or have a website if he ever wanted some peace and quiet in his life.

Photo via Driely S.

"With the models, I unlock the things that are happening to their feet because of the footwear and the situation they operate in. I make them more comfortable in their feet so they can move and flow better," he explains. "I have a conversation with every joint and muscle in the body to redefine the balance and mobility in feet."

Williams started his career by treating tailors in the fashion industry that struggled with hand arthritis and poor posture. One tailor working on HBO's The Sopranos recommended him to executives in fashion, and word eventually trickled down to the model industry. Most of the models he treats struggle with bunions, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and dropped metatarsals—all of which are the basic side effects of wearing bad shoes.

"To me, the happiest sound is around 7:30 on a Friday night, when women come from the suburbs and their lovely four to six inch Jimmy Choos hit the ground because those are free range clientele. Those are the knee replacements and hip replacements of Christmas future," Williams, who is also a professor at New York City's Swedish Institute, said.

So just how much damage are our friends at Fashion Week enduring?

"The higher your heel goes the more your body thinks you're spending [hours] walking downhill so your center of gravity is off. Your muscles become tight in your back, neck, gluts, and calves, shortening the muscles, and over time, you'll find that other stuff starts to hurt because your putting more shock through it," Williams added. "At some point, when the damage gets bad enough, that becomes the only thing you can hear."

Photo by Getty Images

Williams works with models' feet to retrain the body's perspective; while he teaches them exercises to do at home and helps shift around limbs during sessions, he said the real work lies in killing bad habits.

"If you repeat the same behavior that causes the problem, the problem will keep coming back. There is no free lunch. I say: they have to make a decision. Do they want to look fashionable for some of the time, all the time, or do you want to just want to live with the problem?" he said. "I can make them function but if you try to look fashionable all the time, you will pay a price. If you use your body badly, you will reap the problems that come with it over time."

Williams said the worst pair of shoes a woman can wear are pointy ones. They crunch the toes, causing the foot to hit the ground differently and ruining the body's equilibrium. The shoes' effect on feet is like "trying to balance your body on the head of a pin." When heels are absolutely necessary, he suggests wearing shoes with thicker heels, and buying ones with full support from stores like Aerosoles.

Photo by Getty Images

Platforms and wedges are not desirable footwear either, said Williams: they are often the precursors of hip problems because a "clunkier" walk makes feet hit the ground harder and will tilt the pelvis over time.

And it comes to flat shoes, Williams isn't necessarily sold on every pair. He stressed the importance of finding a shoe that is comfortable from the moment its on your foot, and not relying on the shoe "to stretch after a few wears."

"The right flats have to do with a pelvic tilt: some aren't as comfortable as others," he said. "You need to make sure they are actually comfortable in the store, and don't expect them to change at home."

Williams recommends two at-home feet exercises for those looking to nurse their bottom extremities. First, he suggests taking a few minutes to walk around with the knees connected, "as if the knees are duct-taped together," while gradually picking up speed. Secondly, he recommends self-massaging the areas above, below, and beside the metatarsal bones. He noted the exercises will strengthen hip synapses and refines movements, and if anything, provide some comfort after you've kicked off those stilettos.