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Shoes: Now a substitute for a healthy lifestyle

Booty call: Hey, Reebok is on the phone. It says you can skip the gym.

It’s hard to remain deaf to Reebok’s EasyTone, the latest muscle shoe to join the faddish genre of footwear that claims to make your boobs jealous of your butt, as Reebok so delicately puts it. But Reebok’s marketing offensive (and offensive is the right word on many levels) makes it impossible to keep our head buried in the sand until the commercials, billboards, and bus adverts fizzle.

The shoe’s come-on is this—destabilizing pods on the sole force you to engage muscles and work calves and glutes. The inventor got the idea from Bosu balls. As Tara Parker-Pope points out in her recent piece Firm Body, No Workout Required?, “the studies don’t show whether more engagement leads to meaningful changes in muscle tone or appearance over time. Nor is it clear whether the high level of engagement continues once the walker becomes accustomed to the shoe.”

The EasyTone has been recently lambasted for its homely design coupled with creepy, sexed-up commercials—our friends at Social Workout did a particularly smashing job. But this sneaker is not the first shoe to insult us with its claims or its hideously unwearable design. What genuinely surprises us is the popularity these so-called slimming shoes enjoy.

dr scholls toning shoes
The focus has shifted from legs to butt, but the spiel remains the same

We have nothing against comfortable walking shoes, and, yes, designers should design more of them. What bothers us most is the pernicious undertone that walking in these shoes is a substitute for working out. Grocery shopping in these shoes doesn’t elevate your heart rate or improve cardiovascular health, and yet the shoemakers would have us believe that reaching for a bag of Smartfood makes us fitter. These companies—including sports-minded Reebok—are handing Americans yet another quick-fix solution to weight loss, getting fit, and maintaining our healthy good looks. Hope in a jar, for the moment at least, has moved onto hype in a shoe.

What lead us to this sad cultural low? We bring you a timeline of muscle shoes on the market:

1968: Dr. Scholl’s exercise sandals
Our moms wore these podiatrist-backed flip-flops for the promise of toned calves. By 1972, the company had sold a million pairs. They sure looked cute, but their heavy wood soles proved to be too treacherous for stairs. And back to the podiatrist our moms went.

If it's good for you, do you care how it looks?

1996: The MBT
The most successful toning shoe to date stands for Masai Barefoot Technology (apparently the Masai have perfect stride and no joint problems). The destabilizing, curved-sole “anti-shoes” take a “radical” marketing stance against flat ones, which MBT calls “weapons of mass destruction” to the body’s health and posture. So MBT is one part footwear company, two parts full throttle crusade against attractive shoes everywhere. We suggest they lay off the fallacious foot activism and focus on design: Although they’re priced like a pair of Sigerson Morrison flats at $250, MBTs look like something a fourth grader would get socially shunned for. This means most New Yorkers would rather drink recalled cans Slim Fast than sample MBT’s supposed slimming effects (though we realize they’re fantastically financially successful on the whole). This oversight opened the door to other brands making similar claims without sacrificing design.

2007: The FitFlop
Bliss founder Marcia Kilgore goes back to her personal-training roots to create and market these “workout while you walk shoes.” Her epiphany came at a cellulite seminar (no joke, to those of you who attend legal and accounting conferences for a living), and she developed a line of footwear with the premise that women are more likely to run errands than to go running. The FitFlop range seems more design-savvy, and includes Ugg-like boots and Merrill looking slip-ons, in addition to almost attractive flip-flops. In the last two years, the company has sold 4.8 million pairs.

Designer Anna Sui worked with FitFlops on the new Shakoha boots

Spring 2009: Shape-Ups from Skechers USA
This wasn’t the company that improved on the look of MBTs. In fact, these are far worse. But that didn’t stop the main street lifestyle-shoe company’s commitment to creating 53 versions of them. Shape-Ups may have bested MBTs on price point: They run $110, reflecting their mass market demographic. And they might outshine MBTs in sales, too. According to WWD, which dubbed them Launch of the Year, Shape-Ups are slated to make $100 million in sales in 2010, mostly off a “new group of people seeking a healthier lifestyle.” Or a shortcut to one.

Are we missing a muscle shoe on the market? Tell us, here!