Do little girls really need Shape-up toning sneakers?

Sketchers is marketing their new Shape-up toning shoes to girls. (Photo:
Sketchers is marketing their new Shape-up toning shoes to girls. (Photo:

Studies already show that trendy toning shoes like Skechers Shape-ups-which have rounded or unstable soles that are supposed to help the wearer burn more calories by increasing "muscle activation"-don't really work. You might feel a bit of a burn while your body adjusts to your wonky balance, but you don't burn many more calories and you don't get more exercise just by wearing them.

But Skechers is still marketing the same type of toning shoe-and the same fitness claims. This time, however, they're not targeting women who want to look like Kim Kardashian in a sexy Super Bowl ad. They're targeting little girls.

The upbeat, animated commercials are airing on kid-centered TV stations such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. They show slim, confident girls rocking out in their Shape-ups and being followed around by surly, slack-jawed boys dressed up in junk-food costumes.

We're not sure what message they're trying to send. Shape-ups make hot dogs and soda unappealing? Toning shoes can keep you fit even if you indulge? Boys can eat and wear whatever they want, but girls should make sure they look perky, fit, and pretty? (Note: Skechers does not currently make Shape-ups for boys.) At any rate, given the sleek-and-slim tweens in the commercial and the snappy jingle-"Heidi's got new Shape-ups! Got everything a girl wants! She's got the height, got the bounce, yeah she's looking good and having fun, 'cause Heidi's got new Shape-ups!"-if the company claims to be taking aim at childhood obesity, they're courting the wrong kids.

The $50 to $75 price tag aside, some parents just aren't buying it. Over at, people are petitioning to have the kid-size toning sneakers pulled from the market.

"Women have plenty of time to be targeted for their weight throughout their lives," states the petition, which was launched by Augusta Christensen, who blogs at STFUSexists. "By not only marketing a shoe line to young girls, but also not even having an equivalent for boys, Skechers is sending a clear message to girls and women: You're never too young to start hating your body."

In response to the petition, Skechers sent the following comment from Leonard Armato, President of Skechers Fitness Group: "This person's concerns about Shape-ups for Girls are unfounded and way off base. The whole message behind Shape-ups is to get moving, get exercise, and get fit. This is the same messaging being used by the First Lady's Let's Move initiative, which is aimed specifically at children. Please look this site over and ask yourself whether the person who started the petition might voice the exact same concerns about the Let's Move messaging for children."

(Given that Let's Move involves nutrition education and exercise programs, doesn't attribute "looking good and having fun" to buying $75 shoes, and is not aimed exclusively at girls, we think that the probability of the petitioners accusing Michelle Obama of sexism is low.)

Last year, a research team from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, sponsored by the American Council of Exercise, tested different types of specialty shoes, including ones that promised to tone your leg muscles and burn calories. The bottom line? "There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone," the researchers concluded.

Skechers claims that their girls' toning sneakers "are designed for a wide variety of fitness activities," and the $50 Mary Jane style is "suitable for all day wear." But there are already lawsuits that claim wearing toning shoes for long periods of time or during actual athletic activity has caused problems. In February, "Good Morning America" featured a story about a 38-year-old waitress who says that she ended up with stress fractures in both hips after wearing Skechers Shape-ups to work for five months. And, according to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, there have been plenty of reports about adults with rolled ankles and other foot problems caused by wearing the shoes. Can you imagine the chaos in a gym class full of toning-sneaker wearing 10-year-olds?

We're all for encouraging kids to get in shape and fighting childhood obesity. But is marketing toning shoes to little girls really the answer?

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