I've got terrible news for you. Right now, as you read this, if you happen to be wearing shoes, you're ruining your feet. Just the act of wearing them is doing incredible harm. How do I know? I currently can't wear almost any of my shoes due to my hurting feet. And it's all because I wore shoes. And not because I wore particularly bad shoes -- it's because ALL SHOES ARE BAD SHOES! Confused? I'll explain.
Take off your shoe right now and look at your foot. I'll bet you anything it looks like that foot on the right up there. And you know what that means? Your foot has been deformed -- most likely by your choice of footwear. I finally realized what was going on with my feet after I bought two pairs of boots in a row that I could not bear to wear for longer than 10 minutes.
And it wasn't due to the heel height -- I realized they were actually cramming my toes in together like crazy and pressing on my toe joints ferociously. A little bit of research told me the bad news: almost every shoe on the market, flat or heeled, has a toe box design that is too small and tapered to allow the foot to be properly aligned. The result? Foot deformity -- and painful bunions.
Read that again. Every single pair of shoes you own is likely deforming your foot. Permanently. And there's only so much you can do to prevent it -- short of joining a society that doesn't wear shoes. As Dr. Ray McClanahan, podiatrist and founder of North West Foot & Ankle in Portland, Oregon states:
"Unfortunately, the taper of the toe boxes on most footwear available in America begins at the metatarsophalangeal joints, instead of at the ends of the toes, where the natural forefoot shape is at its widest. Growing up without shoes keeps the shoe from pushing the great toe against the second toe, which is unnatural. The fifth toe is correspondingly not forced into the space occupied by the fourth toe, in the unshod state."
In other words, most shoes available for purchase these days are too narrow in the toe and cram your toes together unnaturally, causing them to overlap -- and painful bunions to start forming.
Some bunions are totally hereditary -- and no shoe can save those peeps from getting them. But if you can't wiggle and separate your toes inside your shoes freely, chances are those shoes are totally ruining your feet. Using the wiggle room rule, most of my favorite shoes are out. Even some of my sneakers don't pass this test!
But Dr. Ray wasn't about to let the bad news end there. Here, he puts the final nail in my coffin:
"If you wish to prevent or cure a bunion or hammertoe deformity naturally, you must be willing to view your footwear as health equipment, rather than as fashion statements."
Sounds attractive. I can't wait to be the costume designer trying to sell a room full of people on my rad style while wearing "health shoes." As visions of horrible nurse shoes floated in my head, I went into my closet and cleared out every pair of shoes I own that had a particularly bad, narrow toe box. 40 pairs, to be exact. Then I cried. And then I did the math.
It's a lifetime's worth of serious, dedicated shoe collecting right out the window. About $10,000.00 worth, since you asked. My clothes are usually from Target, but my shoe game is hella tight. That dollar amount includes this pair of boots that I paid over $800.00 for, have never been able to wear, and that I'm finally, tragically giving up on:
A few of those 40 pairs (like the boots) are going for resale, but the bulk of them are going to my local women's transitional residence. I'm equal parts devastated about this turn of events and...well, I sort of just don't care. Because there really is no alternative. Foot pain will send you screaming for mercy in one hot second flat.
My bunions are relatively minor as of right now, and I have to do everything I can so they don't get any worse -- because the solution to bunions that have gone too far is costly, painful surgery. And many times, the bunions come right back! Plus, in my current state, I can still wear fancy pointy-toed heels for very special occasions -- those whose bunions have gone too far simply cannot.
Here's my foot for comparison:
There's still time for me. In addition to starting a range of simple toe exercises, I also picked up this inexpensive pair of gel toe separators, meant to give your feet relief from being in a cramped position and gently re-align them.
I was ready for them to be pure snake oil, but my feet actually felt much better after a few minutes of wearing. I'm planning on upgrading to the medical quality version of them (that you can wear inside shoes!) soon. The end goal is for your toes to to be able to spread wider than the balls of your feet. (It's harder than it sounds if your toes are used to being crammed together inside tight shoes for years.)
Of course I also had to buy a bunch of new shoes so I can actually wear something besides flip flops in January. I stand on my feet 12-14 hours per day at work -- so my "daily driver" shoes have to be something that don't start to hurt at hour six. I dug around for the least horrifying options I could find that appeared to have a decent toe box size, and I've dubbed my new shoe style "glam/quirky/hippie." I ordered these four pairs for starters:
I hear you hating on those classic Wallabees up there, but I saw a girl wearing them with tights and a dress and I swear it was CRAZY CUTE. I'm going for it. But I'm a little afraid the toe on those black ankle boots is still too narrow, even though they are made by Clarks.
The other foot issue I've had for years with very flat shoes is lack of arch support. This can lead to painful shin splints and just overall aching feet. I recently found these clever 3/4 length insoles with arch support made by Orthaheel (grossest name ever) and available at this dorky website called Footsmart.com. They give pretty firm arch support without taking up excess room in your shoes. I now wear them with almost every pair of shoes I own.
I also started following this blog (and this one) which are dedicated exclusively to shoe suggestions for women with "fussy feet." It's mostly gag-worthy stuff I couldn't bear to wear, but every once in a while there's something worth checking out.
The silver lining of this whole ordeal is that I no longer need to lust over crazy, expensive shoes. No more drooling over every crazy Miu Miu heel ever designed -- because I know I can't wear them. They are just out of the question for me, forever. It's actually quite freeing. And on the rare occasions I do wear a pair of not-so-proper shoes, I've become fanatical about wearing my fold-up flats until I'm about to walk into my destination, and then putting them back on ASAP when I leave.
When I used this shoe-switch trick in NYC, I did wait until I was around the corner from the fancy party we left so nobody would know that I couldn't really hack my heels. You may be able to take away my favorite shoes, but you'll never take my vanity. I'm going down swinging. (Wearing sensible shoes, of course.)
I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison