These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Aren’t They?
A Barbie doll’s feet are made for female fashion footwear. Ironically, the human foot is not. Yet, in spite of the foot and back problems that plague many women, it remains difficult to find cute, comfortable shoes. And when you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, it can be nearly impossible.
I have long hated shoe shopping for this reason. High heels, and even not-so-high heels, put too much pressure on my toe joints and make my knees hurt. Most of the adorable flats and ballet-style slippers I admire on other ladies have little to no support, leading to achy knees and hips. While I’m far from a fashionista, I’m still not ready to resign myself to the orthopedic shoes my grandmother favors. So finding an attractive pair of shoes that remain comfortable throughout the day has become my personal holy grail.
When I was younger, footwear had not yet become the bane of my walking existence that it is today. I always had to put comfort before fashion (or pay the price for an evening spent in heels), but it wasn’t until a few years ago that my toes became really painful. They are incredibly sensitive, and respond to mild pressure with shooting pain. What should be a minor toe-stubbing is instead excruciating, and when my small children stand on my toes, either accidentally or in play, it can bring me to tears.
At some point after this developed, I discovered negative-heel shoes, meaning that the heel is actually slightly lower than the toes. They took a little getting used to (I actually had sore hamstrings the first few days I wore them), but I found they relieved a lot of the pressure from my toes, and were far more comfortable than anything else in my closet. They’re a little bulky, but some of them are pretty cute, actually meriting compliments from others from time to time. Negative-heel shoes made such a difference that I invested in about ten different pairs to coordinate with various colors of winter and summer wear, and I was happy enough when it came to footwear.
Then came pregnancy. As happens with many women, my feet seemed to grow along with my belly. Obviously my feet weren’t actually growing, but my shoe size was. A woman’s body releases hormones that loosen ligaments to facilitate childbirth, and this process can also loosen the ligaments in one’s feet. In addition, the extra weight carried during pregnancy can flatten one’s arches. So while a pregnant woman’s feet may not actually “grow,” they may indeed take up more surface area and require larger shoes.
This was the case for me. During my third trimester I found that hardly any of my shoes remained comfortable. Unfortunately, my feet never did return to what had been a very reliable size 9. In addition, I developed bunions. While shoes that are too tight are never comfortable, if they are pushing against swollen joints shoes can become downright painful.
This is when my search for the “good enough” shoe took on the proportions of a personal quest. While the length of my foot remains a size 9, the width and height of a 9 rarely accommodates my swollen toe joints. Going up a size doesn’t help, as my foot is then sliding inside the shoe, causing my toes to instinctively grip, which ends up causing pain. I have one pair of shoes that is nearly perfect in terms of fit and comfort, but they are far too casual for dressy pants and too rugged to match with skirts and dresses. I often alternate shoes, as one pair may feel good on my toes yet leads to pain in my knees, and another pair may be great for my knees but leaves my hips aching. Therefore I’ll rotate my almost-perfect-but-too-casual shoes with a good-toe shoe, a good-knee shoe, and a good-hip shoe so that no set of joints becomes too inflamed from consecutive days of shoe-induced discomfort.
And so my search continues. Even in the age of online shopping with free delivery and free returns I have a difficult time. I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered 10 different pairs at once, thinking that surely at least one of them will work, yet upon trying them on I find that I have to send back every pair. While shoe concerns may seem superficial, our feet are the foundation of our bodies, and when the foundation is off, everything else can follow suit.