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Digging My Heels In

Digging My Heels In

I’ve recently learned to embrace flats (shoes).

Trust me. This hasn’t been easy.

I’m 4’11”, so for me, heels are kind of a necessity.


I have RA. And every time I wear heels, I very quickly end up regretting it.

I should know that if the most comfortable shoes hurt my feet by the end of the day, why would I expect anything less from heels? In fact, I usually can’t make it the entire day when I am wearing heels.

This is especially an issue because I have nodules on my right foot, and even the front of heeled shoes tends to cause problems and discomfort.

But there is a part of me that still desires shoes that look cute and pretty.

I recently found a pair of shoes that are super comfy. The catch is – maybe you guessed it – they’re kind of ugly. They’re not ugly ugly, but they aren’t super cute either.

But they are just so amazingly comfortable. My feet feel like they are floating on clouds. And that says a lot, right?

In New York, I always see women walking in these ridiculously high heeled shoes, and I’m jealous.

I know that some people have a separate pair of shoes and they wear the more practical ones and then change.

But at some point, practicality has to trump vanity – at least when it comes to myself.

When you have RA, it’s hard to be vain. It’s hard to really care about your looks when you are exhausted and don’t feel good.

Believe me, the temptation is definitely there. I want to care about my appearance. I even want to put some time into focusing on it. But then comes the realities of RA, and that stuff doesn’t seem to matter so much. It gets put on the back burner. There are more important things to worry about.

But I think there’s also no shame in trying.

I hate prednisone because it makes me hate the way I look. And for me, the potential benefit isn’t really worth me hating myself over.

I know that for me, I have gravitated more to purses as opposed to clothes and shoes.

My body has changed, and trying clothes on is kind of depressing these days.

And trying shoes on is downright painful. Plus, I’m still so tempted to buy shoes that aren’t practical, and that I end up regretting after I wear them.

So what’s the point, really?

No matter how hard I try, I just end up disappointed in this regard.

But I’m stubborn. Really, really stubborn. And when everyone else my age is wearing five-inch stilettos, it’s just another reminder that I’m different, and that my priorities may be less frivolous than those around me

It’s function over form, that’s for sure. And that often means that you’re giving up style for comfort.

And to me, that seems like an apt comparison to RA in general. It’s definitely function over form, all the way. The thing is, it’s important how joints function, not how good they look, although that’s definitely important, too.

So this is a hard balance if, like me, you haven’t thrown all of your previous, pre-diagnosis life out the window. I’m kind of a shopaholic, but these days, the most adventurous I get is (and I don’t really buy clothes or shoes from them; books mostly, and random other stuff).

So how do you balance caring about what you look like, while also being realistic about RA, what it does to your appearance, and what you are forced to give up because of it?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Christy
    5 years ago

    I can definitely relate! I recently wore low heels to an event figuring there wouldn’t be a lot of standing. I was wrong and miserable!

    My feet took the brunt of my RA at first and I have erosions and soreness still.

    But, I must confess, I still wear heels from time to time. the difference now is that I try to be smart about when I wear heels (ie not all day and not days I have to walk much). I also spend more for more comfort. I recently found a pair of low heeled ankle boots by Clark’s that are cute and spectacularly comfortable. I think the key is great cushioning and room for a bit of swelling width wise, but no extra room to let feet slide forward and crunch toes. (it’s an imperfect art, Haha). I also have heels from Crocs. They’re not the cutest, but they’re simple, comfortable, and you’d never know they’re Crocs.

  • Vicki Heckroth
    5 years ago

    I am only five foot tall and have worn heels most of my life. They are so cute and also make me taller. However after having both knees replaced last August it is now not even a choice. I gave all of my cute shoes and boots to my daughter and have had to buy low heals and flats. Now I don’t just feel fat from the meds but short again as well. I live in a smaller town so the options for shoes I have is Walmart or shoe sensation. Neither of which carry cute flats or low heels. My surgeon has let me know that I can never wear heels again. That heels tend to wear out new knees pretty fast. Any suggestions for this small town girl to feel like she is in fashion again. And if possible taller. I really want my cute boots back but that is just another part of this disease I have to accept.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    Vicki, are there any DSWs or Famous Footwear near you? They have really big selections of all different kinds of shoes.

  • Jane Burbach
    5 years ago

    Hi Vicki,

    You might try Zappos online. They have free shipping and free returns.
    They have everything.

    Lots of cute flat styles. Ballet slippers, mules, riding boots, ankle booties. Not sexy, lol, but at least cute.

    I got a pair of leopard smoking slippers at Walmart that look great with skinny jeans or leggings with a long sweater to cover the bum.

    Happy shopping!

  • Jane Burbach
    5 years ago

    I can definitely relate to this post. It’s funny to see women walking for blocks in heels or wearing them all day in the office – though I used to. I gradually started buying flats and wedges long before the RA diagnosis out of necessity. The RA has affected my feet first and the most – witnessed by xrays that show erosions. The hammertoes, daylight sign, and callouses on balls of feet are obvious. My feet have changed but they are not exactly deformed.

    There are some sort of cute shoes out there but it’s definitely function over form. I like the mule-style Skechers with memory foam, Naot (love their sandals), Clarks, Merrells, etc. Pricey but they hold up well. I also like slip-ons and my Naots have Velcro. Memory foam slippers travel with me. I still have some heels – pumps, slingbacks, and boots and none are over 3″.

    I drive long distances for my work and comfort is crucial. I like ponte skirts with elastic waists, sweaters, and tights. Accessories are important since the clothes are plain – scarves, statement jewelry, handbags, etc.

    Good grooming always me feel better. I have an easy hairstyle that is just below my shoulders and I wear it up most of the time, but can do different styles with it when the RA cooperates. Could do better in the mani-pedi department.

    I’m 48 and might not care as much but looking good does help me feel better. Comfort is key.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    Jane, you’re right. Comfort is key.

  • Su Regonini
    5 years ago

    Don’t give up on finding cute shoes! There are lots of great brands out there that are known for their comfort, but are also showing more and more stylish shoes with wider toes, more stable heels, etc.

    Yeah, so maybe stilletos are out for us, but flats and chunkier heels are in style now, so sayeth the fashion gods. Find a cute but comfy unique shoe or boot (I LOVE wearing boots !), and style an outfit around it. Find a purse that doesn’t stress your shoulders and back, and get it in a color or style that is “you” and draws attention away from those parts of your body or wardrobe you don’t like as much or that you have to compromise a bit of style for comfort. Try a new haircut or color, maybe even some cool glasses–trust me, I’ve had RA for over 15 years, but I adore fashion and having my own unique style. For most of those years, I was also very overweight, and for awhile, I also used a cane; however, I never really wanted to hide. I figured if people were going to be staring at me limping my way through my day anyhow, then by God, I was going to make sure I stood out for my style, not just my disabity!

    Everyone has to deal with something they don’t like in their lives, and for those of us with chronic illnesses, we have to learn to change what we can, but embrace and make peace with the things we can’t. I may not always like the changes in my body from medications and fatigue and pain-related reductions in physical activity, but I don’t have to let the ways I have to adapt be dull–let your personality shine through!

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    Su, the personality things is good advice. However, I think when you’re younger, you want to keep up with the people around you, and it’s just another reminder of the things that I cannot do because of my illnesses.

  • Felicia Riley
    5 years ago

    I like to wear heels as well. I now look for heels with the platform support in front. They work better for me when I want to wear heels. I try not to go over 3 inch heels in back. Rounded toe shoes are way better than pointed toe shoes.

  • Ali
    5 years ago

    I can completely relate to what you are talking about. I have made many mistakes wearing heels and then regret it all night (usually at an event I should be enjoying, but end up complaining). I try really hard as well to look put together but as you know when you are exhausted or in pain it is really the last thing on your mind when you are trying to get things accomplished.

    My body too has changed. The medicine I know plays a part in this, but I am confident that I will get back to where I want to be. One foot in front of the other. You’re doing great! Thanks for sharing!

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks, Ali!

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