I don’t want to be my mother, or, more exactly, I don’t want to be her feet. She is a dual-footed bunion bearer, wearing sandals or gym shoes for as long as I can remember in order to accommodate these growths.
Like some kind of teenager determined to revolt against parental say-so, I found an affinity for shoes, especially those with pointed toes, closed sides, straps, buckles and general full foot coverage. I wear sandals in summer, provided they are built for beauty and not comfort and stoop to gym shoes for exercise only. Once home, my fingers fly through the laces, shedding those clod-hopping, bunion friendly monstrosities as soon as I can.
Shoes are important to me and, as such, I’ve always been a proponent of high heels. However, I’m on the short side and consider a two-inch heel as much a necessity as undergarments or mascara. I don’t leave home without elevation. In fact, I don’t leave the bedroom, as those two inches make a difference as to whether or not I can reach to the back of middle kitchen shelf. When I was young, I wore my roller skates in the house, just for the sense of domination it provided me, at least over the countertop. Shoes were my way of fighting back in a world meant for those of average height or greater.
Then, I developed a bunion, right there at the base of my big toe on my right foot. And it hurt. I put a corn cushion on it and slipped, barefoot, into a brown suede Anne Klein pump. It still hurt. I wore the shoes anyway. Surely this was a temporary swelling and, given enough cushioned protection, would flatten itself out in no time at all. Never mind that the thing is made of bone, hard, unbending, unrelenting bone. Its likely cause is ill-fitting shoes. To be exact, shoes that force the toes to slam up against each other and cause pressure to be exerted toward the front of the foot. In other words, a sweet little shoe like my pointy-toed, two-inch Joan and David is painted as nearly demonic.
I’ll admit I do own a couple pair of flats, but they don’t go out in public much. Though they’ve never given me cause to do so, I address them like naughty children, grounding them in their shoe cubbies most of the time. I’ve come to realize I treat my shoes with a perverted prejudice; higher heels simply demand, and get, more respect from me. Research will back me up on this. Studies have shown tall people earn more money, have greater status and command more deference than their shorter counterparts.
Now here’s the bunion kicker — there is no cure. No amount of padding or even surgery will assure a pain-free walk in the park unless “proper shoes” are worn. I have my own definition of “proper” and it does not include anything resembling a man’s oxford, flip flops, bedroom slippers or a shoe used in conjunction with any type of athletics.
Some of the problem is due to age. When we are young, the balls of the foot have a considerable amount of fatty tissue to protect them. Add more than a few decades and those fatty deposits dissipate or even slide towards the toes. The result? Less protection than ever against the ravages of a beautiful pair of high heels.
I’ve noticed more shoe manufacturers are producing comfortable, yet stylish, footwear. Perhaps as the Baby Boomers continue to deny aging, someone will create a line of shoes that look like a pair of Jimmy Choo platform stilettos, but accommodate bunions like a Dansko sandal. Why, before you know it, women without bunions will be wishing they had them, clamoring for shoes that meet the criteria of fashion forward while retaining the comfort level of fashion backward.
In the meantime, I’ll be easing my bunion, covered with multiple corn cushions, into shoes designed to keep podiatrists in business. I realize that, at times, I may be forced to forego the cushioned defense because the design of the shoe may not be such as to completely hide my little turgidity. In that case, I guess I’ll just have to practice unprotected shodding.
At least, that is, until I develop a bunion on my left foot.
— Heidi Griminger Blanke
Heidi Griminger Blanke writes regularly for several local magazines in western Wisconsin and has penned a yet-to-be-published collection of humorous essays about aging. She has published several academic articles, written many newsletter articles for nonprofit organizations and presented at a writer’s conference. She is currently trying her hand at fiction.