I was a strange breed in high school. While most of my classmates cruised the halls in their Hollister jeans and Birkenstocks, my girlfriends and I wore black trousers, pretty blouses and dressy heels -- every day. It sounds like a page torn out of the Mean Girls rule book, but we thought it was stylish to dress like a teacher (for which I was mistaken on several occasions).
When my tootsies weren't squished into my beloved pointy-toed pumps, they were stuck in flimsy cheer sneakers and unstable soccer cleats. I was a girl on the go, but midway through high school, my feet started to slow me down. Admittedly, I've never had great feet. They've always been flat and wide and a little bit stubby (kind of like the rest of me) and have even earned a distinguished nickname among family: 'Flintstone feet.'
After long days at school and practice, I started to have throbbing pain near my big toes and noticed the start of a protruding bone near the joints. The bulge is actually quite common (in grandmas) and is known as a bunion. Bunions are a bony growth on the joint at the base of the big toe, often caused by wearing too tight shoes and having flat feet. In some cases (like mine), bunions are believed to be the result of a genetic trait as well -- thanks Mom! For some people, bunions are just an annoying bulge that get in the way of them wearing strappy sandals, but for others like me, there is severe and near constant pain associated with them.
After a visit to the podiatrist, I walked away with a set of funny looking foot x-rays and a pair of $400 Orthotic shoe inserts, which are supposed to help hold your foot in a more normal position and relieve excess tension. I partially complied with the doctor's orders and wore my Orthotics in my athletic sneakers, but continued to pound down the halls in heels most days. (I was 17 and had social standards to hold up, sneakers not being one of them. Cut me some slack.)
I eventually became older and a little wiser, reserving my heels for weekend adventures and special occasions, but the pain, which ranges from throbbing to little electric shocks that radiate up my leg, hasn't dulled. The bulge has gotten bigger and my big toes are no longer straight, sporting a hard lean that forms a perfect 'V' when I put my feet side by side.
When at-home remedies like Advil and extra padding don't cut it, the next option is surgery. There are several procedures to consider, the most common being a bunionectomy, where the surgeon shaves down the bump and realigns the foot bones in order to straighten out the toe, but it's a notoriously risky and painful orthopedic surgery that knocks you off your feet for weeks and leaves behind an unsightly scar. In this case, surgery isn't a cure-all and can leave patients with limited toe mobility, a loss of feeling or worse, the return of the bunion.
While the jury's still out on whether I'll go through with surgery (I'm trying to find an opportune time when navigating the subway with crutches won't be impossible), right now I'm stuck trying to find shoes to put these malformed nubs on the end of my legs in. I'm not being scientific about this, but I'm going to estimate that my bunions add a good three quarters of an inch of width to what is already the widest part of the foot. While flats are the optimal choice for comfort and style, your generally adorable designer flats don't quite cater to bony overgrowths. I've resorted to shopping in plus-size boutiques that carry wide and double-wide width shoes, but admittedly, it's hard to find styles that don't make me feel like I'm in my mid-forties when, in reality, I'm freshly 24.
Despite shoe-shopping feeling reminiscent of the story of Cinderella and the glass slipper, I've learned to count my blessings. So what if my feet make natural snowshoes? I've got a great head of hair!