I always thought this was just part of being female. You wake up, you apply powders to your face to make parts of it different colors, you walk to work, your feet bleed. There is simply no way to look as professional in a shift dress and Allbirds as you can in a fleece vest and Allbirds. Beauty is pain, I figured, and so is professionalism.
Derek Thompson: Everything you wear is athleisure.
More women than men suffer pain from their footwear, according to podiatric surveys, and similarly, more women than men say they’ll suffer for the sake of their shoes. A few years ago, there were stories of, ahem, well-heeled women getting “pinky tucks” and toe-shortening surgery so their feet could fit their shoes, rather than the other way around.
Studies reveal the excruciating outcomes of this disparity: “In women ... those who wore good shoes in the past were 67 percent less likely to report hind-foot pain, after adjusting for age and weight,” one big study from 2009 notes. “In men,” the authors added, “there was no association between foot pain, at any location, and shoewear,” possibly because fewer than 2 percent of men in the study wore “bad” shoes.
My own bad-shoe wearing peaked in college. My friends and I would walk home from bars so wracked by agony that we would take our shoes off and walk on the freezing, filthy cement. Only recently, when I was in so much pain after work that I seriously considered reliving my college days—walking down the Metro escalator barefoot and carrying a pair of blood-splattered loafers—did I decide to take this problem to a couple of podiatrists.
The foot doctors, first, validated my feelings. “Women’s shoes are tighter; they’re meant to fit tighter around the toes and the heel,” Cary Zinkin, a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, told me. “They’re made to make your foot look as slim as possible.”
But Marlene Reid, a podiatric physician in Naperville, Illinois, told me “it’s not normal” to be julienned by your own footwear, as I am on a regular basis. I was surprised to learn that you shouldn’t have to “break in” shoes. They should not be painful the first few days you wear them. “If you try on a shoe that hurts from the outset, don’t buy it,” Zinkin said.
All feet are different, and so are all shoe sizes. Any shoe that’s too loose or too tight can cause a blister, Zinkin said, and a lot of friction can actually rub away the skin, which appears to be what’s happening to me.
My feet don’t look like any of the feet that show up in a Google-Image search for this, but Reid suspected that I might have what’s called a “pump bump,” a bony growth on the back of the heel that makes it hard to wear pumps—and other kinds of dressy shoes, apparently. She suggested that I try “heel lifts,” little insertable wedges that might hoist my bump out of harm’s way.