I Can’t Wear High Heels

Hi, my name is Jamie Peck and I can’t wear high heels.

I know, wow, my life sucks and you should feel really bad for me. But it’s okay. Allow me to back up a bit and explain.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that the women in my family have terrible feet. My mom, for example, was always (and remains!) ridiculously beautiful above the ankles, but like the painting in the attic, her feet are as ugly as the rest of her is pretty. Some of my earliest memories involve being frightened of them. I’d post a picture, but she doesn’t allow her feet to be photographed.

The reason my mom’s feet look like this is because she has bunion bones. We all do. Basically, this means that the bones in our feet grow the wrong way so that our big toes point outwards and mess with the rest of our toes, too. People with bunion bones are supposed to wear ugly, flat, supportive shoes for their whole lives or risk horrible pain and deformity. But that’s no fun! Blithely ignoring doctor recommendations, my mom was a dancer for many years, which is hard on even normal feet. Then later, when she became a lawyer, she wore a lot of high heels and shoulder pads, because that’s what lady-lawyers wore in the 80s. Now she’s a retired lawyer who still loves to take dance classes, but it’s never a given how much longer she’ll be able to keep doing it.

My mom didn’t want my feet to end up like hers, so she’s always impressed upon me the importance of sensible shoes. This was a hard message for me to swallow at first. High heels are hot! They make your legs appear longer and more slender! And when I realized 5’4″ was as tall as I was going to get, I wanted to be able to increase my stature, because I’d rather be a loud, domineering tall person than a loud, domineering short person. Just think of the stereotypes.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I occasionally experimented with high heels (maybe I just hadn’t found the right ones yet?) but always found I could only wear them for an hour or so before I had shooting pains. It’s for this reason that I wore sneakers with everything well into my twenties. But because I am a grown-up lady now, I try not to do that anymore. (At least not all the time.) Complicating things is the fact that I’m a vegan and won’t buy new leather. Buying shoes is a fucking nightmare for me. At any given time, I have approximately two pairs of shoes that I wear. I wear them until they wear out, and then I get them fixed. If I can’t get them fixed, I begin the dreaded process all over again. I hate shoe shopping!  [tagbox tag="high heels"]

I could always get the surgery to have my feet fixed, but the thing is this: they don’t bother me that much, so long as I don’t try to wear heels. Bunion surgery is an arduous process that involves breaking both your feet and re-setting the bones the right way. Because it’s a bad idea to have two broken feet at once, this means you spend the better part of a year walking with crutches. I do not want to wear sexy shoes badly enough to put myself through this.

I guess my purpose in writing this is two-fold: to ask for advice on where to get shoes that are not totally ugly, and to say that wearing high heels is by no means necessary. Unlike in my mom’s time, it’s much more socially acceptable than it used to be to wear flats. There are lots of good-looking flat shoes out there, and some of them even come in wide. I’ve also embraced my shortness, because I’m not getting any taller. It actually has a few advantages; I can date short guys, for example, without having to worry about it being awkward. (I’ve always had a thing for shrimpy little dudes.) And some people think being short makes you cute, like a leprechaun. I’ll take it.

And if anyone has any advice on where to get non-leather shoes that look good and feel nice on my poor, deformed feet, I’ll take that, too. Because I love the ankle boots I’ve been wearing every day, but those won’t be much help in the summer time. Post your suggestions in the comments, please and thank you.

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    • Ms. Pants

      They ain’t cheap, but they’ll last you forever: Fluevogs. Here’s the vegan options: http://www.fluevog.com/code/?w%5B0%5D=search%3Avegan&search_return=s%255Bsearch%255D%3Dvegan

      There’s a store on the corner of Mulberry and Prince (250 Mulberry) in SoHo. Have ‘em fit you, as the sizes can run wonkity.

      I’ve got bunion bones too. And some seriously wide-ass Flintstone feet. I love my Vogs. There are a few families I can’t wear because they’re too narrow (the Miracle family, especially) but everything in the ZaZa line (which isn’t Vegan, sorry) are fanfuckingtastic! Also, there’s ebay. That way, it’s not new leather, technically.

    • Rose D.

      Have you tried any of the new Crocs? Not the ugly ass clogs, but their cute (and super comfy) new flats. And they are plastic, so no leather! http://www.crocs.com/carliana-peep-toe-ombre/11839,default,pd.html?cross=proddetail-Adrina-Flat-II_Carliana-Peep-Toe-Ombre

    • Heather

      Great article! Have you tried Beyond Skin vegan shoes? They make gorgeous flats as well as heels a plenty… Check them out at http://www.beyondskin.co.uk they ship worldwide too. Happy shoe shopping! x

    • Joelynn

      I got this bunion surgery when I was 15, my feet were that bad. It’s only 3 months on crutches, which still sucks, but not unbearable. The surgery itself isn’t even that bad either. But you will have huge scars on the top of your feet, which I decided to embrace. I totally love them.

      I still can’t wear heels though, because I have insanely flat feet, so they hurt me anyway. But no more bunion pain!

      • Cindy


        Your response caught my eye because I’ve had pancake-flat feet my entire life and that’s led to bunion issues for both feet. I don’t have bunion pain, just the toes pointing out in both directions. Last summer, I broke a bone in my right foot (the bunion is much worse) just walking one day, but even with that I’m still and trying desperately to avoid surgery. It would be more complicated surgery than if I’d done something when my bunions first started years ago.

        Anyway, my concern is if I ever do get bunion surgery to get my toes fixed, they will just end up growing deformed again because I’ll still be walking on flat feet, which caused the problem in the first place.

        Long way round of asking — did your bunion issues ever come back again?

    • Tania

      I don’t have bunion toes, but I do have skin so sensitive that it blisters and bleeds when I wear new shoes for longer than half an hour (a literal half hour, not a hyperbolic half hour). “New shoes” includes wearing flip flops for the first time since the previous summer, and nothing feels quite like a blister between your toes…

      So I feel your shoe-finding pain (real pain). The best shoes I ever had were a pair of cloth ballet flats with an elasticized band to keep them on my feet. I wore those until they fell apart.

    • Lo

      The rule on flat shoes is ‘comfortable, stylish, reasonably-priced; pick two.’

      I’m on my feet all day at work, so I like my ballerina pumps. The first obstacle is shitty construction: yes, I can feel every detail in the floor through those paper-thin soles. My feet are narrow, and without a strap across the foot, those buggers slide right off. Barely anybody takes the trouble to put a strap there.

      I’m commenting here mostly to bitch, but also in the faint hope that someone can point me toward the following shoe:

      1) Flat ballerina pump-type-thing, in a reasonably waterproof fabric, with a strap across the foot.
      2) Comfy soles that don’t resemble roughly-hewn concrete blocks.
      3) What is up with that goddamn Frankenstein stitching on comfy flat shoes? I don’t want my feet to look chunky and rustic; I want to not bleed out of my toes.
      4) Not black.

      I’ve been looking for this shoe for years, sifting through the Clarks and Hush Puppies until I’m cross and drinking. My most recent purchase was a pair of surprisingly nice Teva hiking sandals, but that was a year ago. Jamie, good luck.

      • Jenna

        Lucky brand flats are comfy for me, and they have that elastic at the back, plus they’re fairly cheap and come in lots of colors.

        My favorite flats are Riders though, they are super comfy and the way they are made you can add thick insoles in addition to their comfy soles already. I have borderline bunions from playing roller derby and these are always comfy.


      • Lo

        Thanks – I hadn’t really considered elastic at the back before, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

      • Marie J

        Finally someone gets me that “comfort” shoes are not comfortable! What’s up with those stitches?!? and when its not the stitches its made of really non-malleable leather.

    • Eileen

      Ballet shoes.

      Not “ballet flats” types, but actual canvas shoes from a dancer’s shop. They can give them extra support so you can wear them as regular shoes (I know this because when I was in high school health class we had to plan a wedding, and the lady at the dancer’s shop said that for a wedding, they’d reinforce the soles).

      I mean, you’ll still want your sneakers for walking a lot, obviously. But they’re pretty for dressing up.

    • Caroline

      I own about as many pairs of shoes as you do, bunion bones or not – but for non-leather I recommend MooShoes on Orchard St, south of Broome; they have a website, obviously, if the shop is out of the way. I’ve found some great shoes there in the past, and reasonably priced, as well

    • marsha

      have you tried neuaurashoes.com. i buy some of my vegan shoes from them and they have a lot of flats for spring. i bought the ivy style recently and the laces let you adjust to your feet width…and they’re very comfortable. here’s the link – http://www.neuaurashoes.com/ivy-pine-green/ good luck!!!

    • Molly

      My feet were and toes were a nightmare from wearing heels. I started wearing SmartToes Toe Stretchers, and it made a huge difference in my comfort level. I got them on Amazon.

    • E.D.

      My grandmother had awful bunions in the 80s – the only shoes she could wear for long periods were jelly shoes.

      My aunt (now ~70) is in a wheelchair now because she didn’t heed the warnings on the bunions that run in my family. She wore 4-5″ heels forever, developed bunions, and screwed up her knees.

      I’m starting to notice some pain in my left foot and the start of a potential bunion. Luckily, I’ve never worn heels over 2.5″ and only on Sunday. I’ll have to get a toe-stretcher and start cutting down on heels, and I’m under 40.

    • Callie Peck

      While I can wear heels, I never do because of the pain (and the fact that wearing heels in New York seems akin to insanity–apparently a tolerable one for most but not me).

      1. ridiculously hot flat, pointy boots. Short, tall, booties–bring em on. Perfect for hiding extra comfort insoles.
      2. oxfords: shiny for evening, matte for day, spiked or studded for…well…anytime. Again with the insoles.
      3. pointy flats in bright colors for dressup. I hate the look of ballet flats because they make me feel like a china doll. But adding a shaped toe and some toe cleavage sexes it up. If I’m feeling sassy, I’ll buy a comfy pair and add swarovski crystals to them

    • Gillian


    • Laura

      This article could have been written by me. I have inherited buniony feet so always wear flat shoes, I am short, and I too will not buy new leather. Mostly I hate shopping, but I actually like shoe shopping. Flat veggie shoes have improved so much in the last 20 years.

      First stop for advice is the ace blog at veganshoeaddict.com. Shimrit, who writes the blog does wear and write about heels, but she features enough flats to cause my bank balance problems. Her most recent entry is a pair of cute sandals. It is also her fault that I now have an addiction to vegan TUK kitty shoes (4 pairs at last count).

    • Kathleen

      Well, I’ve got a related but different problem- starting to develop one bunion, on my right foot only. And it started only after I’d gained significant weight and in fact worn heels LESS frequently because weight made me feel wobbly. And I have feet in the 4.5 to 5.5 US range. What feels best is basically adequate arch support- or at least having the arch in the right place. If I try to size up to get a wider shoe on that foot, the arch is all wrong. And It’s also too wide for the left foot. And companies that make wides shoes, often don’t make them until size 6 or 7.
      Ballet flates almost never give enough support.
      I need 2 inch heels in flexible materials, no binding vinyl.
      Losing weight has helped, and the bunion isn’t too bad yet, so I’m hoping more weight loss and supportive arches will stop it.

    • andywattbulb

      High heels can seriously damage your spine and brain. Don’t do it.

    • Stewardess

      Hi there,
      I love your article, and an feel your pain…
      sorry I cant offer any advice as I buy leather shoes…
      Good luck with the hunt :0

      • Marie J

        i buy leather shoes! please help me!

    • Luisa

      Shoes are tricky! Luckily I live in CA by the beach so the days of being expected to put on 2″ heels are pretty much gone – shwew!
      If you can’t move to the beach you might want to try Bunion Bootie. I love mine and do wear it just to make the bunion more comfortable when it acts up. Size down if you don’t mind snug. They are great and my chiropractor likes them b/c it brings my big toe back to it’s rightful position, which helps alignment.

    • Amber

      Let me know when you find out! Go barefoot and spend shoe money on pedicures! I am thinking I will. I wear Vibram Five Fingers, but they are not pretty…. bunionsurgery.wordpress.com

      • Marie J

        I was just talking to my husband about fully embracing my flip flops and going for pedi’s you’re right on ;)

    • cordwainer

      Wow…are there really people so shallow they actually believe it’s “socially unacceptable” to wear flats?

      Come on, people, and especially women. We’re more intelligent than that, aren’t we? “Fashion” was invented by advertisers and marketers to convince gullible, insecure people to spend money on clothes they don’t need just to be “in” or “hip” or “fashionable”.

      But “socially acceptable”? Seriously, there are really shoe bigots out there?

      OK, sure, there are things that are “socially unacceptable.” Like murder, torture, child abuse, domestic abuse, crime, theft, fraud, prejudice, hatred, discrimination, etc., etc., etc.

      But heels can’t be “socially” acceptable or unacceptable. There’s no morality or law or equity or humanity attached to them. They have nothing to do with what is cceptable to society as a whole, in order to co-exist peacefully and prevent others being denied the rights and privileges to which law and humanity entitle them.

      The writer has obvious confused “society” with “the fashion industry,” or “snobs” or “bigots” or “bullies” or “advertisers” or blah blah blah.

      “Socially” refers to “society” which refers to “people” which means “ALL people, not just the gullible and stupid”

      In other words: You need to consult a dictionary (and maybe a good therapist too), then re-writing the article to use a different phrase.

      Because “socially acceptable” doesn’t mean what you think it means”

      What a depressing article. Why not write something useful, like, “I Refuse to Wear High Heels,” or “I Refuse to be Pressured into Injuring Myself by Designers and Manufacturers Who Only Care How Much Money They Make And Who Don’t Care If Chinese 5-Year-Olds Suffer and Die In The Process.”

      THAT might impress me. This is just pitiful.

    • Gina

      I live in the Caribbean and were I to fall prey to peer pressure I’d probably be wearing 4-5 inch heels just because it’s the fashionable thing to do. However, I have very wide feet. I wear a size 10E or 10WW and in addition, wearing heels just makes me entire body ache. I would rather be comfortable than look like everyone else so I pretty much stick to flats or a super comfortable height heel. On the extremely rare occasion that I wear a high heel, I do so when I’m going to an event where I’lll be standing for less than 30mins. I don’t think I compromise on style either. I try to buy fashionable flats and zappos.com has a wide range of styles to choose from. In the end you’ve got to decide which is more important to you. Your health/comfort or looking like everyone else. I certainly choose the former.

    • Laura

      I have big bunions, crooked toes and to top it off, I broke my ankle and it never completely healed right. Finding shoes now is very difficult! However, thank God I have found one brand that has saved the day for me; Kalso Earth shoes. They are spendy but worth every penny. They are the shoes that everyone wore in the 70′s but now they are so much cuter and there are sandals, oxfords and adorable boots. Try them! I find more shoe styles on line at their web site then at the stores. Good luck.

    • Melynda

      I shop at Clark’s when I am looking for teacher shoes! Most of them are cute, stylish and uber comfortable!
      I have bunions too and have had them since 6th grade when I started Pointe. My grandma has them too but she didn’t dance. It happens I guess. Bunions suck but there are cute shoes for them!

    • Belinda

      I agree with the commenter who stated that this article is depressing. Why do you need to be reassured that it’s OK to wear flats? For goodness sake, it’s up to you what you wear on your feet and if you’re confident with your decision to wear flats then it doesn’t matter what others think.

      I have rheumatoid arthritis and back problems plus my mother has got terrible bunions, so I’m probably at risk too. There’s no way that anybody is ever going to convince me that wearing heels is a good idea for any reason because I value myself enough to not do something that will most likely to damage my health. I certainly do not need anybody’s reassurance that this is the right thing to do.

      I think though, even if I were healthy, I still wouldn’t wear heels. When I’ve worn them on occasion in the past I have felt vulnerable and somewhat limited. In my flats I feel confident and I enjoy the feeling of stability that they provide. They can’t be just any old flats though: I find that ballet flats are nearly as uncomfortable as heels because they provide very little support to the foot.

      As I still like to wear pretty shoes, my solution is to wear shoes made by the company Alegria. They provide support, comfort and they come in a range of colours and designs. I wear the Mary-Jane versions with everything from skirts to jeans and I like the way they make me look and feel. This probably won’t be useful to a vegan though, as they are made from pigskin.

      Oh, and one other thing that’s bugging me about this article is that the author claims that 5’4″ is short. No, it’s not. It’s actually the height of an average woman. I’m short at 5’1″ and I absolutely love the height I am. I think the writer needs a serious dose of self esteem.

    • Jane

      I feel the same way! (except for the vegan part) I have had bunions on both feet for as long as I can remember. Way before I even started wearing high heels. But if anyone is looking for special occasion fashionable shoes specifically designed for women with bunions, check out Julie Lopez Shoes. Web site is julielopezshoes.com. The are the most comfortable high fashion shoes I’ve ever worn even though they are 4 inch heels. There’s room in the toe area for your foot and the shoe doesn’t rub or put pressure on your bunions. And as for the comments below saying women should get over high heels and just wear flats, I have to say that flats can irritate my feet more than other shoes. And who would want to wear flats to a special occasion like a cocktail party, wedding or out to a nice dinner?!?

      • Holly LaPlante

        The ones I ordered from her site were only a width of B which was in no way bunion friendly. Which shoe did you order?

    • Anonymous

      Bunions ugh they suck…especially over the summer time. I’m so self conscious of my feet, it’s horrible. But I have a trick for heels! I use a cotton ball on each foot to protect my bunions from the corner of the heel (where most of the pain comes from) and feels amazingly soft and eases the pain tremendously. My Aunt always said “hey, you’d rather have a pretty face and ugly feet? Or pretty toes and a ugly face?” Haha, it made me feel better and think..it can always be worst! I learned to love my feet, bunions and all!

    • Anonymous

      Bunions ugh they suck…especially over the summer time. I’m so self conscious of my feet, it’s horrible. But I have a trick for heels! I use a cotton ball on each foot to protect my bunions from the corner of the heel (where most of the pain comes from) and feels amazingly soft and eases the pain tremendously. My Aunt always said “hey, you’d rather have a pretty face and ugly feet? Or pretty toes and a ugly face?” Haha, it made me feel better and think..it can always be worst! I learned to love my feet, bunions and all!

    • lulu

      Hey don’t worry, even with the surgery, you may still have pain. I went to a wonderful doctor but since I waited until they had progressed to a very advanced angle, my feet will always hurt. I had one foot done so far. It looks normal, but there is still pain. I think arthritis had already set in to the joints. So the bunion foot hurts after a day of walking or bad shoes, the surgery foot hurts during but not after. So I still can’t wear heels. I just thought I would let you know. that. :)

    • FrenchyCaroline

      I totally know what you mean Jamie, my mum and nan have both bunions! and they’re pretty huge…It’s genetic and I think I will have them too sooner rather than later. But if you fancy pretty heels for women like our mums, you can check out Caroline Macaron / http://www.carolinemacaron.com, it’s a French brand that offers elegant shoes concerned by bunions. Hope this helps

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    • Marie J

      Please help me too! I’ve abandoned high heels a long time ago. Its not even about that anymore. I cant find a pair of flats. I wear rubber flip flops the whole day and whenever I am in a situation that I cant wear rubber flip flops or sneakers I am in pain. I dont even want the super cute shoes, just the non-orthepedic looking ones that I can wear with a dress! Plus, some of the orthopedic ones while having a wider front are so restrictive that they end up being worse in terms of comfort, and then I go back to the rubber flip flops. please help anyone if you know ONE pair of black flats that can work with bunions. Anything. I cant find a single one out there. I am talking about trying every single brand from the super expensive lanvin, cole haan, to orthopedic and “comfort” brands like naturalizer, to the cheap stuff at dsw and target. I currently own about 20-30 pairs of shoes not because I am shoe obsessed but because I cant wear shoes. It not only about vanity, wearing sneaker and flipflops only is really bad for my self esteem. Please help? If you know of a place that makes custom made shoes that’s the route im thinking of going now…
      and no: I’m not getting surgery, and no I dont need endless amounts of options or colors or anything like that. But I disagree with the commentator below that there isnt such a thing as socially acceptable shoes. People ARE bullies, and young women in particular! I always fee judged (like when they do that head to look at you). I am checking out the options that the commentators below gave: alegria and clarks. If anyone has any other recommendations please share

    • Holly LaPlante

      I was hoping to find a pair of shoes that were cute for my son’s wedding. I found the site promoting Julia Lopez’s shoes as being “bunion friendly.” They were promoted as fashionable and so comfortable that even bunion sufferers could wear cute shoes again. I wasn’t hoping for a “high” heel. Just SOME heel. The shoes were very pricey but I ordered them for this special occasion. They arrived today and the width is a “B.” REALLY?????? That isn’t even the normal width for a shoe for a person without bunions, is it? I couldn’t get more than 3 toes into it and now I have to pay for a “restock” charge to return them. Very, very disappointed in Julia Lopez Company.