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Illustration by Camilla Teodoro

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I stared at the glossy pictures of the current brood of Hollywood fashionista-starlets in the newspaper supplement – both admiring and feeling repulsed by the extravagant shoes they were wearing. Their clothes were beautiful, too, but it was the stilettos and pointy-toed creations that grabbed me.

The photos made me think several things: first, I wanted those beautiful, sexy shoes – all of them. Secondly, I realized I have finally reached that stage in life – the one where I am officially “out of it” with regard to the “in” actors, singers and arbiters of taste in the culture. I couldn’t name a single one of these celebrities! Nor could I name any of the movies they’ve been in. I could likely name the designers of the shoes they were featuring – so overpowering was my lifetime obsession with shoes.

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And lastly, I acknowledged and cried for my now disfigured, distorted, crippled feet – feet that could never, ever again wear those pretty shoes. My only consolation is that, after years spent in shoes of this ilk, I now recognize and can pass on the cautionary tale that these poor young women may well suffer my fate, too. I can already see the bunions beginning to form when I peer closely at the still young, nubile feet adorned by the thin, strappy confections.

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I’d like to think that, in writing this, I am doing a public service, warning the starlets and every other woman in the same predicament, of the fate that awaits them. But I also suspect that it will not necessarily deter anyone from destroying her feet in the attempt to look fashionable.

It’s hard going cold turkey. I have to admit, shamefully, that although I can’t wear such shoes now, I still occasionally find myself wandering aimlessly through the shoe stores at the local mall, drooling at the latest footwear. Many times I’ve been on the verge of asking a clerk to bring out my size in a whimsical, brightly coloured, heeled beauty – only to realize in the nick of time that I couldn’t possibly wear them. I shuffle away, red-faced and silent, in my orthopedic running shoes – the ones with the bunion pads tucked discreetly inside. Possibly I even shed a few tears as I turn my back on my dreams…

I have a psychological issue that dates back to my childhood to explain my shoe addiction. As a primary school student in the Dark Ages, I was told by a nurse that I had flat feet and must wear strong, sturdy lace-up oxfords, lest my arches get worse.

I was a tiny wee thing with spindly bird ankles. The clunky, ugly, boyish brown boots completed, in my insecure mind, the picture of me as an unattractive person destined to be thrown on the trash heap of life – preordained never to have a boyfriend or marry. And then, as if things couldn’t get worse, I was diagnosed with poor eyesight – leading to a pair of thick, horrific glasses. I was “Little Miss Four-Eyes” in clunky boots and well on my way to becoming a freak. Mortified at such a tender age!

A few years later – and I remember the day as if it were yesterday – I was finally allowed to toss the Oxfords and don my first real pair of feminine shoes. They were navy blue suede with red leather accents… and straps! From there, it was a slippery slope to the world of designer shoes.

I’ve watched the gradual progression (or regression) of my feet. The bunions have been coming for years. I have stopped wearing flip-flops or open-toed sandals. When everyone else on a Caribbean beach is either barefooted or wearing flip-flops, I wear runners to hide my feet. Recently, someone both curious and horrified at the shape of my feet, asked me if I’d been a ballet dancer when I was young. I wasn’t.

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My one saving grace was that I could claim honestly: “The bunions look awful but, miraculously, they aren’t at all painful!” That was true. Until it wasn’t.

Knowing how painful and difficult the recovery from bunion surgery is, I am doing everything I can to avoid it – up to and including every “miracle” bunion cure and toe straightening option available on the internet. One package after another lands at my doorstep. I am hoping against hope that one of the fixes will actually work … especially a rather medieval-looking torture device that appears to have a cranking device to pull the bone back into its correct position. I have a feeling I know how that turns out.

I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep up my rigorous walking schedule with the painful bunions. I walk a long way every day – except when it’s icy. Even then, I often don a pair of good boots with cleats. See the Intrepid Old Lady marching forth, ready to conquer the frailty of Old Age.

I must own my earlier stupidity and vanity. Thank goodness my own daughters wear sensible shoes. I hope they will escape the ‘Great Bunion Curse’. The experts say we model behaviour for our children. If that’s true, I’ve either been a very good or very bad example – or a genius in reverse psychology.

Laurie Best lives in Waterloo, Ont.

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