Trussed up in skin-tight leather on the school run or tripping off a transatlantic flight in full make-up and a head-to-toe catwalk "look", Victoria Beckham has become a poster girl for the "never knowingly underdressed". But photographs of Posh shuffling along a Californian beach in some uncharacteristically casual flip-flops displaying her halluces valgi – that's bunions to you and me – are a reminder that there can be an ugly side to high fashion.
Few parts of Posh's anatomy have not been scrutinised at some time or another, but the progress of the Beckham bunions has been charted on-and-off for the best part of a decade. The former Spice Girl has soldiered on in her favourite 5in Louboutins, pouting through the pain and on only a handful of occasions resorting to flat shoes. Now, however, she is said to be gearing up for a date with an orthopaedic surgeon to have the deformity corrected.
For Mrs Beckham, the physical discomfort can only be eclipsed by the embarrassment. As a woman who has sunk so much time, energy and cash into modelling herself into a walking (not so much talking) fashion plate, such a deeply unglamorous affliction must rankle. What good are pin-thin thighs or the latest Hermès bag when people are gasping in horror at your gnarled feet?
Like a bad case of dandruff or chronic halitosis, bunions provoke sneers rather than sympathy, not least because of a common belief that they are caused, or at least exacerbated, by ill-fitting shoes. Posh's footwear might be the finest Italian leather, but as she totters through LAX airport her stunted gait looks about as natural as her tan. In the "poor you" stakes, it seems about as compelling as the tendonitis which a stylish acquaintance of mine once acquired due to long hours toting her very heavy It bag on her wrist.
But in fairness to Mrs B, many doctors attribute the condition to genetic factors alone (after all, my bunion-suffering grandmother think Clarks is a designer label). And it's testament to her style acumen – courtesy of her successful clothing line and cool new fashion-pack pals such as designer Marc Jacobs – that all we can find to criticise right now are her plates of meat.
However, it's hard not to see a little of the natural order of things defiantly reasserting itself via Beckham's big toe. For all the physical self-improvement – the exercise regimes, spray tans, highlights, hair extensions and the designer wardrobe – it's a neat demonstration that the pursuit of physical perfection is ultimately futile.
Still, it's not all bad news for Posh. She and David can bond over their metatarsal miseries. And Mrs B can take heart from the fact that it was sensible mid-height heels in which Prada and Lanvin sent their models strutting down the spring/summer 2010 catwalk. All she needs to do now is seek out some perfectly co-ordinated post-op crutches.